PANRO’s sets the standards for the nonprofit reforestation organization industry. As of May 2013, no tree planting nonprofit is up to all standards and even some that fail in many standards display excellence and industry leadership in others. This section is thus an incentive for tree planting nonprofits to elevate areas that are weak and for potential contributors/sponsors to look at tree planting nonprofits through another filter.
OPTIMAL STANDARDS (May, 2013)
Organizational Transparency (the who)
It is a basic business rule to communicate who does what in a company. The better one’s expertise is presented, the more comfortable the client is in choosing you to sell to them or provide their services. When it comes to nonprofits, there is a significantly greater need to disclose whom the staff, members of the board and advisors are as there is a greater risk by the contributor compared to a consumer.
In addition to personnel, contributors and sponsors should know all of the nonprofit’s contact information including physical address, telephone, email, fax, and video-conferencing methods.
Tree planting nonprofits will optimally have on their website in an easy-to-locate manner the following information:
1. Staff names, titles, bios for each staff member and what they do for the
nonprofit. An added bonus is a photo for each person.
2. The Members of the Board should have their names and bio’s listed. Photos are
an added bonus.
3. If there is a Science Advisory Board, they should have their names and bio’s
listed. Photos are an added bonus.
4. The website should have a complete physical mailing address, direct email,
phone and fax number easily available. Some avoid presenting a direct email to
avoid spam but posting the email address as a graphic eliminates this problem.
As of May, 2013, no single tree planting nonprofit does all of this but kudos goes to:
For staff transparency: American Forests, Seed Tree, Sustainable Harvest International, TreePeople, Trees For The Future and Trees, Water and People do a great job. For Board of Directors bios: American Forests and Seed Tree does an excellent job. American Forests also includes transparency regarding having bios for their Science Advisory Board. Overall, American Forests is in excellent standing in this area.
Overall Winner in Organizational Transparency: American Forests. Please note that Sustainable Harvest International is a close second.
Project Transparency (the what/where/where/why/how)
Describing tree planting projects on a website is difficult but necessary. If you say too little such as what the benefits of the project are then vital information is not communicated. If you say too much, some readers may become bored and choose not to contribute. Some communication styles can come-off too much like a ‘pitch-for-cash’ whereas other communication styles may be too bland and not sufficiently communicate the ‘need’ for assistance.
The optimal ‘project’ section will thus communicate need, strategy, tactics, costs, who benefits and answer all of the questions an individual, business or organization contributor/sponsor may have – all done in a way that is not too boring or ‘Sally Struthers-like’. The following are some of the standards one should see for optimal project transparency:
1. The need is communicated
2. What the nonprofit has done
3. What still needs to be done
4. Tangible benefits of the project
5. Estimated or actual costs
6. The actors involved
7. Location specifics
Trees For The Future and Tree People stand out for project transparency. Both give a very good description of the need, benefits, what they do, what groups they work with to get the project done and so forth. Trees For The Future provides GPS coordinates that sync with Google Earth for their projects and their FAQ section is fantastic in explaining the details and philosophy of how they go about their tree planting projects. TreePeople provides a clean look with exactly the right information presented regarding each project.
Overall Winner in Project Transparency: Tie between Trees For The Future and TreePeople. Second place is Trees, Water and People.
IRS designated public nonprofit foundations must provide a certain amount of financial information when asked (this rule does not apply to IRS designated ‘private’ foundations). This means that tree planting nonprofit ‘public’ foundations may choose to post little or no financial information and only provide such upon request. The most financially transparent tree planting nonprofits may post:
1. Most recent and past tax returns
2. Current and past annual report
3. Audited financial statements by an accounting firm
4. Links to audited financials by charity watchdog agencies
5. Current year projected expenses
6. Expense breakdown of individual projects
7. Letter discussing CEO compensation Policy
8. The nonprofit’s IRS tax ID number, state tax ID number, DUNS number (if they
use one) and their public vs. private foundation status
Examples of excellence
1. American Forests and Arbor Day Foundation includes a recent audited financial statement from an outside accounting firm.
2. Trees For The Future has a 2013 ‘Plan of Action’ including a breakdown of projected expenses (unfortunately not by project). They also have a letter discussing CEO financial compensation. These two benchmarks are at:
3. Trees, Water & People have a powerful financials page with more information and graphs than other tree planting nonprofits
Overall Winner in Financial Transparency: Trees, Water & People
While financial transparency communicates broadly how revenue is received and spent, ethics transparency refers to creating an ethical framework regarding how all aspects of business is conducted along with what is communicated. Tree planting nonprofits with a very strong ethical framework are much more likely to be supporting tree planting (and other) projects that are environmentally important, performed with excellence and have the greatest positive impact.
