PANRO is a professional association objectively presenting and discussing the nonprofit tree planting industry along with promoting a set of industry standards. Only nonprofit organizations who’s primary mission is tree planting falls under PANRO’s umbrella. Thus, an organization such as the Nature Conservancy who engages in many activities including but not focusing predominantly upon reforestation would not be presented.
The objective of this introduction is to briefly describe how nonprofit tree-planting organizations are different from each other. Discerning these differences helps sponsors best choose which type of tree planting organization is best to partner with in order to maximize their cost-benefit ratio. In addition, it also saves a lot of time and research in terms of knowing what is out there, what they do and so forth. Remember, no single tree planting nonprofit is the best choice for all sponsors! Each tree planting nonprofit has its own strengths, weaknesses and quirks. This section will examine the following aspects: 1) what size trees do they plant, 2) where they plant the trees, 3) who physically plants the trees, 4) additional missions, 5) how the organization is run, 6) affiliation, 7) ethics, 8) communications, marketing & advertising and 9) IRS status.
Trees tend to be classified into four sizes:
4. City Size Trees
Seedlings tend to be less than three feet tall and less than 2” diameter. They are either grown from seed in seedbeds or are purchased from tree nurseries (often in bulk). Sometimes, they can be received for free or at low cost through grants. Saplings are small trees between 2” – 3.5” wide at about 4.5’ above the ground. Poles are 3.5” – 12.9” diameter at 4.5’ above ground. City trees tend to be poles or larger sized and are often planted with machinery such as a borer that digs the hole and other equipment that carries and places the tree. City trees are usually (but not always) planted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department (or equivalent). Saplings, poles and larger-sized trees can be purchased from tree nurseries
Where Are The Trees Planted?
Tree-planting nonprofits may plant trees:
3. Across the US
4. In one, several or many non-US countries
5. Combinations of the above
Who Plants The Trees?
Nonprofit tree-planting organizations generally have five ways in which they plant trees:
1. They may plant them themselves – perhaps including outside volunteers
2. They may plant the original trees themselves (perhaps with outside volunteers) and later have the tree-planting project
perpetuate with outside groups managing the planting.
3. They may sub-contract the entire tree-planting project to a qualified outside group.
4. They may perform a combination of the above.
5. They may transition over time from one-or-more of the above to another-or-more of the above.
Some nonprofit reforestation organizations focus only on the planting of trees whereas others may include one or more of the following missions:
1. The distribution of fuel-efficient or biochar cook-stoves
2. Improving sanitation in human communities
3. Distributing biogas systems (they provide power) to needy human communities
4. Distributing solar energy panels to needy human communities
5. Providing carbon credits to business
6. Performing forestry research and/or education
7. Engaging in forestry/environmental activism
8. Reducing killer landslides through tree planting
9. Reducing hunger and thirst through reforestation
10. Saving endangered species
11. Protecting land from misuse and abuse by buying it and/or educating and training the indigenous people
12. Providing eco-tourism
13. Educating the industry on urban and/or rural tree management
14. The selling of products that help the forests and indigenous people.
15. Providing grants for tree planting projects
In other words, some organizations only plant trees whereas other organizations perform tree planting as one of many necessary tools for improving ecosystems that include flora, fauna and human communities.
How is the Nonprofit Run?
This question consists of three parts: staff, internal and external operations. Regarding staff, all tree-planting nonprofits have a Board of Directors and an Executive Director. Almost all utilize volunteers. As the number of personnel grows, specialized positions develop such as account managers, project coordinators, grant writers, fundraisers, website mangers, project technicians and so forth. The largest nonprofit tree-planting organizations may have in-house legal counsel, membership coordinators, a professional spokesperson, marketing personnel, event coordinators, managers and so forth.
Internal operations may be efficient or chaotic. In one example, there is a mid-sized nonprofit tree planting organization that is normally highly excellent in its operations and easily one of the very best groups to partner with but which periodically goes through tumultuous periods with powerful employee and volunteer turnover. 99% of the time, they are one of the absolute best organizations to partner with but during crisis times, they are a mess. In another situation, there are several organizations in which the Executive Director is the only one able to make non-standard decisions and he or she may be notoriously difficult to reach.
