September 11, 2019 3 min read

Functioning systems are vital for people, technology, and nature!

As a nonprofit focused on global reforestation, you might think that the majority of our time is spent planting trees or weightlifting buckets of mulch. But the reality is much more… digital. At least for the core team keeping our eco-projects running smoothly.

There’s a surprising amount of logistical details that need to be figured out via systems, tools, and virtual communications. You know how we love to pull back the curtain and take you behind the scenes, so today we thought we’d share some of the not-so-glamorous details of what it really takes to plant trees around the world.

We spend a lot of time in front of our computers.

What can we say, it’s the modern age! There is absolutely a time to get our hands in the dirt, but then who would answer all those donor questions? Who would send the funds to our on-the-ground partners to prepare thousands of seedlings at faraway nurseries? Who would update you on project stories? All these things require WIFI!

CRM, data points, and platforms – oh my!

One of our biggest challenges has been in finding a good CRM. This stands for Customer Relationship Management, and it’s basically a platform to house all the data necessary for us to work effectively. Finding the right CRM is a daunting task because it requires not only inputting a lot of information, but making sure that the data points all connect the way we want them to so that if you email us asking whether your 100 trees have been planted yet, we can pull up exactly where your donation is in the process of transforming into 100 trees planted in the real world.

Donors, business partners, reforestation project partners, Tree Ambassadors, schools, basic bookkeeping - it’s so much data! It took us YEARS to find a CRM (we currently use Zoho – but we’re also exploring Freshsales) and we’re still finding holes in the data process that need to be fixed. Those holes are then filled with other platforms to manage just some components of the overall data load, and each platform offers something a little different. We have a platform for email communications (Active Campaign) and one for social media, another one for gathering vital tree info from our projects of the past, present, and future, and still other tools to keep our website working or to house our image library.

Any successful organization will have their own unique virtual Frankenstein of platforms and tools, and typically the fewer the better. It’s always a work in progress.

And then there’s the human factor.

Our team is still pretty small at just 15 people, not counting our vast network of local-level partners and tree project coordinators, yet there’s a lot of communicating that needs to happen between us – especially since we’re spread out geographically. 

We use Trello for task management, have weekly team meetings as well as countless side meetings between various individuals, and hundreds of emails every week. We use Zoom for video conferencing, GChat constantly, and of course must separate what is internal vs. what we publish via email, social media, or the web. And we haven’t even mentioned our volunteer events yet!

Sometimes we disagree on things, sometimes projects or partners fall through, sometimes technology breaks and weird, frustrating things happen. Sometimes our governments undo decades of environmental efforts and we have to scrape our jaws off the floor in order to carry on.

BUT there’s something deeper that keeps the whole human/technology machine going.

We are absolutely wild and motivated about all this day-to-day madness because it leads to something amazing in the end: a cleaner, greener planet. Forests. And positive feedback that what we did together – with your help – has made a tangible difference for nature, wildlife, and people.

When the work day is done we step away and unplug. We are all nature-lovers, sustainability advocates, energy-efficient-tote-carrying-eco-enthusiasts just like YOU. We do all this to change the world. We do it despite the world not changing fast enough because we love every minute of it.

As a final word, consider this… 

Every once in a while, someone reaches out asking us for quick tips on how to start a successful nonprofit that does good in the world, and we can’t help but chuckle a little, because there are no quick tips. This is HARD work.

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Diana Chaplin

Canopy Director & Eco-Storyteller