The following is a list of items/actions that are part of excellent ethics transparency for a tree planting nonprofit one may see in the industry:
2. Posting a comprehensive code of ethics
3. If a public foundation, having excellent financial transparency
4. Never accepting kickbacks from a client
5. Refusing to accept a regular, set contribution amount for something you got for
free or at deep discount
6. Never exaggerating the benefits of a particular project
7. Never excessively using fear to fundraise
8. Communicating what happens to the trees after they are planted (harvested,
coppiced or left alone)
9. Letting potential sponsors know about current project partners in their
industry before they decide to partner with us
10. Going into some detail on the website about the process of becoming a project
11. Not engage in any of the scams and deceptions discussed in the Scams and
Deceptions in the Reforestation Industry paper in the articles section
12. When there is a set contribution amount for ‘planting a tree’ making sure that
the amount directed towards that effort does cover at least the total purchase
cost of the tree
Specific examples of tree planting nonprofit ethical behavior include:
Ethical Benchmark: They have a Science Advisory Board.
Ethical Benchmark: They are upfront about their advocacy rather than hiding the fact.
Arbor Day Foundation
Ethical Benchmark: They are the industry leader in setting and encouraging high standards for municipal reforestation practices.
Ethical Benchmark: Their online shop also provides many tree educational materials.
Ethical Benchmark: Their excellent environmental education efforts in Nepal are far too many to list but can be read about at: http://seedtree.org/enveduc1.html.
Ethical Benchmark: Their direct efforts in distributing biogas systems to poor Nepalese families is unique in the industry. These create both power and sanitation.
Sustainable Harvest International
Ethical Practice: Their skeletal organization creates very low overhead.
Ethical Benchmark: They have a long-term focus per project.
Ethical Benchmark: On their website, they educate in a unique way by describing
Trees For The Future
Ethical Benchmark: Their excellent FAQ page discusses their reforestation philosophy and practice; answering certain tough questions up front nobody else does.
Ethical Benchmark: Their case studies section is an excellent method of describing how they solved specific problems via tree planting.
Ethical Benchmark: They educate others via an online, long-distance, training program, which is industry unique.
Ethical Benchmark: Posting the CEO compensation determination report is industry unique in financial transparency.
Trees, Water & People
Ethical Benchmark: They are the best in financial transparency
Ethical Benchmark: They are part of the 100% Replanted program
Ethical Benchmark: Played a physical role in helping create the first LEED Gold Certified school west of the Mississippi, which is also built to Energy Star specifications. This school serves as a role model to new schools being built.
Ethical Benchmark: They offer a list of links and resources related to what they do.
The above is presented to demonstrate that many tree-planting nonprofits manifest industry leadership in ethical practices. As financial transparency is a subset of ethical transparency and financial transparency differs between public and private foundations, two awards for 2013 Ethical Transparency will be presented.
Ethical Transparency 2013 winner (Public Foundation) is a tie between Trees For The Future and Trees, Water and People. Trees For The Future manifests industry ethics benchmarks and excellence in so many unique as well as industry- common areas, and Trees, Water & People manifests the industry best in financial transparency while performing excellently in many other areas.
Disclosure: The award for ethical transparency of a private foundation is both given by and received by the same nonprofit so it should be suspect. This will immediately change when PANRO has a Board of Directors of industry leaders who will collectively vote on this issue. Thus, an explanation will be provided as to why it is earned along with frequent review to determine continued eligibility.
Ethical Transparency 2013 winner (Private Foundation) is Plant-It 2020.
1. As of early 2013, Plant-It 2020 is the first and only tree planting nonprofit to create and publicly post a comprehensive ‘Code-Of-Ethics.’ See:
2. Plant-It 2020 is the only tree planting nonprofit to publicly educate the public online about Scams and Deceptions in the Tree Planting Industry. See:
3. Plant-It 2020 created and manages PANRO (the Professional Association of Nonprofit Reforestation Organizations), which tries to elevate and promote the entire tree planting nonprofit industry to higher standards, practices and ethics.
4. In regards to excellence in 21st century philanthropy, the book Giving 2.0 singles out Plant-It 2020 (regarding US tree planting nonprofits) for industry leadership and prominence by letting contributors have the greatest control over how their contributions are directed.
5. Plant-It 2020 as a policy never hesitates to direct potential sponsors to another tree planting nonprofit when they feel that they could do a better job and/or a better fit.
Quality Tree/Forestry Education
There are many ways to educate the public in tree planting and forestry topics. Ultimately what matters is how effective is the education in catalyzing others to demonstrably become better stewards of our urban and rural trees and forests. This is impossible to objectively measure so what will be presented are the different ways nonprofit tree planting foundations are educating people about urban and rural reforestation. The following are some common ways tree planting nonprofits educate others:
1. Written content on the website regarding tree planting, forestry and related
2. Online videos on the website or on YouTube
3. Publications (books, pamphlets, etc.) for sale or free
4. In-person presentations
5. Demonstration projects and methods
6. Online training and testing
7. In-person training
8. Connecting schools to third-party environmental training programs
9. Sponsor local and national conferences
What will be presented are some of the innovative and interesting ways particular tree planting nonprofits engage in environmental education:
American Forests hosts tree plantings and offers educational presentations to schools but their website does not list statistics as to how many have occurred. They have a magazine, monthly newsletter and blog.
