A TNC Trustee’s Journey from “Rabble-Rouser” to Nonprofit Director — The Nature Conservancy in Washington


Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a family friend and head of the Interior Appropriations Committee when Martha was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, influenced the course of her life by finding her seasonal summer jobs with the National Park Service in the North Cascades. The work ranged from picking up garbage to preserving trails, all with the backdrop of the wild Cascades that surrounded her post in Stehekin. Martha remembers this time working and scrambling in the wild fondly, recalling “dreamy” summers before phones and televisions were household appliances.  

As a youth, she followed her lifelong love of hiking and climbing to Norway, where much of her extended family lives. There, Martha embraced friluftsliv, the country’s “right-to-roam” laws and philosophy that allow individuals to explore uncultivated and unfettered land. This experience gave Martha a deep appreciation for how governments can preserve common natural spaces while honoring the deep-rooted connection between culture and nature.  

Martha volunteered with Amnesty International while studying in Europe, a significant stop in a lifetime of volunteer service. During this time, she became involved with human rights activists and developed a belief that “laws are not mystical but the result of conscious decisions made by people who shape the society they wish to create.” Armed with ambition and a mastery of French, German, and Norwegian languages, Martha decided it was time to do something other than “running on trains sneaking around the Iron Curtain.” So, she went to law school and dedicated 15 years as a public defender in King County, Washington.  

Not content to be defined by one title, Martha established the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation in 1988 alongside her husband, Peter Goldman, an environmental and public-interest lawyer. Martha has championed climate and community causes through this foundation, grantmaking for environmental nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Washington, human rights groups like the UW Center for Human Rights, and arts institutions like JazzEd. Martha believes that “environmental issues are the same as ‘people’ issues,” and her foundation’s work reflects her belief that safeguarding the environment is inseparable from advocating for the well-being and rights of communities.  

Together, the Kongsgaard-Goldmans continue to dedicate their expertise and resources to helping people and the planet with a hands-on approach, personally engaging with organizations, and adopting a thoughtful and inclusive process for allocating funds. Martha describes her role as one of connection, deep listening, fostering long-term relationships, and empowering others to pursue their goals.  

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