Securing Tomorrow’s Success, One At-Bat At a Time

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the April 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

I have spent over a quarter-century in leadership roles in the nonprofit sector, and you know what? I still don’t like asking people for money. Like all of my professional peers, I am continually researching prospects, cultivating donors, crafting appeals, making cases, and asking for gifts — and despite all of that effort, more often than not, the answer is still “no.”

Being a fundraiser is analogous to being a baseball batter in that regard: if you’re really good at your job, you can pull a .300 average (i.e. 30% success rate), but more than two-thirds of the time you’re going to strike out, get tagged out, or hit what looks like a glorious stroke into deep center field, only to see it snatched away against the wall. But those of us who make careers in this field learn to shake off those bad at-bats, take some practice swings, and step up to the plate again, with the never-flagging confidence that the next at-bat just might be a highlight-reel game-winner.

One of the nicest things about being CEO of TREE Fund is that a sizable percentage of our annual gift solicitations are handled by volunteers, most especially our ISA Chapter Liaisons and our Tour des Trees riders. People rightly marvel at the physical challenges of the Tour (I ride it, so I know how hard it is), but as a professional fundraiser, I’m honestly more awed by the fact that our riders are willing and able, year after year, to solicit friends, family members, coworkers, colleagues, strangers, whoever it takes, to raise a lot of money for our research programs. Wow!

That extraordinary level of volunteer commitment allows our staff team to focus more on business partnerships, direct mail solicitations, and other forms of giving that either defray the expenses associated with the Tour, underwrite operations, or enhance our endowment to ensure our long-term viability. Another area where we focus staff attention, though a bit more behind-the-scenes, is on planned giving. Unlike annual giving — where a donor makes a contribution to a charity as an outlay of current assets or income — planned gifts are current decisions to make future gifts, most often from an estate via bequests, insurance policies, or retirement plan distributions.

For individuals and families who wish to make legacy gifts that are guaranteed to support their philanthropic interests in perpetuity, planned gifts may provide the most effective ways of achieving such goals. We have an amazing group of supporters called The Heritage Oak Society who have already established such legacy commitments. We’re going to be making a formal appeal for The Heritage Oak Society this summer, so you’ll be hearing more from me on this topic then — unless, of course, you decide to give a grateful fundraiser an intentional walk to first base by reaching out to express your interest before I ask.

I’ll be over here in the dugout if you’d like to share some sunflower seeds and talk it over. It could be a winning proposition for you, for me, and best of all, for TREE Fund.

I Googled “Planned Giving” for a stock image to accompany this article, and they’re almost all tree related!

People Make the Mission

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the December 2018 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

As I write my final column for 2018, we are deep into TREE Fund’s annual year-end operating appeal. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time, so I’ve come to associate these appeals with the season: there’s turkey, there’s shopping, there’s revelry, there’s resolutions, and in the midst of all that, there’s a last push to raise funds, to give donors both “feel-good” experiences and year-end tax benefits.

I wrote here back in September about how changes in Federal law may impact the tax benefit of those gifts, but also how important it is that we all still “keep charity charitable,” empowering and celebrating the good work that nonprofits do in so many ways, in so many places, for so many people. That charitable intent is particularly important when it comes to the unrestricted operating funds that many year-end appeals support. They may not have the pizazz of brick and mortar giving, nor the permanence of endowments, but they are crucial to what we do.

For some folks outside of the nonprofit world, that phrase — “unrestricted operating funds” — may have unintended negative connotations: “Wait, you can do anything you want with it? Are you going to just spend it on overhead? Is that okay? Maybe I’d better give to this restricted endowment pool instead.” But all it really means is that we have the flexibility to support our “areas of greatest need” internally, and for TREE Fund, that need largely equates to people!

When you remove grants we pay from our operating budget, about three-quarters of the remaining expenses pay for the folks who actually do the work to fulfill our mission — and do it well, if it’s not inappropriate for me to say so. That’s Barb managing the grants, Karen communicating our research findings, Monika educating our donors, Maggie managing community engagement, including the Tour des Trees that Paul directs, Dipika keeping the books, and Russ ensuring our computer systems support it all. Plus me, often on the road, doing my best to champion tree science and the professionals who benefit from it.

