Ten Reasons You Should Apply For My Job

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 . . .

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,


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.

Honoring the Real Tree Care Heroes

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

As I write this column, there are about 100 days left until the Tour des Trees rolls out from Nashville, Tennessee for five days of community engagement and fundraising on behalf of our research programs. I woke up this morning planning to get a good training ride in, but . . . Ugh, rain! And more rain! And floods! And wind! And cold! It’s been just awful for cycling in Chicago and in Des Moines all spring, in fact, and the forecast for the next week is much more of the same. How am I going to get ready for the Tour if this continues? And what a bummer to have to spend another spring day indoors, harrumph!

I was muttering and grumbling to myself about this most unfortunate personal inconvenience with a warm cup of tea in my hand, looking out from the third-floor window of my new apartment building, feeling very self-aggrieved, when I happened to glance downward, and I saw a crew of half-a-dozen workers who were putting in new trees, irrigation systems, sod, mulch and gravel around our building, out in the cold and the rain. Looking further upward and outward, I noted a utility truck on the other side of the Des Moines River, lights flashing, crews out of the street directing traffic, likely engaged in water or power management activities as the river continues to rise here.

They had no warm tea. They had no nice bikes. Nor did they have an option to call it a day and hang out indoors instead of getting a good ride in. My grievances about the weather suddenly felt very petty and small. Don’t get me wrong: training and fundraising for and riding the Tour des Trees is hard work, and I am extraordinarily grateful to the amazing volunteers who take the time off to do it year after year, while I’m getting paid to be with them. But it was a timely and important reminder to me today to also always remember that the people we ride for – our working arborists, our urban foresters, our ground crews, our utility lines people, our landscapers, our municipal manager, and so many others – work even harder, all the time, all year long, in jobs that actually become more intense and urgent when the weather is at its worst, after storms, ice, floods, etc.

As Tour des Trees riders, we get a lot of kudos and compliments around the country at the various industry events we attend, and those are all fine and deserved and appreciated. But the real heroes in our industry are the men and women who are usually sitting in the chairs in the audience at those events, watching us being feted without comment or remark, taking the time from their own busy schedules to make themselves as professionally effective, efficient, and safe as they can be in often crushingly challenging and difficult work settings. I’m an office worker at bottom line, while they are doing the heavy lifting that truly makes a difference.

I use my column space this month to say “thank you” to them all, and hope you’ll join me in sharing your own appreciation, publicly, whenever and however you are able.

I ain’t ridin’ today . . . but our tree folks and colleagues are workin’ anyway . . .