Organizing Montanans to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and our unique quality of life.

Billings, MT   |


Northern Plains organizes family farmers and ranchers, small businesses, urban dwellers and rural residents to protect Montana's water, land, air, and working landscapes. We inspire and empower our members with the information, tools and skills necessary to give them an effective voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Our mission is to protect water quality, family farms and ranches and our unique quality of life and pass them on, unimpaired, to future generations.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Maggie Gordon

Main address

220 S 27TH St Ste A

Billings, MT 59101 USA

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NTEE code info

Environmental Quality, Protection, and Beautification N.E.C. (C99)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (K01)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

It is imperative that our nation not become even more committed to fossil fuels at this critical time, and that fossil fuels are not allowed to stifle the advance of renewable energy in America. People, land, and water should not unfairly bear the costs of fossil fuel extraction. In some cases, that means changing the way development is approached and ensuring that laws are enforced; in other cases, it means preventing development that is inherently unjust. Key issues on Northern Plains’ plate at this time include: *The future of coal, specifically making a just transition possible in Colstrip, MT, so this company town has an economic future. *Forcing the oil and gas industry to deal with waste responsibly, *Preventing irresponsible siting of major oil infrastructure. *Making renewable energy and energy efficiency more accessible to Montanans, including members of rural electric cooperatives. *Improving soil health. *Building citizen leaders. *Defending family-scale agriculture.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Energy, Agriculture, Good Neighbor Agreement, Civic Engagement

a) Our work to address fossil fuel energy issues concentrates on two main areas – coal mining and export, and oil and gas development.
b) We are seeking hopeful and practical ways to expand use of the "low-hanging fruit” of energy: energy efficiency, especially in buildings.
Northern Plains’ vision of agriculture is one where food is produced by families and processed by local-based companies rather than the large industrialized system that currently exists. We believe that a healthy family farm and ranch economy is more critical to Montana’s long-term future that the destructive and short-term extraction of fossil fuels.
This legally-binding agreement with the Stillwater Mining Company protects two vital watersheds where North America’s only platinum/palladium mine operates.
Northern Plains believes in and works to promote citizen engagement in decisions that affect our communities. Our theory of change depends on it.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Northern Plains works toward social justice, civic engagement, environmental protection, democracy, rural vitality, and government accountability. These principles are evident throughout our work and across our issues. To accomplish our mission, our goals are to:
• Broaden and deepen the number of Montanans participating in the process of government and other institutional forces that affect their lives;
• Balance the relationships of power among citizens, corporations, and government; and
• Achieve outcomes—public policy, case law, technology, on-the-ground practices, attitudinal changes—that promote clean water, family-based agriculture, civic participation and an ethic of stewardship.

Key issue goals include:

- Prevent construction of new fossil fuel projects that would commit the nation to decades more dependence on dirty energy; wreck land, water, and wildlife habitat; destroy family-based agriculture; and pour immense volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Organize citizens and protect the rights of landowners in the path of mining, drilling, and energy infrastructure projects, including rail transportation of coal and oil.
- Build relationships with residents of Colstrip, Montana, and union labor to build support for cleaning up groundwater pollution caused by Colstrip’s power plants and creating long-term, good-paying union jobs.
- Gain state rules that reduce waste and pollution at oil and gas well sites.
- Stop the Keystone XL pipeline line by organizing landowners and members of the Fort Peck tribe, and through litigation.

- Remove institutional and economic barriers to energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy.
- Create a regulatory environment that is favorable to distributed generation of renewable energy.
- Make tangible progress toward changes in rural electric co-ops that increase member control and transparency in decision-making, and that elevate discussions of renewables and energy efficiency to make them more available to members.
- Develop paths for sustainable, local, and just economic development that would replace the economy based on fossil fuels and industrialized agriculture.

-Promote availability of local foods for consumers and institutions.
-Restore a fair marketplace for family ranchers.
-Protect farmers and ranchers whose land and livelihoods are threatened by extractive development projects.
-Support a new food hub.
-Promote soil health.

-Oversee mining practices in the Stillwater Good Neighbor Agreement.


• Through community organizing and public education, we raise public understanding of the issues and mobilize citizens to be part of the solution;
• Through trainings and leadership development, we strengthen the voices of citizens;
• Through lobbying, litigation, and agency work, we hold public officials accountable.

