I announced my retirement a couple of weeks ago, and will be planning to step down as President and CEO of TREE Fund on October 31, 2019, to pursue a variety of personal projects. The search for my replacement is on. We’ve got the search posted on a variety of job sites, and the complete position description and instructions for applications are available here. If you’re considering applying, or know someone else who might be interested, I wanted to share an extra layer of insight into why I think this is a great opportunity, and why I am deeply committed to helping our Board of Trustees through the search process until we’ve hired a strong nonprofit executive to carry the organization forward when I step aside. Without further ado, here are ten reasons why this is a very good gig:
1. An outstanding team of colleagues: Our staff, our Board of Trustees, our national network of liaisons, our volunteers, and our colleagues at affiliated organizations like the International Society of Arboriculture, Tree Care Industry Association, Arbor Day Foundation, Chicago Region Trees Initiative and others are delightful to work with. I enjoy being in the office, I enjoy the people I communicate with regularly, I enjoy the people I spend time with when I travel.
2. A faithful cohort of committed donors: While it’s always a challenge for nonprofit professionals to find new and bigger funding sources, and working hard to do so is crucial at TREE Fund as elsewhere, we do have a large and stable group of corporate and individual supporters who understand and are committed to our mission, most especially the Bartlett, Davey, Wright and Asplundh families of tree care companies. Here’s the roster of all of our current partners, beyond those big four. You can’t take any of them for granted, of course, and stewardship is a paramount part of the job, but you also will not be walking into a development situation where you’re starting at “zero” on your budget every year.
3. Fascinating science: The tree research community has been unveiling incredible findings in recent years, with ever-growing knowledge about how trees exist as communal organisms, the human benefits provided by the urban forest, transformative insights into how to design urban spaces to maximize those benefits, and myriad other mind-blowing areas of inquiry. TREE Fund sits at the cutting edge of this work with our highly-competitive grant-making programs, which become ever more crucial as Federal funding for such work dwindles. We also manage two major utility arboriculture research projects in partnership with Penn State University and Sonoma State University, developing integrated vegetation management and pollinator programs for use along the nation’s millions of miles of utility rights of way. I literally learn something new almost every day, and as a lover of trees, I find it fascinating.
4. Interesting, mature campaigns: During my watch, we completed the endowment-building campaigns for the Safe Arborist Technique Fund, Bob Skiera Memorial Building Bridges Initiative, John Wright Memorial Scholarship Fund, Utility Arborist Research Fund, Barborinas Family Fund, John White Memorial Fund, Ohio Chapter ISA Education Fund, and Bonnie Appleton Memorial Fund, and have been or are soon awarding grants or scholarships in all of them. Our next priority campaigns, which are well underway, are the Tree and Soil Research Fund, The Davey Community Education Fund, the Larry Hall Memorial Fund, and the Hyland Johns Grant Program Endowment Fund. You’ll get to see those through to fruition, and it’s truly exciting to watch their grants go live when their goals are attained.
5. The Tour des Trees: Sure, lots of nonprofit organizations run cycling events as fundraisers, but you’ve never seen one quite like this: our riders and support teams give up a full week of their precious personal time each year to ride about 500 miles, each committing to raise $3,500 to support our research programs. We visit a different region in the country every year, making regular stops along the way, spreading the word about the importance of tree science and education, and the relatively small size of the team means you will be able to make important personal connections with nearly everyone, quickly. Those who have experienced the Tour almost always cite it as life-altering, and I concur. You don’t have to ride it all as the the President/CEO (though I do), but just being in the middle of it in a support capacity will make you realize what an amazing cohort of volunteers this event attracts. Our veteran Tour Manager, Paul Wood of Black Bear Adventures, is also a superstar, and a joy to work with. If you’ve ever managed big events in this past, you’ll quickly understand why we consider him among our most valuable assets.
6. Educating the next generation: We offer scholarships and education programs to help the next generation of tree care professionals attain the wisdom and skill they need to become stewards of our priceless urban and community forests. We have also developed an outstanding elementary school education program with the true one-of-a-kind Professor Elwood Pricklethorn, and seeing him deliver one of his “PEP Rallies” will provide you with a stellar example of how to inspire our young ones, with love and fun. His road agent, Warren Hoselton, also developed our patented TREE Fund tree blessing, with which our Tour riders have provided growing mojo for all the trees we’ve planted in our wakes over the years. (At bottom line, we all get to act like kids together, and it gives us power and mojo every time we do it, too, no matter how tired the road has made us).
7. Proper alignment of governance and management: This one may be a little esoteric, but if you’ve ever sat on a board with an executive that denied you your strategic role, or if you’ve ever been a nonprofit executive with a board that wants to micromanage your staff and volunteers, then you’ll understand just how important this one is. We manage with a rolling three year-year Strategic Plan, using it to map our progress together, evaluating results and adjusting tactics annually as needed, while keeping our eyes on the mission-based prize at all times. I truly like working with every one of my Board members, and I think they enjoy me too, but we’re educated, aware, and committed to our respective roles in the corporation, and our efforts are largely smooth and without conflict accordingly.
8. A truly charitable mission anchored in philanthropy: We’re not a trade association, we’re not a membership corporation, and we’re not in the business of retail sales to meet the bottom line. We are a 501(c)3 engaged in a charitable mission, and we depend on philanthropic activity and intent and commitment to do what we do. While running a gift shop or selling memberships might be easier, on some plane, than what we do, I find it inspiring to know that those who support us do so not just because of what they’re getting out of the relationship (though obviously our best partnerships do benefit both parties), but rather because they care deeply about what we offer, and recognize that if we don’t do it together, a lot of it is not going to get done.
9. Saving lives: No hyperbole here: tree care jobs are among the most dangerous in the country, and our industry’s monthly trade magazine routinely reports a startling number of injuries and fatalities from accidents and incidents. Our work is designed not only to help us understand trees better, but also to understand how to work in and around them more safely as well, protecting our skilled professionals, the companies that employ them, and the clients they serve. Moving beyond the cohort of amazing people who work with our urban and community forests and on utility rights-of-way, we also know that smarter urban planning around forest assets can dramatically improve a variety of health and safety factors for citizens living in proximity to the trees that municipalities and private property owners plant and maintain. Healthy urban and community forests are directly correlated to healthy cities and citizens. We support that relationship.
10. Adult education and training: We support our tree care professionals and the communities they serve by requiring that all of our research findings be made freely available to anyone who wants to access them, and we also offer a robust and popular webinar series that’s become a key component in helping our professionals achieve and maintain various certifications through participation in distance learning. We routinely break the 1,000 viewer mark for each of our free online webinars, and we recently released a comprehensive study designed to evaluate the outcomes, impacts, and outputs of the $4.3 million in grants we’ve awarded since our inception in 2002. People may not necessarily know where the facts that help them do their jobs came from, but we’re still helping them be better and safer and more efficient in their jobs, regularly.
Does all of that sound good? It is, I promise. I’ve enjoyed my four years at TREE Fund as much as any work I’ve done in a long nonprofit career, and I see this position as being a great opportunity for a rising professional determined to make his or her mark in an important field of endeavor. We’re small, we’re nimble, we’re frugal where we need to be and generous when that’s necessary, and I think we make a difference. You’re not going to have a posh corner office in some tower of glass and steel if you take my job, mind you, and you’re certainly not going to get rich working for a small nonprofit like TREE Fund, and a lot of the time the fruits of your efforts may accrue publicly to others, but you will know what you’ve done, and you will know that it matters.
Pass it on. We need a nonprofit superstar. It might be you.
So many hills to climb . . . but so many rewards in climbing them . . .