Melissa Kelley of Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Melissa Kelley, volunteer board president of Impact 100 Redwood Circle in Sonoma County and executive director of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation


Melissa Kelley, executive director of Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation and volunteer board president of Impact 100 Redwood Circle, has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.

Describe your organization:

The Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation raises funds, fosters partnerships and advocates on behalf of Sonoma County Regional Parks. The parks foundation is the nonprofit organization that provides funding for vital programs and projects throughout the 56 parks in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.

The organization sponsors park programs for youth, seniors and underserved communities, supports regional parks’ environmental education programs, funds natural resources projects, and helps Regional Parks develop new parks and trails.

Key recent projects have included a $50,000 challenge grant for Helen Putnam Regional Park to improve trails and reduce poison oak. The foundation also has recently raised funds for new trails at Taylor Mountain, a temporary visitor center and new bathroom at Doran Regional Park, funding for water safety programs and swim classes, and much more.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

My father is a golf professional, and from his experience I learned the value of choosing work you have a passion for. My mother is a fourth-generation Californian and descendant of Gold Rush pioneers. I like to think that from this lineage I inherited a willingness to try new ventures and do things differently than they were done previously. I have lived in 10 cities in six different states.

In 1998 when my husband and I moved to Sonoma County — where my fifth great-grandmother was one of the first woman cattle ranchers — I knew I had found my home. I feel immensely fortunate to do work and volunteer activities that I love, in a community I love, with friends and family whom I love.

What achievement are you most proud of?:

• With Steve Meffert, my husband of 27 years, raised two bright, creative, strong daughters.

• Quadrupled the annual budget of the parks foundation in five years.

• Founded Impact 100 Redwood Circle, a women’s giving circle that awards at least $100,000 a year to local nonprofits.

What is your biggest challenge today?: Time management

What is the next major projects either underway or on the horizon?:

• Raising $80,000 for a required local match of a $1.7 million federal grant that will build 8 more miles of trails at Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.

• Raising $100,000 for the design of a trail in Bodega Bay that will enable Doran Beach campers to walk or bike to town.

• Helping regional parks create a new natural play area at Taylor Mountain.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?:

Nonprofits need to find ways to engage younger and more diverse audiences. The parks foundation has been fortunate to have several board members in their 20s and 30s who have helped us reach these audiences through events like showing outdoor adventure movies while serving beer in a movie theater. We need to continue to attract more diverse constituents if we want to have a robust organization in the future.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Beth Brown, CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County

Current reading: “Hillbilly Elegy”

Most want to meet: New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristof

Stress-relievers: Hiking, mountain biking and soccer

Favorite hobbies: Volunteering

Typical day at the office: As the executive director of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, my job focuses on raising money to support local parks, working with our 16-member volunteer board, and administration. Most days I spend a lot of time at the computer or in meetings, but I try to schedule one or two hiking meetings in our regional parks every week.

Best place to work outside of the office: Any park!

Words that best describe you: “Gracious dynamo” (thank you, Chris Smith), diplomatic, insightful, mission-driven.