Tour des Trees 2019: Final Fundraising Push

I got back home to Des Moines last night after spending three days at the International Society of Arboriculture‘s (ISA) International Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. We held our annual “Tree Fund After Hours” reception on Tuesday night (co-hosted with our good friends from ISA Southern Chapter), where a few hundred professional tree folks came out to celebrate our community, the work we do together, and the research that underpins our commitment to support and the sustain the world’s urban and community forests, and the utility rights of way that connect them.

As a result of our guests’ generosity, and the stack of checks and online gifts from other folks we had waiting for us when we got back to the office, we just pushed over a total of $250,000 raised by our 2019 Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund riders and teams. Our goal for the year is $300,000 — and the deadline for riders to meet their individual minimum fundraising requirements ($3,500 each) is now only 19 days away. Folks are fundraising hard to meet both individual and aggregate goals, so if you’ve been thinking about making a gift toward this important community engagement event, time’s getting short, and there’s no time like the present for making that contribution.

I always try to lead by example and keep myself high on the fundraising leader board (I’m in fourth place among individual riders right now), so if you’d like to help me stay ahead of some hard-charging (friendly) competitors who are neck-and-neck with me, you can support my campaign here. Or if you want to support a rider who is still working to get his or her minimum fundraising done, there’s a list of all of this year’s 82 riders at this page, and you can click on any of their names to support their campaigns. Either way, you’ll push us closer to this year’s budget goal, and we’ll all be grateful.

This summer, TREE Fund pushed over $4.3 million in total grant awards made to support tree research and education, and we published an independent report by Drs Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin: Stevens Point) and Andrew Koeser (University of Florida) evaluating and explaining the outcomes, outputs and impacts of those grants over our 16 year history. Their complete report is available here, and it ably demonstrates how these grants change the way our industry works, and leverage other dollars toward applied research and outreach. It’s a compelling story, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to our success in the past, present and future.

I’ve shared a few photos from last year’s Tour (by the awesome Coleman Camp) below just to give you a taste of the experience, which depends on the goodwill of thousands of partners and donors every year. I appreciate you considering a gift this year. Your generosity will make a difference — now, and for many years yet to come.

The love we’re shown by the countless towns and cities we roll through is truly inspirational.

Riding is only part of the Tour des Trees story. We also make frequent community engagement stops to share the importance of tree research and education, for kids of all ages.

The end of the road in 2018, at the Ohio State House in Columbus: tired, stinky, sore, and proud, with over $340,000 raised for grants and scholarships!

The Legs Are Tired, But the Mind and the Heart Are Strong

Note: At the risk of being redundant in duplicating the gist of yesterday’s post, I sent out my last Tour des Trees fundraising appeal this morning, so I am cross-posting it here today, just in case someone reading one thing might have missed the other thing. Either way, I hope you will help support the cause!!

Hello friends and family,

As always, I apologize for sending a mass email (or blog post) to you all, but we’re in the final weeks of this year’s fundraising and training campaigns for the Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund, and I would be honored to have your support for this most important endeavor.

I recently announced my retirement as CEO of TREE Fund effective at the end of October, but I specifically selected my timeline to allow me to lead this year’s Tour, which will roll out of Nashville, TN on September 15. We’ll be riding about 450 miles in five days, hoping to raise $300,000 in the process, while also offering a variety of community engagement events to educate folks (young ones, most especially) along the route about the importance of urban and community forests.

We just hit the 50% mark on this year’s fundraising goal, so it’s “rug cutting time” for our 80+ riders to hit our individual and collective goals over the next five weeks.

I always like to stay high on the fundraising leader board, from a good Navy-trained “lead by example” standpoint, but I’ve got some steep competition this year from a few regular riders and some new folks who are awing us all with their fundraising prowess. I would be most grateful, therefore, if you would consider making a gift, of any size, to my campaign, here.

You have my personal and professional commitment, as always, to ensure that 100% of the funds raised by our riders and teams goes back out the door to support our research mission, either by funding new grants, paying installments toward ongoing multi-year grants, or endowing funds to support future grants. We recently passed $4.3 million in total grants awarded since 2002, and our board commissioned a study last year to assess the impacts, outputs and outcomes of all those grants over the years. The results were compelling, profound, and satisfying: you can see the final summary report here, if you are interested.

You also have my personal commitment that I’ll be busting my ever-more-creaky body through these summer months ahead to be in proper shape to complete the Tour in September. I rode 302 training miles over the past six days . . . and I am enjoying spending “Day Seven” putting my feet up and sending emails (and blog posts) to you all, per the pic below.

Please don’t hesitate to holla if you have any questions about what we’re up to . . . and also please don’t hesitate to hit my campaign page if you know what it’s all about and you want to support it!!

All best, all love, all thanks,

Eric

Some tired pigs. But they’ll be ready to roll come September 15 . . .

Tour des Trees 2019: $150,000 Down, $150,000 To Go

The Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund will be rolling out of Nashville, Tennessee on September 15, and our 80+ riders have until September 5 to complete their fundraising campaigns. The team broke the 50% mark this morning as we rolled over the $150,000 threshold on the way to our $300,000 aggregate goal, huttah!!

While my role with TREE Fund will be changing after October 31, I purposefully selected my retirement date to ensure that I could see this year’s Tour through to completion, and I am passionate about having an epic fundraising and riding experience for everybody involved this year. And in the years ahead, too, hopefully: we’re planning to stage the Tour in the Denver region in 2020, and we’re evaluating Eastern Texas and Central Iowa as our two finalist destinations for 2021. While I have truly loved riding with the team as President/CEO of the organization, I do intend to continue riding as a regular ol’ member of peloton for as long as my creaky body will allow me to do so, and as long as TREE Fund and my successor(s) want me along for the ride.

