When Dennis Carrier’s young son started preschool in Ukiah, California, his forward-thinking school asked that parents not send sweets such as chocolate bars in their children’s lunches. In an attempt to teach healthier living and eating to its students, the school prohibited such items.
A month later, though, the school started its first yearly fundraiser. The boy came home with—believe it or not—a box of chocolates to sell. There were few or no green, healthy options in the fundraising world.
The school found itself in a Catch-22 and saw no other option. Dennis Carrier saw an opportunity.
Enter Green Tree Footprints
In 2010, with one employee besides himself (and that was a family member), Carrier opened Green Tree Footprints, a fundraising company influenced by the green movement. The company, openly dedicated to ecology, education, and local community service, started small in northern California. By the end of the year, Green Tree had facilitated successful, environmentally friendly fundraisers up and down the West Coast and in Texas. In January 2011, the company went national. As of February 2011, Green Tree Footprints has 200 independent contractors, known as community coordinators, active in 37 states.
In 2010, the business completed 64 successful fundraisers. In 2011, the company had more than 100 fundraisers booked for April alone. At its inception, the company offered a single fund raising option. It now offers a total of five fundraisers with two more scheduled for fall launch.
Green Tree is clearly on an upward trajectory. It is not alone. In business, the growing trend is toward green, environmentally friendly business models that make a profit while caring for the environment. Such models operate based on a “triple bottom line” (TBL or 3BL) of people, planet, and profit. These “3 P’s” of green enterprise keep a company on track to make “an honest profit, rather than a profit at any cost,” according to Michael Bloch of Green Living Tips.
The customers are there. The opportunity is there. But so many new businesses (in any niche) struggle to make ends meet, especially in the first few years. How does Green Tree Footprints turn demand and opportunity into a substantial bottom line?
The Business Model
The business model is “lean and mean,” says Carrier, Green Tree Founder and Operator. There are a total of three paid employees: Carrier, a local office manager, and an online training coordinator based in Oregon. Every other employee of Green Tree Footprints is a community coordinator. These are active members of local communities across the country who use their own community networks to connect organisations who need funds with Green Tree Footprints.
Green Tree does not put income caps or quotas on their community coordinators. Rather, the company allows the coordinators to decide how much time and effort to put into their Green Tree sales. Each coordinator is an independent contractor and receives a portion of the fundraiser’s profits as a commission. Thus, Green Tree as a company pays no employee wage until the profit from each fundraiser comes in.
Coordinators see a benefit in working flexible hours and having the ability to make a living while being active in their communities. For the coordinators, those positive qualities outweigh the difficulties of work as an independent contractor. For Green Tree Footprints, the use of independent contractors and a small local staff keeps overhead low.
Green Business 101
For Carrier, running a green business is worth the long hours – sometimes 18-20 hours a day. With his background in finance as a mortgage broker, he is no stranger to hard work. The difference, he says, is that “there are no negative aspects to this organisation.” With Green Tree, Carrier makes a living doing something positive and says “you can’t put a price tag on that.” That’s the appeal of green business, both to business owners and to their customers.
But no one should make the mistake of thinking any new business venture can be entered into lightly. Carrier’s main advice? Make sure to have plenty of capital in the bank. Project the amount that you think you’ll need for start-up and then multiply that by three or four. And start small – make your capital work for you by spending smarter, not harder.
Green Tree Footprints started with a single fundraiser, a Reforestation Fundraiser that sold tree sponsorships. For each £15 donation, a tree would be planted in a national forest in the name of the donor or another individual. The fundraiser is efficient, has no deliveries, and offers a high profit margin to fundraising organisations – £10 of every donation stays with the fundraising group.
Green Tree now works with four different vendors to offer green product fundraisers in addition to the flagship Reforestation Fundraiser. Products range from reusable coffee mugs and water bottles to reusable grocery bags. You can find the full range of products here.
For Green Tree, the secret ingredient is the community coordinator. Rather than spending start-up money on advertising, Green Tree Footprints sunk its capital into an online support system for the coordinators. They used free outlets, such as Craigslist, and an ever-expanding word-of-mouth network to get the word out with measurable success. Now that profits are coming in, Green Tree is considering an advertising budget for the next quarter.
Green Tree Footprints identified a hole in the market and jumped in to fill it. Carrier used his background in finance to design a lean business plan geared to get the most out of his start-up investment. With community help, Green Tree Footprints is growing into a solid, profitable enterprise and a model of what a green business can be.