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“Unlikely Allies, Unexpected Partners” by Nicki Largent, Executive Director, Tree Bank Foundation


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Nicki Largent, Executive Director, Tree Bank Foundation, discusses how nonprofits need to be fearless in seeking unlikely partnerships at the 2013 ACTrees Day.

Nicki Largent, Executive Director, Tree Bank Foundation, discusses how nonprofits need to be fearless in seeking unlikely partnerships at the 2013 ACTrees Day.

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  • Personal background and accomplishments (incl. $55,000+ in new donations)
  • Whenever I see this image I wonder about the first bird that thought, “Hey I bet I can get some great food if I just wander into this crocodile’s mouth and pick out the bits of food in its teeth.” And then you wonder about the crocodile who was just like, “Huh. I think I’ll leave my mouth open to see what this crazy bird is going to do.”The Plover and the crocodile = the perfect illustration of a partnership that seems ludicrous but works like magic because both parties are benefitting from the relationship. Be the Plover!
  • There are two mindsets that you absolutely have to abandon when you seek out partnerships.That you are in competition with other organizations for grants, publicity, volunteers, etc. It’s hard to make friends if you think they’re the enemy. Or that they might be fraternizing with the enemy.That whole “think outside the box” phrase. There is no box. (Like in The Matrix when he says “There is no spoon” and crazy things happen.) There are no bad ideas if they will work in your location for your organization. Maybe some ideas are crazy, but if they’re a good kind of crazy they could work in your favor. And maybe some ideas are old-fashioned – but if they work, why not do it? Free your mind! Be the Plover!
  • Before you go looking for partners you need to decide your ultimate goal. Are you looking for sponsorships? Publicity? A project to brag about?Have a plan in place complete with project ideas as well as past accomplishments. Be realistic and specific about your goals.
  • I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Yes, people can be altruistic but the fact is that they need to be able to tell their board of directors or their boss why they should partner with you. Make it easy for them to sell your idea.If you’re looking for sponsors, have sponsorship levels with detailed benefits for each level. If you’re looking for publicity, have a media plan that shows how you will distribute information so that your future partners can see how they will be recognized.It will only be a true partnership when both parties are benefitting.
  • There are many ways to find people that are interested in your mission.Lost donors – Look through your own history of giving to find donors that have dropped off your giving list. Contact them and see what happened. Ask if they have ideas for future projects, if they still want to be involved in volunteering, etc. Get them excited about what you’re doing now.Past project beneficiaries – There are people who are benefitting from projects that you have already done and they might not realize it. Contact them and let them know! Example: The Tree Bank planted a dozen trees in Campbell Park twenty-five years ago. Now those trees are shading a prominent PR company across the street.Projects you can help – There are many organizations out there that are branching out into the environmental sector even though their mission has nothing to do with the environment. For example, the Cleveland County Social Services Division wanted to offer the senior citizens in their program a gardening class to teach them how to plant food gardens in their backyard. When I heard about it, I offered to teach them about the fruit trees that do best in Oklahoma, how to plant, prune and harvest them. As a result, each of those senior citizens signed up for our newsletter. One of their daughters heard about it and she just happened to be the vice president at a bank, which has since become a donor.Newspapers/Social media – There are things happening in your community that are getting a lot of publicity. What are they and how can you get involved? Trees benefit everyone, and everyone loves people who plant trees. Remember, there is no box – you can find a way to get in on the action! Be the plover!Yellow pages/Google – A simple search engine can lead to a great partnership. “Tree OKC” led to all sorts of companies, and not just landscapers or arborists. Once you’ve found a local company who has made a tree their symbol or part of their name, it’s easy to suggest ways for them to become a sponsor.Landscaping enthusiasts – Who is winning awards for their landscape? Who has just put in a fantastic landscape at their company? Congratulate them!Landscaping offenders – Kind of a weird situation. An electric company in Oklahoma was being ripped for their tree pruning methods. We are putting together a tree-planting program for them to appease the public.Board members – Reach out to see who they know. Make it a competition – the one who brings in the most new sponsors wins a prize. And not just your board members, but other organizations also. Every time you make a presentation to a garden club/service organization/church/whatever mention your projects and simply say, “If you know of anyone who might be interested in sponsoring this project please let me know!” It’s also very important to have someone on your board who is a marketing specialist. This needs to be someone who is part of the PR community in your area, who knows the market in your area and can help you with finding out exactly what is going on in your community that you can get involved with.Write a note! Phone calls are okay too. But form letters get thrown in the trash and emails are easy to ignore.
  • Do not jump in with your idea and the proposal. Make contact with them first and let them know why you’re contacting them.A secondary contact could be your newsletter or even just a couple mentions on Twitter or Facebook.Once you’ve established a baseline for a partnership, ask your contact to lunch or coffee. Make it a friendly situation – “Hey, I have this great idea for a way we could partner together…”Be the Plover!
  • This is a little game to demonstrate how partnerships have developed for the Tree Bank. Can anyone venture a guess as to how these five things could be connected?The answer: The one thing connecting all five items is an orchard that the Tree Bank is donating to the Regional Food Bank. When I was seeking out partnerships I started with a goal to generate new corporate sponsorships. I went on to social media to find possible projects that would generate interest from those new sponsors. I discovered the Urban Harvest program at our Regional Food Bank, which teaches youth how to plant, maintain, harvest and cook their own food. This project had a wonderful garden but no orchard. So I developed a plan and presented it to their staff, then their board. I then received funding for the project from Whole Foods grocery store, as well as several other local companies – which meant I achieved my goal of corporate sponsorship.
  • The answer: Our Tornado Re-Leaf program ties all of these elements together. This started with the Oklahoma storms this past May, which generated a need for trees in the communities that were devastated. When seeking partnerships I hit the yellow pages and pulled every company that had “tree” in their name. I came across the Tree and Leaf T-shirt company and thought they might be interested in selling t-shirts to benefit the project. They were and stated that in addition to selling t-shirts they would be interested in sponsoring a fundraiser. My board and I suggested a tree photo contest. With his help and connections, we were able to get further sponsors and will launch that photo contest in the lobby of a downtown building, which in turn should generate further sponsorships.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Unlikely Allies How to find and engage unexpected partners Presented by Nicki Largent Executive Director @TheTreeBank Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 2. Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 3. Step 1 – The Right Attitude Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 4. Step 2 – Ultimate Goal Be prepared to answer the question: What do you want? Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 5. Step 3 – Give to Get Be prepared to answer the question: What do I get? Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 6. Step 3 – Start Looking Where to look 1. Lost donors 2. Past project beneficiaries 3. Projects you can help 4. Newspapers/Social media 5. Yellow pages/Google 6. Landscaping enthusiasts 7. Landscaping offenders 8. Board members Nicki Largent Handwritten notes are your friend! 405.330.4701
    • 7. Step 4 – Make Contact Start Small Step 5 – The Ask Be the Plover! Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 8. How are they connected? Tree Bank Regional Food Bank Whole Foods Social media Corporate sponsorship Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 9. How are they connected? Tree Bank T-shirt Company Tornado Yellow pages Photography Nicki Largent 405.330.4701
    • 10. The Next 20 Years Government Funding The need for nonprofit partners Organizations that do not have a diverse partner base (incl. donors and volunteers) will have a rough time answering demand. Nicki Largent 405.330.4701