Some of those folks you may know, some not. Some are employees, some are contractors, some part-time, some full. All are passionate about our mission, work hard to pursue it, and are largely supported by unrestricted operating funds, secured via appeals, partnerships or events. So anytime you email, call, engage on social media, read a newsletter article, share a research finding, or see a TREE Fund team member in person giving you great service in pursuit of our shared goal, then that’s what “unrestricted operating funds” are all about: it’s the people who make the mission.

 

You can click the advert to donate online. Do it for the people!!

For Your Consideration: TREE Fund’s Year-End Appeal

Dear Friends of TREE Fund:

It’s a simple fact: people need trees as an essential component of their healthy, sustainable communities. But like anything worth having, the trees we live with require special care. Trees did not evolve to coexist with people, buildings, roads, and modern community infrastructure, so if they are to thrive in our urban forests, they need the best care possible, provided by professional arborists, drawing on fact-based, replicable research. That’s where TREE Fund comes in — but only with continued support from faithful donors and believers like you.

TREE Fund has been a leading source for tree science funding since 2002, with hundreds of projects awarded and countless valuable results shared across the global tree care community. To cite but one example, Dr. Brian Kane is a long-time TREE Fund Researcher who has contributed profoundly to the global tree care knowledge base over the years; I have attached an article from our September Research Report about Brian’s work to give you a sense of his progress.

This month, I asked Brian to co-sign a “new friends” appeal with me to about 5,000 prospective donors, asking them to join us in supporting the ever-expanding body of research and science necessary to keep our urban forests healthy, sustainable and beautiful. In that new donor letter, we noted that many practices in arboriculture and urban forestry will change in the years ahead as urban environments evolve, just as they’ve evolved since you first became a TREE Fund supporter. With your help, we have been one of the few organizations funding applied research to help today’s tree care professionals anticipate tomorrow’s burning questions before they detrimentally impact our trees — and the communities that benefit from them.

Our generous supporters allowed us to fund over two dozen research projects in the past year, including Brian’s crucial ongoing work. Can we count on your help again as we work to sustain our urban forests and empower the skilled professionals who care for them? You may make a contribution to support our work by clicking here.

Your gift will truly make a difference, now and for years to come.

Click The Donate Tree to support TREE Fund’s Annual Year-End Appeal

2018 Tour des Trees: My Final Appeal

Hello Friends, Family and Blog Lurkers!

I wanted to make one final appeal this year letting you all know that I’m headed to Columbus, Ohio in three weeks to ride in my fourth Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund — and I’m hoping that you’ll see fit to help a good cause by supporting my campaign in this amazing event.

Remember those old Hair Club For Men TV commercials? The ones where Sy Sperling, the head of the company,  appeared on screen and said “I’m not just the President of Hair Club for Men — I’m also a client!”?

Well, I can kind of relate to that as the President and CEO of TREE Fund when it comes to the Tour: “I’m not just the President of TREE Fund — I’m also a rider!”

Sure, I’m the boss, and I could get away with just waving folks off at the start line and clapping them in at the finish each year, then going back to my office and counting the proceeds — but for this event, I put my money (and my body) where my mouth is.

I will be in the saddle for about 580 miles over seven days (July 29 to August 4), making numerous stops along the way for community engagement programs, speaking engagements, media opportunities, and educational outreach events. We will be riding from Columbus up to Cleveland and back via a large loop route, with at least two and maybe three “century days” of 100 miles or more (the uncertainly on the third day relates to progress on a construction project along the route). It’s a tough week!!

I’ve been training hard for the Tour as the mostly awful Chicago weather this year allows. Sometimes the training days go great, and sometimes they don’t. You might enjoy an article I wrote on my blog about one of the latter types of training rides, here: South Side Century: Denied.

