"What kind of Sierra Club?" That's the question the Board of
Directors is asking itself - and other Club leaders - this
summer in preparation for a dialogue at the annual meeting
The Club regularly asks its leaders what conservation issues
they want to work on. But we haven't asked some basic
questions: What do we mean when we say we are a democratic
organization? Do we want to encourage every chapter to offer
its members a consistent menu of basic programs? How do we
make sure that each chapter has the resources to offer those
The Board has organized this dialogue around five themes,
each one addressing a choice that faces the Club as it moves
forward into its second century.
Below is an abbreviated version of a longer document that
will go out to all chapters and groups this summer.
1. Vision vs. Pragmatism
To what extent should the Club articulate a vision of the
environmental future that is driven by our ultimate values
and scientific evidence, even if this vision is clearly
outside the current social and political realm of the
Should we support leadership and proposals that move our
society step-by-step in the right direction, accepting the
incremental style that seems to characterize the history of
environmental progress? Or should we reject that paradigm
and only lend our name to enterprises that take us all the
way, or almost all the way, to our ultimate objectives?
2. The Meaning of Democracy
According to our by-laws, the Sierra Club is a
representative democracy. Members elect directors, group
executive committees, and, indirectly, chapter executive
committees. Do we wish to modify this fundamental aspect of
These elected bodies set broad policy and delegate to
appointed groups of volunteer leaders broad discretion in
implementing such policies. Should we shift our emphasis
away from delegating this flexibility and move toward a more
formal decision-making process with more frequent
consultation with elected leaders on issues of strategy and
3. Internal vs. Community Focus
To what extent do we believe that we can implement our
vision through the actions of our members alone? How much
should we concentrate our energies on reaching broader
communities and organizing campaigns around our goals? Do we
wish to reaffirm our historic emphasis on public policy, and
on influencing corporations and other large institutions. O
r do we wish to move in the direction of an organization that
educates, but does not seek to organize or mobilize the
4. Federation or Confederation?
Are we a confederation of chapters and groups, with the
level of funding for each overwhelmingly driven by the
number of members and funds raised locally? Or are we a
national federation providing relatively comparable levels
of service and program opportunity to each member through
our chapters and groups?
Should we define a set of program opportunities that every
chapter or group should strive to offer members? Or should
we allow each chapter and group to define the meaning of
Sierra Club membership on a location-by-location basis?
Should we define the program we want each chapter and group
to be able to offer, and provide the resources necessary to
deliver those programs? Or should we allocate funds to
chapters and groups based largely on their membership
levels, so that each member has access to an equal dollar
value in local program services?
5. 'Big Tent' or Political Party?
Is the Sierra Club a broad organization that is open,
friendly and supportive of members who share our broad
values and vision? A "big tent" approach requires that we
establish strong internal norms of civility and respect. Or
are we more like a political party, a quasi-public
institution in which factions contend for control and a
relatively hard-edged style of debate is tolerated?
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