A lot of people talk about the Tour des Trees as as “life altering” event, and while I’m not one for hyperbole (usually), in this case, those folks are right: the community, the riding experience, the cause, the support . . . all of those things are amazing. It is hard, no denying that, but the sense of achievement when it’s over each year is glorious. As is the response year after year from so many individual donors and companies who give so generously to make it all possible, thereby allowing us to maximize the amount of funding we apply to urban forest research every year. We’ve pushed out $4.3 million in grants since our inception, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to that success.

It’s a win for everyone when we have a successful Tour, and I hope you will consider joining so many others (744 gifts so far) in supporting us this year, perhaps building on your earlier giving, or perhaps making a first time contribution. I always try to stay high on the fundraising leader board, but I’ve got some serious competition this year, so if you could click the banner image below and help the organization, the team, and me as I work to hit my personal fundraising goal, I’d be a happy rider and a grateful CEO!

Also a bit of a tired one, too, truth be told . . . I logged 302 training miles on the road this week. Tomorrow’s Sunday. I’m gonna rest!

TREE Fund Trustees Announce Search for Next President/CEO

Note: This announcement was released this morning, so I am cross-posting here. I will provide some more personalized reflections on the news in my August “Leading Thoughts” column for TREE Press — but wanted to get this out now on my personal website, just in case you know someone who might be interested in and qualified for the position, and to let my non-tree peeps know that a new chapter will be opening for me in the months ahead.

TREE Fund President and Chief Executive Officer J. Eric Smith has announced his retirement, effective October 31, 2019. The Board of Trustees are beginning the search for his replacement immediately.

“TREE Fund’s Trustees are happy for Eric and his family as they move on to the next phase of their lives, though obviously very sorry to see him leaving the organization,” notes TREE Fund Board Chair Steve Geist, BCMA, RCA. “Eric has positioned TREE Fund exceptionally well over the past four years. We consider our President/CEO position to be a highly attractive opportunity for a skilled nonprofit professional. We expect our next leader to build on his successes as we continue our work on behalf of urban and community forests and the hard-working professionals who care for them. We are glad that Eric intends to stay involved in our work as a Tour des Trees rider and donor, and we are grateful to have his assistance in the search process through the months ahead.”

The full position description for TREE Fund’s President/CEO is available here. TREE Fund is a 501(c)3 organization based in the greater Chicago region. Established in 2002 via a merger of the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust and the National Arborist Foundation, TREE Fund has awarded over $4.3 million in grants toward its mission of identifying and funding programs that support the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in arboriculture and urban forestry.

The President/CEO search is open now and will continue until the desired candidate is hired. Qualified applicants who are interested in the position must submit a complete resume with a cover letter clearly expressing why the role interests them, how their professional experiences suit them for this leadership role, their salary expectations, and their starting availability timeline. Required documents must be emailed to jesmith@treefund.org with the subject line “President/CEO Search.” Resume and cover letter titles must include the applicant’s full name.

Please do not call TREE Fund’s offices with inquiries regarding the status of the search or of your application. 

It’s a great gig . . . I hope you will share the word that it is available!

The Legacy of a Lifetime

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the July 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.

After TREE Fund was organized in 2002 via the merger of the ISA Research Trust (ISART) and the National Arborist Foundation, our very first research awards were made under the Hyland Johns Grant Program, originally established by ISART. This grant program’s namesake was, and remains, one of the great innovators and leaders in scientific utility arboriculture, and he was onsite in 1952 at the very beginning of the legendary “Bramble and Byrnes” research test plots in Pennsylvania, which TREE Fund now administers.

Over the years, TREE Fund has awarded ~$1.5 million in Hyland Johns Grants, and some of our most influential findings and outcomes have emerged from under this program’s auspices. But unlike the majority of our other grant programs, these awards have always been made on a “pay as we go” basis, rather than being secured by a permanent endowment fund that generates revenue annually. As we have often observed, trees are slow-growing, long-lived organisms. Permanent endowments are the best possible ways to ensure that our often equally long-term and slow-moving research programs can continue with confidence that funding will be in place to see them through to fruition.

Two months ago, TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees recognized that our signature program needed such long-term security, and unanimously voted to establish the Hyland Johns Endowment Fund. This new endowment will immediately become an important part of our investment and grant-making portfolio. It will further reduce our dependence on labor-intensive, transactional, retail fundraising to support our scientific mission.

Named endowments and grant programs are often established via memorial gifts, so that their honorees do not actually have the opportunity to see and appreciate the work done in their names. That’s not the case here, as Hyland Johns has been – and remains – an ardent, regular TREE Fund supporter, a great source of wisdom and historical perspective for us, and a mover, shaker, collaborator and networker par excellence within the greater tree care community. It’s always a privilege to let Hyland know what we’re doing in his name, and it’s always a treat when he contacts us to share his thoughts on and reactions to our work.

In addition to being an inspiration and leader on the scientific side of our endeavors, Hyland was also a trend-setter as one of the earliest members of our Heritage Oak Society which honors supporters who have included TREE Fund in their estate plans. There is literally no better way to support endowment funds than by making legacy gifts, which will outlive all of us, continuing the work we care about in perpetuity. The last time Hyland and I spoke, he let me know that he would be honored to direct part of his own legacy gift to the new Hyland Johns Endowment Fund – a perfect, fitting alignment of past, present, and future, a great life’s work now extended and amplified through the generosity of his estate gift.

Endowments and estate gifts are essential to TREE Fund’s long-term success. I hope others may be inspired by the example of Hyland Johns, and join him as members of the Heritage Oak Society.

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!