The People Behind the PCTA: Shari Hansen, Associate Director of Philanthropy

As a child, Shari Hansen was part of a generation of kids who went on long road trips with their families without smartphones, DVD players or other digital devices to entertain themselves. Instead, she may have had something better: the endless sweep of scenery past the car windows, an epic, movie-length showcase of the American landscape. “You didn’t have anything to do,” she remembers, “so you looked out the window and you daydreamed. It was a very Zen-like, meditative time.”

Shari hiking the Pacific Crest Trail near Showers Lake in California’s Sierra Nevada range.

It’s likely this long observation of the land inspired an appreciation of the outdoors in Shari. The child of Californians, Shari’s family lived in Virginia for a while before moving back to the Bay Area.

The family went on many road trips and stopped often on cross-country drives to visit national parks. Shari’s favorite was Yellowstone, which left a lasting impression on her. “I fell in love with it, and it’s always remained my favorite,” she says. “The wildness of it was extraordinary, and it really showcased the concept of our national parks.”

After returning to California, Shari’s parents divorced—after which her father took her camping for the first time. “There was nothing like waking up in a tent in the early morning. It was cold and crisp, and you could smell the campfire and the wonderful scent of pines. I always loved that.”

As it does for so many, life swept Shari along and away from camping and the outdoors for a while. A movie buff, she had an idea she’d like to go into the film industry. She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a degree in communications. But after meeting her husband Jude, she decided to stay in Sacramento and pursue communications-related work there.

Over the next several years, Shari gained an impressive breadth of experience working in a variety of roles for different organizations—giving her the diverse expertise that is a benefit of working in communications. First, she worked for the advertising department at Tower Records, one of the nation’s most successful chain of record stores. Founded in Sacramento, Tower Records was the reigning music retailer in the era before streaming, with over 200 locations in 20 states and 18 countries. In her position with Tower, Shari coordinated ads and store events.

Later, Shari worked for Sacramento PBS television station KVIE. Still a fan of the film industry, she thought she might work in television production, but instead found herself in the station’s philanthropy department. She thrived in fundraising, and after working as an assistant for less than a year was promoted to a position as the station’s major gifts officer.

Shari has worked for the PCTA for almost 15 years and always has a smile to offer as well as deep experience.

Philanthropy was always important in Shari’s family growing up, she says. “I’ve always been a donor,” she says, “which probably came from my dad, who regularly donated to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. And when that happened, they would send us magazines and I’d read them cover to cover.”

Following her time at KVIE, Shari worked with the SPCA doing event management and eventually moved on to work as an independent contractor with capital fundraising campaigns. When she became pregnant she decided to take some time off to raise her daughter Sam. And her love of the outdoors—those memories of Yellowstone, and the smell of campfires and pine—never diminished.

“I didn’t really hang out with many people who were into the outdoors,” Shari remembers. “I realized how important it was for me. And after meeting Jude, we started camping and hiking. I always wanted to go backpacking, but didn’t really know how to do it, and we didn’t have the money to buy equipment.” But after Sam was born, they did a lot of family car camping.

Shari hadn’t heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, but during this time she saw an article in the Sacramento Bee about a thru-hiker and remembered it as amazing. “I thought, this would be great to do someday.” Wanting to learn more, Shari found out the PCTA was based in Sacramento, and led by Liz Bergeron—a name she recognized from her years in philanthropy work. When she decided to go back to work, she visited the PCTA’s website and noticed they had an open position in philanthropy. “I immediately updated my resume and submitted it at ten o’clock at night right before the deadline.”

The next day her phone rang and the caller ID said Liz Bergeron. “I answered the phone, and we really connected during the interview and Liz offered me the job.” Shari was hired in 2008, when the PCTA was still a very small organization. It was the first job she had applied for since taking time off to raise her daughter. “I told that story at one of our board meetings, and board member Laraine Downer said “Oh my gosh that’s trail magic!”

Almost 15 years later, Shari continues to work for private giving in support of the PCT. She notes that there is often high turnover in philanthropy jobs, but that the PCTA is remarkable for not having that turnover. “I think the PCTA hires people who, regardless of whether they are experienced backpackers or not, are real experts in their field and are passionate about the work that we do..”

Shari has been gratified by the steady growth in the PCTA’s ability to support the trail. “In the early days we were focused mainly on trail maintenance and protecting the trail from things like nearby logging. But over time, it’s been really rewarding and inspiring to be a part of our growth into land protection and a greater focus on things like telling the stories of how climate change is impacting the trail.”

“I’ve had some great conversations with volunteers, donors and other supporters, and they’re always inspiring. I’ve heard from many people who don’t get out on the trail, but knowing it is protected and cared for is important to them—not for themselves, but for the benefit of future generations.”

And Shari still loves to get out on the trail. “When I get out there, it truly inspires me. It really helps rejuvenate you and makes you realize once again what you’re working for. Conservation is so important and helping people to experience the beauty of the PCT just reinforces that.”

Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.