Powering Change with Philanthropist Martha Kongsgaard
Kongsgaard and husband Peter Goldman have been leaders in stewarding our natural world for more than 30 years
July 19, 2019
By Kristin Dizon. Read this story and more in Volume 6 (pdf) of Seattle Foundation's Heart & Science magazine.
As her husband jokes, Martha Kongsgaard has a hard
time saying no.
That’s one reason she wears so many hats in advocating
for the environment and the public good. From serving
as a founding board member of IslandWood, to heading
the Aquarium’s campaign to build an innovative Ocean
Pavilion, to investing in climate justice efforts and the
I-1631 campaign, Kongsgaard and husband Peter
Goldman have been leaders in stewarding our natural
world for more than 30 years.
Kongsgaard’s love of nature started early, roaming the
outdoors as a tomboy in rural Napa, California, before
spending four summers working as a park ranger for the
National Park Service in Stehekin, Washington. She and
Goldman are avid skiers, cyclists and hikers who spend
a lot of time at their place in Winthrop.
“I think one acts to protect what one loves. And there's a
kinship with the natural world imprinted on me from my
childhood,” said Kongsgaard.
She translated that love into philanthropic giving and
Among her many roles, Kongsgaard has served as the
board president for Philanthropy Northwest, chair of
the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council and
of the Marine Resources Advisory Council, and chair of
the Washington Women’s Foundation. Goldman is on
the boards of Washington Environmental Council and
Washington Conservation Voters.
“Peter and I believe that in the business of making
change we have to use all the levers at our disposal:
public policy, electoral politics, litigation, good will,
communication, shoe leather investigation, humor and
philanthropy,” Kongsgaard said. “This vertical approach
provides a full suite of linked solutions that exist beyond
even the strongest philanthropic portfolio.”
The couple met in 1981 in law school and married in
1988. While raising three sons, she served as a public
defender, while Goldman was a King County prosecutor.
Kongsgaard jokes that they never squared off in the
courtroom, but argued at home about sentencing reform
and the death penalty rather than who’s turn it was to
take out the garbage.
The year they married, they created the Kongsgaard-
Goldman Foundation, which served for nearly 30 years
as a pass-through fund with income from Goldman’s
family business on the East Coast. With proceeds
from the recent sale of the business, they transitioned
their philanthropy to a family foundation at Seattle
Foundation to benefit from a full team and services.
Kongsgaard views the couple’s giving and service as
a collective body of work about the kind of world they
“Giving is an ecosystem and it’s the sweep of work that
one can look back on and ask– did we take a holistic
approach? Did we include people in the community who
don’t have agency and power? Did we listen deeply and
make ourselves available and transparent?” she said.
She was also an early champion of climate justice to
empower the people most impacted by climate change.
“The environmental community, traditionally white and
siloed, has begun to embrace a new ethos of inclusion,
understanding that we need to include the broader
community,” Kongsgaard said. “We need to solve for
the issues facing communities that aren't able to move,
like the place-bound Coast Salish tribes who will feel
the effects of sea level rise first, and people of color,
economically challenged communities, people who lack
agency on any given day to keep up with policy, let alone
to buy groceries.”
Kongsgaard said many answers lie in these communities
that traditional environmentalists are beginning to learn
from and partner with to powerful effect.
She focuses on the positive, citing a quote from
environmental leader Denis Hayes: “For those of us who
know our Darwin, we understand that pessimism has no
“There is so much great work going on around the globe.
The public is demanding change and the next generation
will drive it. We have to keep innovating and insisting
our way out of this. There really is no other choice,” she
said. “Living in this place, one can walk out on any high
point in the region and behold nature’s splendor in our
transitory care, be thankful, and gear up for another
About Martha and Peter
Martha Kongsgaard, and her husband Peter Goldman, steward their giving through Seattle Foundation. She has years of devoted community service, including on the boards of Earthjustice, the Bullitt Foundation, The Ruckelshaus Center, Friends of the Waterfront, Washington Environmental Council, and the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including Woman of the Year Award by Seattle University School of Law, and the Environmental Hero Award by the Washington Environmental Council.
After leaving the Prosecutor’s office over two decades ago, Goldman started the Washington Forest Law
Center, a public interest firm providing free legal services
to protect 10 million acres of forestlands in the state.
An avid outdoorsman since childhood, Goldman is an
experienced mountaineer who has climbed in South
America, the Himalayas, and has summitted an 8,000
meter peak in Pakistan.
Heart & Science Magazine
Read Heat & Science magazine Vol. 6 for more on how philanthropists, community organizations and Seattle Foundation are working to create a healthy community through supporting the environment and arts & culture.
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