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[INTERVIEW] How One Tree Planted is Marketing Environmental Conservation

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Published April 22, 2014 Reading Time: 4 minutes

One Tree Planted (OTP) is a relatively new nonprofit organization based in Vermont. OTP’s mission is to drive reforestation efforts and promote awareness and education about the importance of trees for our planet and future generations. Its service is simple but powerful. For every dollar-donation, OTP plants a tree in a part of world that needs support.

We spoke with Matt Hill, founder of OTP, about how he approaches branding, marketing, and fundraising to rally supporters around the organization’s environmental conservation cause.

How did OTP get its start?

I was a sales rep for Eco-Products, the largest manufacturer of food packaging disposables. I met with Directors of Sustainability for grocery stores, businesses, even individuals. Over the last 4 or 5 years, I found that people were wishing they could more for the environment, but they wondered what percentage of their donations were actually going to the cause. They also wanted to do the help themselves.

Add that to the fact that most people just don’t realize how important trees are to the environment. They sequester carbon from the atmosphere, clean the air, supply clean water, and provide habitats for 80% of species on planet. So, I came up with the idea for OTP. Give a dollar, plant a tree. We make it simple for people to do more for the environment.

What sets OTP apart from other environmental conservation organizations?

We want to make it simpler and more straightforward for people to help the environment, while having the hands-on experience of doing it themselves. To differentiate ourselves, we focus on:

  • Simplicity. I’ve found that many cause-oriented websites out there inundate you with tons of information, a lot of which is too technical for the average person to really understand. We’re trying to bring it down to layman’s terms. Then, in a minute, you can plant one tree, forty trees, etc. Our website is straightforward, minimalistic, and doesn’t overwhelm you with too much technical data.
  • Positivity. When you visit different environmental conservation websites, many of them focus on the declining conditions of the environment. At OTP we communicate a positive focus and use uplifting language to show that change is possible, and people can help make it happen.
  • Direct Involvement. We want to differentiate ourselves by giving people the opportunity to create their own campaigns and help build a brand around the organization. The peer-to-peer approach allows individuals to get directly involved with the cause, personalize their involvement, and expand its reach.

How do you approach fundraising and engage supporters in an environmental conservation cause?

The number one question I hear is, “How do I know my trees are being planted?” Educating supporters and simplifying the process is key. As for OTP, the UN hosts the Billion Tree Campaign, which is planting 12 billion trees. We work with different NGO’s within the UN’s environmental conservation program, and they’re the experts in the field helping us plant the trees in different regions around the world.

As for rallying people around our mission – in short, we’re storytellers.

When I ask people to plant a tree and help the environment, they want to know where their tree is being planted. That’s why we offer 4 different regions from which to choose and rotate: North America, South America, Asia, and Africa. We then develop stories centered on each location and its respective need for attention. For instance, trees are needed in Asia – specifically Indonesia – for palm oil. We’ll develop a story around the universal importance of palm oil, and then maybe the donor will decide they want to plant a tree in Indonesia after learning how integral this resource is in their life.

What marketing or branding tools are you using to enhance your storytelling capabilities?

We’re creating a lot of cool videos. Most videos about the environment can be monotone and unexciting, so to differentiate our style and content, we’re creating dynamic 3-minute videos that capture why forests are so important to our ecosystem.

More importantly, we’ll be telling the different stories of species and resources pertaining to different regions. So when a donor finds out the particular region where their tree will be planted, they’ll know exactly the specific species they’re helping to protect.

As a young nonprofit, what marketing channels build visibility for OTP and raise awareness for environmental conservation preservation?

  • Trade Shows. We’re participating in several trade shows to raise general awareness, especially at the end of the month. For one, we’ll be at the Green Living Show, the largest consumer sustainability show in North America.
  • Peer-to-Peer. Because it enables you to engage other people along with you, the peer-to-peer approach is an awesome way to get people excited and rallied around environmental conservation causes, like planting trees. It also allows for instant gratification. When you give $10 to OTP, we plant 10 trees. It’s a tangible result that makes people feel good, and they can use social mediums like Facebook to share that.
  • Partnerships. We’re building strategic partnerships with other organizations and companies. For example, we’re partnering with Osheaga, much of whose audience is concerned with the environment. So we approached them and proposed that for every attendee, they can plant a tree. This gives organizations and their supporters the opportunity to help the environment, while also bringing visibility to OTP. This also opens it up to matching opportunities, where we ask organizations to match tree donations that come in and build their own brand’s visibility as a result.

OTP’s Reforestation Campaign is looking to plant 1 million trees in 2014. Do you have any upcoming smaller projects, or specific approaches, to help you hit this goal?

It’s a lofty goal, but I believe we can do it! We have 3 main approaches to meeting our campaign goal:

  • Schools. The university/student demographic is really engaged. They are the grassroots movement. In September, we will be going to different universities in North America, especially those with sustainability programs and associations, and we’ll be hosting a contest to see which school can plant the most trees. The winning students will win a two-week trip to Costa Rica to study one of the most environmentally protected areas in the world.
  • Business. Many businesses have a corporate social responsibility and would like to do more. We want to give businesses the opportunity to plant 25,000 trees, 50,000 trees, or however many they want, and we will provide the turnkey solution for the company. They can then have tangible results and know they’re planting X number of trees, providing employment, sequestering carbon, and helping the ecosystem.
  • Individuals. This approach happens organically as our supporters, numbers, and brand builds.

At the end of the day, OTP makes it simple and straightforward for people to do more the environment. By branding and marketing OTP’s cause and directly involving supporters, we believe we can make this happen.

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