Fund Raising for Urban and Community Forestry

Like most municipal improvement activities, urban and community forestry requires some level of funding. In certain situations, volunteer tree activists and businesses can provide in-kind services and goods. In many other instances, goods and services simply must be purchased.

American author Gertrude Stein once said that "Money is always there, but the pockets change." To be successful, urban and community forestry programs must heed this wisdom and develop diverse and adaptable fund raising strategies. With a plan in place, public officials, citizen tree activists, potential donors and funding agencies will be able to understand your program goals,objectives and financial needs and will be more willing to enter into working financial partnerships.

Where Do Contributions Come From?

It is critically important to realize that revenue need not come from the public sector only. Individuals, businesses and family and/or corporate foundations can help finance the urban and community forest and will often provide the greatest funding opportunities. In the United States, individuals constitute 82% of total giving, whereas corporations and private foundations make up 11% of the total.

You are more likely to get donations if you have a specific, well-planned project developed. For instance, sometimes grants are given to get a project started. The city of Middletown, Connecticut, provides an excellent example of the way in which "seed money" works. The city received a two-year grant to initiate an urban forest project. In the two grant years, an ordinance was passed, a tree inventory was developed, an urban forest commission was created, community support was obtained and trees were planted. To enhance these efforts, funding has also been forthcoming from city government. Importantly though, at the end of the life of the seed money, the Middletown Urban Forest Commission recognized the need to diversify funding sources and now aggressively seeks volunteer assistance, individual contributions, private foundation grants and partnerships with local businesses.

Similarly, Hartford and Stamford have developed diversified fund raising strategies for tree planting. Unlike Middletown, however, they have received little government revenue and no seed money. Citizen organizations in these towns have funded community forest projects with foundation grants, individual donations and local business contributions. They have relied on community spirit and activism to raise funds.

The following are examples of traditional nongovernment sources of funds:

  • Private and corporate foundations

  • Corporate giving through partnerships

  • Special events

  • Individual donors

  • Civic groups

  • Unions/professional organizations

  • Direct mail (i.e. annual appeal)

  • Interest from permanent endowments

  • Local business giving, including in-kind services

It is important to remember that for an urban and community forestry project to remain viable, fund raising must be based on multiple sources of revenue, so when one source dries up, others are available.

Who Should Raise Funds?

Anyone can raise money for a good cause, and you are probably more experienced than you think. Most of us have raised money at some point in our lives, be it a bake sale, church supper or paper drive. Fund raising requires dedication, imagination, information and a plan.

Ask any fund raiser, seasoned professional or beginner, what is the most intimidating aspect of fund raising and, invariably, they say the fear of rejection. This is natural -- no one likes to be rejected. Know that your request for funding might be rejected, but learn from each encounter and move on to the next prospective donor.

No one person possesses all the required skills, so fund raising should be a group activity. Chances of success are greater if people in your group are skilled in the following areas:

  • Accounting

  • Banking

  • Computers

  • Corporate relations/corporate culture

  • Library research

  • Marketing

  • Media relations

  • Public speaking

  • Sales

  • Technical writing

Be Informed; Be Prepared

Your chances of success increase if you do your homework. Learn as much as possible about the person, foundation or business you are approaching. Learn what they like to fund. Know their assets and whether or not they have formal procedures for fund request.

Put yourself in the prospective donor's shoes. Ask yourself, "Why should I give to your urban or community forestry project?" Most people give for one or more of the following reasons: Peer pressure

  • Save taxes

  • Help save the planet

  • Achieve popularity

  • Gain public recognition

  • Increase property value

  • Promote business

Appeal to them accordingly. No person, government or business is going to donate to an organization that cannot demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Prepare a project budget to present to prospective donors. If possible, have a financial statement showing the last three years of activity. For a nonprofit organization, an annual report will suffice.

You will also need to demonstrate that your organization is capable of completing project objectives. Unfortunately this can be a "catch-22" for new organizations. Be prepared to supply any of the following to prospective donors: resumes of project coordinators, list of board members, list of past donors, references, letters of recommendation, testimonies and proof of your organization's tax exempt status, if applicable.

Many corporations and foundations provide guidelines for fund requests. Ask for them, and then provide only what they request. Too much information can work against you.

Put Your Best Face Forward

Many urban and community forestry organizations, both public and private, overlook marketing as a key component of fund raising. Even if you only do one fund raising event, the image your group projects is lasting. It is easier to "sell" your project or organization if, through year-round marketing, you make yourself known.

Use the media to your advantage. See that your urban and community forestry organization is in the news. Routinely contact reporters, journalists and freelance writers to inform them of your activities. Invite representatives from government, businesses and civic associations to your urban and community forestry events, and publicize them.

The best marketing "tool" is a positive attitude. Stay upbeat, even when financial times are tough. People like to be associated with winners. They are more likely to give if they perceive your organization to be successful and result-oriented. Thank the Donor and Publicize the Gift

Acknowledge the donor. Before doing so, however, ask how they wish this to be done. For foundations, corporations and local businesses, publicity will usually be very important, but individual donors sometimes prefer anonymity.

When you have completed the project, send a report to the donor. People enjoy and appreciate receiving pictures, quotes from participants, letters from kids, newsclips and materials that are the product of their gifts, some may even require it. Send thank you letters that include a report on the disbursement of funds.

Put It All Together

Fund raising is an activity that takes years to perfect. Schools, universities and nonprofit organizations employ individuals and sometimes whole departments of professional fund raisers to acquire necessary revenue to finance their missions. Be creative. Workshops, especially on grant writing skills, are offered by nonprofit and for-profit development groups. Public libraries will be able to provide some references as well.

Trees in the urban and community forest are living, lasting memorials to people's generosity, care and devotion. To quote Bryce Nelson, "People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world which cannot sustain people." Remember, the fact that tree planting/tree care is worthwhile will not guarantee success. Planning, dedication, research, skill and hard work will help ensure that the forests along our streets, in our parks and around our schools and municipal buildings will be planted and maintained in perpetuity.

Selected Fundraising References

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Connecticut's Urban Forestry Program contact:

Robert M. Ricard, Ph.D., CF
Senior Extension Educator

* Urban and Community Forestry

* Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
West Hartford Extension Center
1800 Asylum Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06117
Tel: (860) 570-9257
Fax: (860) 570-9008


Advice and Assistance:
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  College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Cooperative Extension System
1376 Storrs Road, Unit 4036
Storrs, Connecticut 06269

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