I’m also fundraising hard. Each full-time rider on the Tour commits to raising at least $3,500 for research to benefit our urban forests and the skilled professionals who care for them. I have set a stretch personal goal of $7,000, and please note that I do not take or claim any TREE Fund organizational support to assist with my campaign.

Will you help me reach my goal? If so, you can make a gift by clicking the link below:

J. Eric Smith’s Tour Fundraising Page

Because our corporate partners underwrite the production costs of the Tour, gifts made to rider campaigns (like mine) will be applied to research, either via new awards, payments on multi-year research pledges, or contributions to endowment funds that will sustain research in the future. In short, your gift will be put to work within the next year, and it will generate results.

For those who have supported me already in this and/or any prior Tours des Trees, THANK YOU!! For those thinking about doing so, boy oh boy, would I love it if you could do it soon!!!

All best to all, with gratitude, and smooches,

Eric

Thumbs up for those who support my Tours. Thank you!!

The Legacy of John Evelyn’s “Sylva”

Note: Here’s my latest “Leading Thoughts” article from the new edition of TREE Press, the monthly newsletter of TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO.

Before coming to TREE Fund, I served as Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation, which owns and operates an amazing historic house museum in Des Moines, Iowa. Salisbury House was built in the 1920s within a glorious 12-acre oak forest, and its owners – cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife Edith – worked diligently to protect the grand old trees around their 42-room manor home, most of which still provide shade to the house and gardens.

Carl Weeks was an extraordinary collector of rare books and documents, and one of the great delights in my work at Salisbury House was being able to study, work with, and teach from his 3,500-book library. One of items in the collection was an early edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions (c. 1664-1670), arguably the first great treatise in the English language on the science, care and importance of trees. It was a massive success then, and has remained in print for over 350 years.

While Evelyn appreciated the beauty of trees, his underlying call to action was an economic one: trees provided fuel, building supplies, food, defense, and a litany of other crucial day-to-day needs in pre-industrial England, and the island’s forests were being denuded in the aftermath of the English Civil War. “We had better be without gold than without timber,” Evelyn wrote, encouraging land owners to plant trees as a matter of patriotic obligation. His countrymen heard him, and many old English forests today are home to trees planted by Sylva’s earliest devotees.

On April 27, 2018, millions of people across our own country will honor National Arbor Day by planting trees, providing innumerable benefits, some that John Evelyn understood in the 1660s — but many others of which are known to us now only through the types of modern scientific research empowered by TREE Fund. You can further this ongoing scientific legacy by making a gift to TREE Fund’s Arbor Day Appeal. We’re proud to work on behalf of our trees and the people who care for them, and take pride in being a link in a chain of inquiry that spans centuries – and will benefit those who follow us for centuries to come.

Click on “Sylva” to make your own contribution on behalf of our urban and community forests, and the professionals who study and care for them.

My Tour des Trees Appeal Letter

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, I could justifiably just show up to cheer on the volunteer riders on our annual Tour des Trees and thank them for their efforts each year, but instead I choose to experience it with them, on the road, putting in the same time and effort they do. I also choose to fully fundraise for myself, rather than having TREE Fund pay my way as a staff member, to make sure that I’m not an administrative burden on this incredible event.

I’ve set a personal goal of $5,000 this year, and I recently sent out my Tour appeal letter to my generous list of regular supporters. Click here to read the letter, so you can see my pitch, and (hopefully) sign on to help us get the job done. Marcia has also graciously stepped up this year to help us out, by participating in a Virtual Tour on our behalf. Here’s her own fundraising page, and she’s well on the way to meeting her mileage and fundraising goals.

If you can’t commit to coming to Ohio to ride 530 miles with us this year, you can set up your own Virtual Tour, too, alone, with friends, anywhere, doing anything you enjoy doing. Here’s how.

We’re expecting a great team and a great Tour this year, and I’m ready for spring to come to Chicago so I can get out the road and get to training. Thanks in advance for whatever support you care to provide. I appreciate it, and it will make a difference.

Zoom zoom!

Click my pic (Southern Pines, NC, on the 2016 Tour) for my contributions page.