The Nature Defense Foundation grew out of the reorganization of a larger family foundation, the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, originally founded by Martha Gerbode in San Francisco. Since the 1960's the Gerbode Foundation generously supported nonprofit organizations for the benefit of the arts, education, environment, health and civil rights in California and Hawaii.

In 2015 the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Board of Directors decided that it was time to pass the torch onto the next generation of family members, six of Martha Gerbode's grandchildren, in order that they may individually steward their grandmother's mission into the future. The Nature Defense Foundation, Directed by one of Martha's grandchildren, is a product of the Gerbode Foundation's reorganization and it aims to carry Martha's passion for environmental protection into the future.