A tree of life fundraiser is a wonderful method to raise money for a charitable organization. This type of fundraiser involves selling leaves in honor or memory of someone, then placing them on a sculpture or graphic of a tree that will be displayed in a prominent location. Donor recognition trees are usually mounted on a donor wall in the organization's entrance or lobby area. People purchase leaves, which are engraved with names or special messages, and hung on the tree. This is a simple and easy-to-implement fundraiser that will help your organization raise money while also recognizing donors in a unique way.
1. Establish a Tree of Life Committee
A tree of life fundraiser is usually a one-time campaign designed to raise money for a special purpose, such as raising money to build or refurbish the area in which it will be displayed. This type of fundraiser can be spearheaded by the organization's director of development or a volunteer chairperson. Either way, it's a good idea to recruit a committee to help with the special project. Seek volunteers who have connections with prospective donors and those who are interested in staffing booths at special events to sell leaves while the campaign is going on.
2. Determine Your Fundraising Goal
It's important to know how much money you need to raise via your tree of life program before you get started, as that will impact the size of the tree, the price of each leaf, and how you'll approach selling leaves. If you are raising money to build or refurbish a physical location, you'll need to know the approximate cost of the work and figure out how much of the funds will need to be raised via the tree of life campaign. In that case, you'll have a significant goal and will want to treat the program like a capital campaign. If you're simply looking to enhance your ordinary fundraising efforts to find ways to engage with new donors or extend your connection to current or former donors, your goal won't have to be nearly as high.
3. Purchase or Commission the Donor Wall Tree
Prospective donors will want to see exactly what your organization's tree of life will look like before deciding to make a donation. You can purchase a tree designed for this purpose from a company like W & E Baum, EDCO Awards & Specialties, or Cave Company for a few thousand dollars. You may also be able to find or commission something from a local trophy or award company. For a special touch, particularly if you are running a high-dollar capital campaign, you may want to commission a unique design from a local artist (especially if you can find one who is willing to donate their time and talent). Consider the number of leaves you need to sell and the price you plan to charge when choosing your tree.
3. Determine the Cost of Purchasing Leaves
Before you start seeking donors to purchase leaves, you'll need to establish the parameters for how your tree of life fundraiser will work and how much people will need to pay to purchase a leaf. This fundraiser can be set up in various ways. For example, you could establish a set price for all the leaves or sell them at different levels. There can be one set cost for the engraved leaves, or the leaves can be sold at different donor levels. For example, you could sell leaves at the cost of $100 each. However, you'll probably raise even more money if you designate different levels of giving. For example:
- Bronze: $100 (name only)
- Silver: $200 (name and standard message, such as "in memory of," "in honor of," or "friends of")
- Gold: $300 (name and two custom messages)
- Platinum: $1,000 (name and custom message in a prime spot designated for platinum donors)
If the donor program is a major giving effort and you are seeking to raise a large sum of money from wealthy benefactors, you'll probably want to add one or two zeros to the example prices listed above. Before you finalize pricing, make sure that it's realistic for you to raise the amount of money you need by selling the number of available leaves based on the amount you are charging for each leaf.
4. Promote Your Tree of Life Program
Once all the program details have been worked out, it will be time to start promoting and marketing the program so you can start selling leaves. For the best results, develop a public relations plan that incorporates a variety of fundraising methods and strategies. For example:
- Announce the program at any formal meetings or programs your organization is holding, such as board meetings, committee meetings, volunteer appreciation luncheons, community programs, workshops, etc.
- Add a tab or news feed item to the organization's website with information about the program and how to purchase leaves. Specify how the money will be used and list some reasons one might want their name (or that of a loved one) on the tree.
- Publicize the program via your organization's social media profiles. Periodically post information about the program and how to participate. As leaves are sold, publish "thank you" acknowledgments to those who have donated.
- Identify past donors who are most likely to purchase one or more leaves at your highest pricing tier and send a personal capital campaign letter, then follow up with a phone call or in-person visit to request their commitment.
- For others in your organization's database, write and send a fundraising letter requesting a program-specific donation to the tree of life program, emphasizing that their gift will become immortalized in a permanent (or long-term) display.
- Send a press release to local media announcing the tree of life fundraiser. Include a few quotes from the committee chair, a picture of what the finished tree will look like, and information on how to participate.
- Follow up with reporters, bloggers, and broadcast producers on your media distribution list to encourage them to cover the fundraiser. Offer building tours, interviews, guest posts, on-air appearances, and other options to help entice coverage.
- Create a brochure about the tree of life program to share with people who visit your office or to use to solicit donations via setting up booths at local events that are likely to be visited by prospective donors.
- Create a promotional video that explains any special meaning behind your donor tree program. Include information on what the tree looks like, what the funds will be used for, and how to participate. Share via your website and social media.
5. Thank Donors Who Purchase Leaves
Don't wait until the end of the campaign to thank donors who purchase leaves. It's important to recognize their generosity in a timely manner. Set up a donor thank you letter template for each participation level, so it will be easy for you to acknowledge and express appreciation for donations as they come in. Try to get in the habit of sending out thank you letters the same day each week, so no more than a few days go by before each person who generously gives to your organization knows how much their support is appreciated. Not only is this important for donor relations, but it may also inspire those who have purchased leaves to convince their personal or business contacts to participate.
6. Monitor Progress Along the Way
It's important to keep up with your progress along the way. Track the number of leaves sold and which levels of donation seem to be the most popular, as well as the number of donors. Not only will this help you know where you stand in terms of the current project, but the data you are collecting will also help you improve your fundraising efforts in the future. Consider creating a fundraising thermometer graphic to represent progress toward the goal. This will provide you with a cool visual that you can use to generate more interest by displaying it at your location or events and sharing images of it via social media.
7. Host a Big Reveal Gathering
When you have sold a significant number of leaves and the tree has been installed in its permanent location, host a big reveal/unveiling to introduce it to the world. Invite those who have purchased leaves, past donors who have not yet purchased, and local reporters or bloggers who may be interested in sharing stories about it. If a local artist created your tree, be sure to invite them. This will help them gain recognition for their work and may also get arts supporters interested in donating. Have a board member or the committee chair give a speech in which donors are thanked and those at the platinum level (if applicable) are recognized by name. Make a video and take pictures to post on the organization's social media profiles.
Raise Money With a Tree of Life Fundraiser
A tree of life fundraiser is a great way to provide donors with a way to create a lasting legacy to commemorate their support of your organization, or to honor the memory of a loved one. This type of fundraiser serves the dual purpose of raising money and recognizing those who donate to your cause, which is also the case with buy-a-brick fundraisers. The money you raise will help fund your organization's important work, and you'll also have a beautiful piece of art to be enjoyed for years to come.