Arbor Day Foundation has a very large number of educational pamphlets for sale in their online shop and hosts an industry unique Partners in Community Forestry National Conference.
Plant-It 2020 connects schools with two environmental educational programs; one containing a free an online curriculum for teachers and the other program actively teaching students environmental leadership. They also fund educational pamphlets for arborists regarding community forestry issues.
SeedTree in Nepal created a course of study for schools, created an illustrated textbook used in schools, trains teachers, helped establish an intermediate college for natural science education in a school, and provided organizational and matching support for a program where students go on field trips to learn about forests and the environment.
Sustainable Harvest International has an industry unique and amazing section of ‘Successful Techniques’ where they discuss what works in the field. They also perform in-person instruction to indigenous communities.
Tree People has an excellent selection of online videos on tree planting and management topics in both English and Spanish. They offer two books, a report and a quarterly newsletter. Their ‘Learn’ section has a ton of written content and they also offer school, teacher and youth group educational programs.
Trees For The Future performs in-person instruction, offers a long-distance training program, has free downloadable 1) agroforestry manuals and 2) a nursery construction and management manual; case studies and newsletters.
Trees, Water and People has a ‘Learn More’ section describing challenges, downloadable resources on various topics and links for more information. They have an educational vehicle, demonstration projects and outdoor classrooms.
Tree and Forest Education 2013 winner As of May, 2013, SeedTree and TreePeople stand out above the pack for excellence in tree/forest education. SeedTree because of the massive educational effect they’re having with children in schools and TreePeople because of their multiple language, highly professional YouTube videos related to tree planting and forestry; that are free with worldwide availability.
STANDARDS SUMMARY (Ver. 050313)
1. Staff names, titles, bios for each staff member and what they do for the nonprofit.
An added bonus is a photo for each person.
2. The Members of the Board should have their names and bio’s listed. Photos are an
3. If there is a Science Advisory Board, they should have their names and bio’s listed.
Photos are an added bonus.
4. The website should have a complete physical mailing address, direct email, phone
and fax number easily available. Some avoid presenting a direct email to avoid
spam but posting the email address as a graphic eliminates this problem.
5. The project need is communicated
6. What the nonprofit has accomplished regarding each project
7. What still needs to be done for each project
8. Tangible benefits of each project is presented
9. Estimated or actual costs of each project are on the website
10. The actors involved with each project are identified
11. Location specifics of each project
12. Most recent and past tax returns are on the website
13. Current and past annual report are on the website
14. Audited financial statements by an accounting firm (if available) are on the
15. Links to audited financials by charity watchdog agencies (if a public foundation)
are on the website
16. Current and next year projected expenses are on the website
17. Expense breakdown of individual projects are on the website
18. Letter discussing CEO compensation Policy is on the website
19. The nonprofit’s IRS tax ID number, state tax ID number, DUNS number (if they
use one) and their public vs. private foundation status are on the website
21. Posting a comprehensive code of ethics on the website
22. If a public foundation, having excellent financial transparency on the website
23. Never accepting kickbacks from a client as stated policy on the website
24. Refusing to accept a regular, set contribution amount for something you got for
free or at deep discount as stated policy on the website
25. Never exaggerating the benefits of a particular project on the website
26. Never excessively using fear to fundraise as stated policy on the website
27. Communicating what happens to the trees after they are planted (harvested,
coppiced or left alone) on the website
28. Letting potential sponsors know about current project partners in their industry
before they decide to partner with us
29. Going into some detail on the website about the process of becoming a project
30. Not engaging in any of the scams and deceptions discussed in the Scams and
Deceptions in the Reforestation Industry paper in the articles section
31. When there is a set contribution amount for ‘planting a tree’ making sure that
the amount directed towards that effort does cover at least the total purchase
cost of the tree as stated policy on the website
32. Provides professionally-made, instructional videos on tree and forest topics.
As this standards section makes clear, no single tree planting nonprofit stands out in being ‘above the pack’ in terms of conforming to the above standards (as of May, 2013). PANRO’s goal is to catalyze all tree planting nonprofits to willingly adopt as many of these standards as possible in as short a timeframe as possible. The tree planting nonprofit that can objectively demonstrate the most positive change regarding the above standards in one year will receive PANRO’s Annual Recognition Award – the next being given in January, 2014. It’s a nice talking point and the award will be highlighted on this website.