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Arbor Day Foundation is Planting Seeds for PR to Grow

Posted At: April 23, 2010 4:28 PM
by Autumn Winsett

The stakes are high in nonprofit organizations. There are many audiences to serve and limited resources to execute plans. Communicating to stakeholders in new, effective and innovative ways is crucial.

The role of a nonprofit organization can be both exciting and challenging, but The Arbor Day Foundation mastered communicating with its audiences through noteworthy public relations practices. Arbor Day Foundation’s Public Relations Manager Mark Derowitsch said, “We have a good message, we engage millions of people each year through our public relations and direct marketing efforts and we are passionate about what we do.” The Arbor Day Foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees, with more than one million members, supporters and partners. Arbor Day is a nationally celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. It’s celebrated on the last Friday in April, and it will be observed on April 30, 2010.


A vision must be clear and concise for everyone in the organization to understand the ultimate goal. The Arbor Day Foundation aims to expand awareness and education for the need to plant and care for trees throughout the world. The foundation pursues its goal through several initiatives and programs that can be used to reach each audience from small children to the elderly. Derowitsch said,”For a nonprofit organization, public relations is an invaluable tool to spread the good news that your group is doing. The foundation’s goal is to plant trees, and that drives much of what we do. We use PR outlets — traditional and nontraditional — to tell as many audience groups as possible about the importance of planting trees.”

“At the Arbor Day Foundation, we inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. It’s our passion to help our dedicated members and supporters successfully plant millions of trees all over America. Each of those trees makes a difference, enhancing communities, our nation and the Earth’s environment. And, thanks to the hard work of many of our collaborators, our positive action programs bring very tangible results close to home where trees are enjoyed by millions of people on a daily basis,” said John Rosenow, founder and president of the Arbor Day Foundation (as quoted in an April 2007 USA Today news release).


The Arbor Day Foundation is open and transparent; it discloses its annual reports and tax returns on This transparency makes the foundation more authentic and trustworthy to its various publics.

Dr. Brad Rawlins of Brigham Young University has a four-component test to measure an organization’s transparency. Rawlins’ questions to measure perceptions of organizational transparency are based on the information provided, stakeholder participation, accountability and secretiveness.The Arbor Day Foundation’s scores on the test meet Rawlins’ expectations of transparency.

During a presentation at the 10th International Public Relations Research Conference in 2007, Rawlins concluded that “as organizations become more transparent, they will also become more trusted.”

Social media engagement

The foundation uses social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the Arbor Day Blog to spread awareness by actively updating. Derowitsch said, “Social media is playing a bigger role with our outreach practices, and it continues to grow. We currently use Facebook, Twitter and blogs to speak directly to our members and supporters and it allows us to highlight special promotions in a unique way.”

Conveying the message

Knowing when to use each strategy is the art of public relations. Whether they use direct mail, print advertisements, television, radio, Internet appeals, cause-related marketing or membership appeals, the Arbor Day Foundation tailors the messages disseminated to make the most impact. Arbor Day Foundation logos, illustrations and event supplies are available at The foundation is accessible; all press releases, fact sheets and PSAs are free and available for the consumer’s use.

Communicating with Diverse Publics The Arbor Day Foundation is a great example of promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees and customers. The organization educates the public about nature conservation and the important role of trees to the environment.

The Arbor Day Foundation is dedicated to working with many corporate partners. Andrew Taylor, chairman and CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said (as quoted on the Arbor Day website), “no other philanthropic effort we have undertaken has generated as much enthusiasm and pride among our employees as this one. What is more, the pledge became a catalyst for developing the largest, most comprehensive environmental stewardship platform in our industry. So, on a number of levels, this partnership has been a real win-win — for the Arbor Day Foundation and for Enterprise.” AT&T is also teaming up with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant trees in the nation’s forests. The company is making a donation of one tree for each customer who opts for paperless billing in 2010.


The organization manages a high volume of correspondence and transactions with individual members, corporate sponsors and public partners.

As the Arbor Day Foundation grew, adding several new partners and programs in the last decade, leaders recognized the need to replace its aging system with a solution that the IT team could customize to manage interactions with a diverse group of supporting organizations. Mike Ashley, IT director for the Arbor Day Foundation, said in a Microsoft case study, “As we’ve engaged more supporters, partners and sponsors in connection with new conservation and education programs, our need to manage interactions with various groups has intensified.” The Arbor Day Foundation recognized the fact that it has several diverse publics, and took steps to improve communication with the various groups by revamping its relationship management system to “handle the following diverse functions”:

• Tree-Planting Event Planning
• National 5th Grade Poster Contest Application Process
• National 5th Grade Poster Contest Outreach
• Replanting Our National Forests Campaign Management
• Tree Campus USA Application Process
• Tree Campus USA Outreach
• Managing Program Sponsorships from Corporate Partners
• Earthshare Government-Employee Donor Program
• Managing Government Appropriations Appeals
• Managing Grant Requests
• Contact Strategy for Prospective Bequest Donors
• Contact Strategy for Charitable Gift Annuity Donors
• Contact Strategy for Major-Gifts Donors
• Managing Mission-Related Product Sales
• Managing Traveling Exhibit Communications and Logistic

(List quoted from “Arbor Day Foundation: Large Nonprofit Cuts Development Time by 300 Percent Using xRM”)

Turn awareness into action

“Strength in numbers” is more than a phrase to the Arbor Day Foundation; it is a concept used to create momentum for change. The Arbor Day Foundation’s recgonizes the inspiring work of others through Arbor Day Awards. More than 8 million trees were planted in the nation’s forests last year. The foundation educates and provides ways for people to take action. Planting trees where they are needed the most, creating effective outdoor learning spaces and saving rainforests are just a few of the ways the foundation encourages people to take action to enhance the quality of life while benefiting the environment. Derowitsch said, “Each year, the foundation recognizes communities large and small throughout the U.S. that utilize best tree-care practices, and the publicity the foundation receives is extremely valuable.”

Knowing the ultimate goal and devising a plan to reach it are the first steps to an effective communications plan. The Arbor Day Foundation successfully engages with its publics because it is open and knows how to reach out to the community. It is not only effective in spreading awareness about the organization but also successful in getting people to take action and participate.

Are there any organizations you can think of that use great PR practices?

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