External operations relate to how one operates outside of the office. Are the tree-planting projects succeeding or failing? How well do the organization’s members present themselves? Is it organized chaos or do things tend to go smoothly? Are there backup plans? Do the people in the field have sufficient authority and resources to make necessary changes to adapt to unexpected problems? How well are the people trained?
Most nonprofit tree planting organizations are completely independent but some are not. ‘Affiliation’ in this context means ties to another organization that go beyond basic business commerce. The ties may be through the Executive Director, one or more individuals on the Board of Directors or even deeper where the nonprofit tree planting organization is actually an open or hidden subsidiary of another entity.
A recent trend is for cities to create a nonprofit entity that competes with other tree planting nonprofits. For example, it used to be that to plant trees in many cities, a nonprofit tree planting organization would contract with the city’s Parks And Recreation Department and a custom tree-planting event could easily be created. Now, an increasing number of cities have created a nonprofit controlled by the city that deals directly with the nonprofit tree planting organization. Available locations are now politicized so that if the city is controlled by a particular political party, they will try to have trees planted at and near locations of interest to that political party such as campaign headquarters, etc. Thus, the move is away from greatest need and towards what makes the administration happy.
Other examples of affiliation include:
1. Being part of or influenced by a national or state government organization
2. Being part of a religious entity
3. Being part of an advocacy group
When it comes to nonprofit reforestation, there is some dispute over what constitutes ethical conduct. Obligations to contributors and sponsors are widely debated in the areas of transparency, fundraising, operations and communications among others. It is planned that there be detailed discussion of this topic by PANRO in the near future.
Here are some of the many ethical issues facing the industry:
1. How much transparency should I provide?
2. If a member of one industry is considering partnering with us, should I tell him of the competition in his industry that have or
currently is partnering with us?
3. Should I post a ‘Code-of-Ethics’ on our website? If so, how detailed should it be?
4. When I claim that ‘X’ amount of money plants a tree, should I tell the contributor that it is actually subsidizing part of the total
cost of planting a tree when
that is the case?
5. If the trees will or may be cut down later for timber, am I obligated to tell the contributor before they make their contribution?
6. Is it OK to plant trees obtained for free or at less-than-usual cost but ask for the set amount of money-per-tree from
Communications relates to three areas:
1. Content on the website and collateral
2. Communication with contributors and sponsors
3. Marketing and advertising related to corporate sponsors
Website and collateral content should be as informative as possible about the who, what, when, where, why, how and cost of everything the tree planting nonprofit does. The website should have posted employee names, Members of the Board, a physical mailing address, a working email address, EIN number, state tax id number, DUNS Number, and a ‘Code-of-Ethics’.
Communication with contributors and promotional sponsors should be as accurate as possible. If they want to contribute towards a particular project and there are potential downsides to that project then the sponsor should know about them before money changes hands. Sponsors should know up front what the tree planting nonprofit can, may and cannot do along with payment deadlines, etc.
On occasion, part of the onus of marketing and advertising a project partnership is put on the tree planting nonprofit. These groups tend to know little or nothing about marketing and advertising. It is however an increasing expectation to provide high quality social media, website and newsletter marketing for corporate sponsors. The ability to create and disseminate a press release or YouTube video is rapidly becoming part of the business.
A basic discussion of the different types of nonprofits can be found at:
In terms of tree planting nonprofits, they can be split into public versus private foundations. Both may be 501(c)(3)’s but the private foundation has different legal obligations in regards to public transparency and they are barred from posting their financial and other information to public charity analysis organizations such as CharityNavigator or Guidestar.org. One thus has better tools to investigate public foundations than private ones.
The above is thus a very brief introduction to some of the many differences between tree planting nonprofits. As earlier stated, no single tree planting nonprofit does everything excellently and no single tree planting nonprofit is the best fit for all business sponsors. PANRO.org aims to 1) inform the public about the capabilities of each one, 2) raise the industry standards, 3) help business maximize their cost/benefit ratio by selecting and best working with the most appropriate tree planting nonprofit for their needs and 4) provide educational and other resources for people and entities within and outside of the nonprofit tree planting industry.