She believes in the mission.
Andria Piekarz serves as director of philanthropy for the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.
The non-profit foundation, founded in 2003 and based in Osprey, protects land around the waters of the Myakka River, the Manatee River, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor.
Piekarz joined the foundation’s staff four years ago as its first full-time fundraiser.
“When we preserve land, we’re also preserving a way of life,” Piekarz said. “We’re protecting regional assets that drive our economy. We’re making water more drinkable, fishable and swimmable.
“We’re creating open spaces for wildlife. We’re connecting protected lands and we’re ensuring that future generations have this paradise to enjoy. There are not many investments we get to make in our lifetime that last forever. Land preservation does.”
Piekarz spent her early childhood on a farm north of Toronto and her teenage years in Sarasota, where she attended Riverview High School.
After graduating from Barnard College, Piekarz followed her passion for adventure and travel into a career in the global travel industry.
She retained strong memories of the rolling fields of Ontario and the beaches and bays of Sarasota, however, all through a couple of decades of traveling the world and living in New York, London, Los Angeles and Chicago.
In 2009, she returned “home” to Sarasota and “settled” into a slower pace of life. She figured the skills she developed in the private sector would be useful in helping non-profit organizations raise money.
She first worked for the American Red Cross and then as a vice president for fundraising for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast.
When she learned about Conservation Foundation’s work to save the region’s natural heritage, she went to work for it.
The foundation has saved 9,769 acres on 36 different properties, according to its website.
Philanthropists help make that possible.
Piekarz, who lives in Sarasota, works in the foundation’s offices in the 1931 Burrows-Matson House, which fronts on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey. The house is on the four-acre Bay Preserve, which is open to the public during the day; people can walk around the grounds without paying an admission charge.
She was interviewed in that Old Florida setting, as well as by email, for this story.
Piekarz said her love of the outdoors was sparked as a child when she played outside “in all sorts of weather” on a family farm north of Toronto.
Later, during her career in the travel industry, she explored many “spectacular” places in the United States and around the world.
“I think when you’re trekking in the Andes or taking in an incredible view of the Grand Tetons, or the rice fields of Bali, or the view from the boardwalk of Myakka State Park, protecting special places and ensuring they remain forever pristine comes naturally,” she said
Piekarz says she derives satisfaction from the sense of purpose at the heart of the foundation’s work.
“I spent much of my career working in executive sales and marketing roles for entrepreneurial, global businesses,” she said. “When I returned ‘home’ to the Gulf Coast, my priority was to shift focus to community in the hope that my work would make a meaningful difference.
“I’ve worked for some pretty amazing organizations throughout my career with incredibly motivated people seeking to do great work. The non-profit world is just different in that everyone shares a mutual purpose. That includes staff, donors and volunteers.
“A shared purpose is much bigger than a shared goal or objective. It speaks to impact, to passion and a sense of fulfillment.
“We live in a community with a large number of non-profits, all working very hard to change lives for the better. I think we are all richer as a result.”