Office Doors: A Day with Dan Stellar


I exercise almost every day. On most mornings during the week, I run four to six miles and then go to the gym. Running is a big part of my life. I’ve been a runner for 25 years, completing four marathons and 30 half marathons. After my exercise is complete, I take an initial look at emails and do family things.


The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. We deliberately chose this mission because “all life” includes people. We are focused on a world where nature and people can thrive together. We do this through partnerships, working to find common ground wherever we can and providing measurable, impactful conservation solutions.

Both globally and here in Arizona, we’re committed to making the greatest impact by 2030. Our science clearly shows that if we don’t act on the issues we care about right now, the chance to do so will be more difficult or could be lost for good. We see tremendous urgency to step up and think big.

10 A.M. >> STATE 48 WORK

We’ve identified four focus areas for our work in Arizona. Conserving our lands and waters includes an array of projects, such as utilizing conservation easements — a voluntary legal agreement where land stays in private ownership but is protected for conservation in perpetuity — and working with farmers along the Verde River on how technology and infrastructure can reduce water usage while improving their livelihoods.

There is urgency regarding forest restoration and the need to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, and we have a large project near Flagstaff focused on this. Our statewide climate program is policy-oriented and also sites renewable energy infrastructure in ways that will minimize conflict with wildlife.

Less than 10 years ago, we started working with Valley communities with fewer resources on how to use nature to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat. We created this program with an eye toward resolving some of the inequities that have traditionally existed where nature-based solutions are offered.

Dan Stellar is an avid outdoorsman and marathon runner who sees parallels between his work and endurance sports


I grew up in New England and developed a passion for nature from spending time in the mountains. But nature was something separate you did on the weekend. Formative experiences working internationally helped me understand how nature directly impacts people’s lives. Through my global work, I developed a different understanding of how nature is intertwined with all our lives, even if we don’t always see it.


I’ve lived in Arizona and worked for The Nature Conservancy for eight years and became state director three years ago. We are fortunate to have a gifted and wonderful team of 70 who work across the state from the southern border up to the northern forest. Many of the world’s leading experts in their field work for the organization. We have an internal expression: “I came for the mission, and I stayed for the people.” This is equally true with regard to our board and donors.

A big part of my job is working with donors, the board of trustees and partners. Of all the things people can do with their money, it’s incredibly humbling that they choose to donate to us. It’s inspiring and an honor to work with people who feel a lifelong connection, deep commitment and passion for the organization. My job is fast-paced, dynamic and interactive. I am always learning and growing. This is the job of a lifetime.

3:30 P.M. >> NO TWO DAYS …

Kayaking on the Verde River | Photo by Bretta Nelson

Because we are a place-based and global organization, I make a big effort to travel and connect with partners, donors, volunteers, staff and other TNCs in the West. Travel comprises approximately 30 percent of my time. When I am not on the go, I have an average of six to 10 meetings a day. As a leader, I prioritize spending time with my chapter leadership team, investing in them and ensuring the team is healthy and unified. I subscribe to the “culture eats strategy for breakfast” philosophy, so I spend time talking with people to understand their concerns and priorities.

I try every day, with mixed success, to dedicate time to reading so I’m up-to-date on what’s happening and how it impacts the issues we care about. There’s so much news about conservation and environmental issues right now. Some of which we know, but a lot of which we don’t because things are happening so fast.


There’s a big and very appropriate conversation in conservation right now about diversity and equity and what that means for a field that has not been diverse. We developed an equity architect plan for our chapter and are thinking about our work with tribal and Indigenous communities differently, because they historically have not been part of the mainline conservation movement.

These are existential challenges, and conservation will not succeed if we don’t create an inclusive space in ways we haven’t before. It’s that simple. This is not extra or something you do on the side, and we have to understand how our engagement around diversity, equity and inclusion is at our core.


Given my travel schedule, my evenings are not always reliable, but I try to get home to have dinner with my family. I then take the dog out and do a little more work. I also love to read and alternate between nonfiction and fiction books.

To learn more, go to

About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

From Frontdoors Magazine

Back to Top