Twenty years in the same position at the same organization. That’s something to celebrate in the non-profit field, or really any profession in today’s transitioning economy.
Kristy Urquhart of Asheville has dedicated 20 years of her life to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, primarily serving as the associate director. Her colleagues have plans to celebrate her achievements in a way that echoes the positive energy that she gives to land conservation.
SAHC’s Executive Director, Carl Silverstein, considers it a privilege to be her colleague. “I feel blessed to work with Kristy. She is one of the most insightful, intuitive people I have ever known. She has a sixth sense for what people need in order to move forward, and she is genuinely kind. Kristy cares unwaveringly about conserving the Southern Appalachians for future generations. What a privilege to have her as a colleague and friend!”
Attorney Lynn Cox, the organization’s first executive director, remembers well the day she interviewed Urquhart and realized she was perfect for the job. “And I was right,” Cox said. “I don’t see how the Conservancy could be where it is without her. The best professional decision I ever made, and the one that had the most positive, long-lasting effect, was hiring Kristy to come to SAHC.”
At that point, Cox was SAHC’s sole staff member and needed a jack-of-all-trades to perform a variety of duties. That is exactly what Urquhart did — creating a membership database, interacting with supporters of the organization, talking to government officials, writing grants, fundraising, training board members, planning events, mailing donor appeals, mastering financial software, creating filing systems, all among the minute details of running an organization, like moving chairs.
“Everything she did with great devotion,” Cox said. “Twenty years shows her dedication to our mountains, to our natural heritage and to our cultural heritage.”
Cox notes how rare an employee remains with the same organization for two decades. “Non-profit work is challenging, and the financial rewards aren’t as large as the private sector,” Cox said. “Things are always changing, so the staff is continually learning new ways to present the organization’s mission to the public.”
Plus, constant fundraising is required. “It’s something that has to be done year-end and year-out regardless of the state of the economy,” Cox said.
Urquhart has not only responded to the challenges, but has also kept a contagious upbeat attitude, Cox said. “Kristy has an exuberance and zest for life,” she said. “It was a joy to come to work and know I’d be working with Kristy.”
Cox remembers how Urquhart would think of ideas that would evoke the participation of a diverse group of members at events. “Sometimes it’s hard to encourage everyone to let their hair down and participate in free-form fun,” Cox said. But Urquart found the perfect activity for one SAHC event: Karaoke. “Everyone joined in and loved it,” Cox said.
Urquhart keeps this sense of fun as SAHC has evolved from a volunteer-run group to a professional organization completing complex land transactions and forming critical partnerships. Margaret Newbold, Associate Director of Conservation Trust for North Carolina, has known Kristy since the mid-1990s and interacted with her more closely in the past 5 years as 13 conservation organizations formed Blue Ridge Forever, a coalition dedicated to raising awareness and resources for land conservation.
“I go to Kristy when I need advice and want to talk about what may be going on with all the land trusts and get her read on it,” Newbold said. “She gives me really good advice and honest feedback that is not a lot of fluff, it’s always straight on. I value her opinion and her ability to think about the issues, balancing and respecting all the relationships involved.”
Newbold points to Urquhart’s institutional knowledge as a tremendous asset for the land trust community, as well as her tendency to also look for new opportunities. “She’s not stuck in what happened 15 years ago– we often laugh about how we all need to move on,” Newbold said. “She has that knowledge, but with her positive personality and sincere concern to protect more land , she drives positive change.”
Meanwhile, her long-standing relationships with the community bolsters the organization’s reputation. “It speaks well for SAHC to keep someone as talented as Kristy for so long. She’s really valuable to everyone – the community, the organization, her fellow conservationists, like myself, and the coalition of groups too.” And she’s fun!
Special thanks to our friend, Megan Riley, for drafting this release in Kristy’s honor!
Kristy on a Little Hump hike on Yellow Mountain