Why we do what we do

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.–Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve been reading the document history of TREE Fund’s founding and find it fascinating. The origins of organizations can give insight into the values, intentions, challenges, hopes, fears, and dreams of the people involved. My intent in reading the thick files of memorandum, notes, letters, faxes, and such was to answer “Why?” Why does TREE Fund exist? The notes identify both the practical and the philosophical answers.

The practical answer boils down to the fact that two tree-care associations (ISA and NAA, which later evolved into TCIA) were both funding research—a duplication of effort that was perceived as wasteful of time, effort, and money, as well as confusing and, perhaps, annoying to donors—and they agreed it would be more efficient and effective to join forces for research under an independent banner. Donors would be asked to give to just one organization, instead of two, and the costs of one board, staff, and headquarters would be less than two. Combined resources could also allow for larger grants.

The philosophical answer is as bold as it is beautiful: “to preserve and enhance the global environments,” as was noted in several documents. It seems to me that the founders arrived at this purpose through their own set of “why?” questions and answers.

We’re going to raise money to fund “endeavors” (research and education) “of significant environmental, biological, social and economic needs of arboriculture and urban forestry.”

Why do that? Because it will “benefit the commercial arborist profession…”

Why do that? Because the commercial arborist profession is engaged in an “effort to protect and enhance the global environments.”

The notes do not answer the next implied question of “Why protect and enhance the environment?” In my less poetic moments, I might answer that question with “So we live longer and better.” The quality and length of human life depends on the quality of the environment, and the more the environment degrades, the worse it is for us.

So we raise money to support research that helps arborists protect and enhance the environment that sustains us all. That’s a profound “why,” perhaps the biggest and best reason to do what we do, but it’s not the only reason.

The outcomes of the research we fund can be said to help arborists work more safely, effectively, and profitably—all really good things. The outcomes of more and healthier trees can also be said to contribute to water and soil preservation, air quality, and real-life community and economic strength, as well as human health and wellness. For many of us, the outcomes also include aesthetic, artistic, literary, and spiritual benefits. The growing body of evidence revealing and underscoring the benefits of trees in our lives is breathtaking in its pace, depth, breadth and potential.

These reasons comprise more than the passionate calling I see when I’m peering through the steam rising from my first cup of coffee. These are also the reasons I’m eager to offer when I seek TREE Fund donations from outside the tree-care industry and I’m asked “Why?”

Few causes are this worthy.