Some of Northern Plains' special strengths include:
• Face-to-Face Organizing – Northern Plains has a staff of community organizers whose work focuses on face-to-face organizing, developing the kind of relationships that lead to a more intense involvement by our member-leaders than with most organizations. We have worked hard to achieve important successes by involving people when it really matters.
• Leadership Development and Civic Engagement – Northern Plains provides leadership opportunities and training, both in formal and informal settings. We are known for our leaders who are very engaged in the governance of the organization. It is our leaders, not staff, who act as spokespersons for the organization and who run our meetings. Northern Plains' leaders are never strangers to the policy process.
• Discipline – Northern Plains is very disciplined about structuring our issue campaigns. We walk ourselves through a set of questions and exercises to ensure that we are clear about what we want to achieve and the steps we will take to win.
• Stamina – Northern Plains knows from experience that the difference between success and failure is often our simple ability to stay in the ring against a more powerful adversary. In many issue campaigns, our leadership have been involved longer than the staff of companies and the government. Tenacity has won many a campaign.
• Building Bridges between Agriculture, Environmentalists, and Tribal People – Northern Plains is an environmental group that was founded by cattle ranchers. For 47 years, we have maintained our credibility as an advocate for family farming and ranching, and this helps us reach an audience that's inaccessible to many environmental organizations.

Northern Plains is a co-founder and member of WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which allows us to play a fuller role in federal legislative and regulatory processes.

Each of our issue campaigns is guided by a member task force. Task force members annually develop a campaign plan for their issue, and our board of directors oversees Northern Plains' overall work.

In addition to our issue task forces, Northern Plains has affiliate groups working in 13 communities in 10 counties. These affiliates serve as wellheads of local power that work year-round to inform and engage citizens. Our affiliates can turn out people, generate comments, speak out with local spokespeople, lobby decision-makers and generally lead their communities to address issues in which they have a self-interest. Their activism is genuine and local, which bestows tremendous credibility to our often very controversial issues. Each affiliate elects its own leadership and is represented on the Northern Plains board of directors.

Describing Northern Plains, the Billings Gazette editorialized: "They confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry."

Northern Plains' overarching goal is to protect family farms and ranches and small businesses, our water, air, lands and our unique quality of life in Montana. We are committed to civic engagement and provide the information and tools necessary to give citizens an effective voice in decisions that affect their lives.

"This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette

For the past 47 years of our existence and currently today, Northern Plains has protected key agricultural watersheds and landscapes. Key accomplishments include:

- Publishing research showing that thorough groundwater ash pond cleanup at Colstrip, MT, will provide many years of good-paying jobs to provide the town a cushion as its coal industry declines; 2018-2019.
- Launching a food hub for local food producers in the Billings, MT, area; 2018.
- Winning an outright dismissal of the construction permit for the Tongue River Railroad, a major coal infrastructure project. A diverse campaign, dogged persistence, and effective strategy won this 38-year campaign in April 2016; 1977-2016.
- Winning the withdrawal of the largest coal mine project ever proposed in Montana (Otter Creek); March 2016.
- Playing a major role in the struggle to stop massive coal ports from being developed, bringing the voice of Montana into an otherwise Washington state-centric fight. Five of six ports proposals have been scrapped; 2010-present.
- Winning a federal court of appeals decision requiring a new EIS for the proposed Tongue River Railroad due to its many deficiencies; 2011.
- Defending Montana water rights law in a successful state court case; 2009.
- Upholding the integrity of the EIS process and the applicability of environmental laws to coal bed methane development; 2007.
- Renovating an old grocery store into our new headquarters and Montana’s first LEED Platinum building; 2005-2007; improving its production in 2016 with the installation of an additional solar array – we now generate 100% of our electricity and our headquarters serves as a model for people who want to learn about green building.
- Negotiating the unprecedented Good Neighbor Agreement between the Stillwater Mining Company and two communities affected by the mine’s operations; 2000.
- Holding off proposed mega-landfills in three eastern Montana communities; 1991.
- Enactment of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
- Shaping and passing Montana’s landmark environmental laws; 1972, 1975.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Paper surveys, Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Constituent (client or resident, etc.) advisory committees, Suggestion box/email, Regular meetings w/ members,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, It guides all of our work,

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our funders,

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don't have any major challenges to collecting feedback,



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Board of directors
as of 09/21/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Joanie Kresich

Deb Muth

Sue Beug

Edward Barta

Simon Cecil

Tom Mexicancheyenne

Rachel Torres

Craig McClure

Ita Killeen

Elle Ross

Richard Parks

Nellie Israel

Ellen Pfister

Nathan Varley

Steve Charter

Jeff Dibenedetto

Julie Holzer

Josh Wright

Noel Birkland

Charlie French

June Peterson

Melissa Mittelstaed

Clint McRae

Norane Freistadt

Mic Smith

Tom Heyneman

John Gayusky

Kris Glenn

Emma Kerr-Carpenter

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? No
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 1/7/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.


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Race & ethnicity

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Gender identity

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Sexual orientation

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