Leading Thoughts (November 2019)

by Russell K. King, TREE Fund President and CEO

As you read this edition of TREE Press, you may be looking for information about the new president and CEO, wondering “Who is this guy and what’s he going to do for TREE Fund?” You’ve enjoyed strong staff leadership that has built a solid organization supported by an engaged community serving a vital mission. You don’t want to see it messed up, so you’re right to ask. Let me attempt an answer.

After earning my Bachelor of Science degree, I worked as a freelance writer for a couple of years. Part of that freelance life was a weekly outdoor column that eventually morphed into my first book. I entered the nonprofit world as a writer and editor, spending eight years as editor of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. During that time, I attended the Institute of Organization Management, earned certification from the American Society of Association Executives, and received an MBA. Nonprofit management is a specific discipline requiring certain skill sets, and these programs provided those skills.

In my first CEO post, we had a staff the same size as TREE Fund has. My mentor told me I’d stay a couple of years to “cut my teeth” and then move on. I stayed 17 years. I stayed because I believed in the mission. I did reach the point where the work had grown repetitive and stale, so I returned to freelancing.

This time, instead of freelance writing, I worked as a freelance nonprofit executive (aka a consultant). I took short-term “fix it” jobs. My years as a consultant were rich in experience, giving me the chance to work with an operating budget as large as $5 million and a staff as large as 120, negotiate with a union, build fund-development programs from the ground up, teach the roles of boards and their members, create organizational voices, and more.

It may not be a coincidence that my predecessor, J. Eric Smith, was also a freelance writer and nonprofit consultant prior to arriving at TREE Fund. Perhaps such a life is an excellent preparation for serving TREE Fund’s mission.

Technical skills are essential, but they’re not the heart of it. The heart is the mission. Trees, you will learn in the coming months, have always been a big part of who I am, so TREE Fund’s mission resonates powerfully with me. As I told the search committee during the interview process, this is about what we love.

So what’s in store? During these first several months, most of my time will be spent learning the organization, its community, and its relationships. Long term, the best answer is “more and explore.” My intent is to build on what I’ve inherited, honoring and enhancing the work of the past, while seeking out new ways to serve our mission.

Serving this mission and being a member of this community are genuine honors. I’m grateful for the past, hopeful for today, and eager to see what we can make of tomorrow.

Click here for the complete, November 2019 issue of TREE Press.