Seattle Foundation Blog

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 service.

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 envision.

“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 survival value.”

“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 day’s work.”

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.

Interested in making your giving more impactful? Connect with one of our expert philanthropic advisors.



For Philanthropists


Heart and Science MagazineClimate changeClimate justiceEnvironmentFamily philanthropyphilanthropists

Previous Article Next Article

Related Post

moving forward 300

Effective Collaboration

June 10, 2020

Why foundations and philanthropists are coming together to address COVID-19

N2N Build

N2N Spotlight: BUILD - Brothers United in Leadership Development

March 26, 2020

BUILD strives to empower Black men as leaders and mentors who make positive change in the African American community.

womens history month

Women's History Month

March 24, 2020

Meet some of our talented team members & a philanthropist at Seattle Foundation and Seattle International Foundation, who are unwavering in their pursuit to disrupt the status quo and fight for gender equality in the Seattle region and abroad.