Even in Whatcom County There’s a Strange 40% Factor

Hello! We’ve nurtured the soil, watered our seeds, spread some roots, and now have a first Whatcom Million Trees Project sprout poking above the ground — right here in Whatcom County!

Metaphorically, speaking, that is.

We’re sprouting now here in Whatcom County because we’ve been busy dotting i’s and crossing t’s over the past few months. There have been dozens of pages of paperwork to submit, crucial details to decide, and organizational structures to properly set up as a budding 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

But we’ve been hit by the 40% Factor.

Read on in our first blog post (yay!) to find out what that means, to see the work we’ve completed so far, and to learn where we will soon be heading. Below we also self-evaluate our progress in each step. Keep reading — you’ll likely find some surprises!

40% Factor -- even in Whatcom County

What’s the 40% Factor?

We started forming the Whatcom Million Trees Project nonprofit in late March. We knew going in that the 501(c)(3) nonprofit start-up process would require months of behind-the-scenes work, even without the 40% Factor.

That strange factor boils down to this: No matter how carefully a start-up estimates the time and energy required to get the ball rolling in its mission, it will require at least 40% more time and energy than estimated.

Even if you carefully account for that beforehand.

The 40% Factor occurs with many start-up ventures, nonprofit or for profit, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been affected by it, too. Thankfully it’s not 240%!

The Good News About Our Progress To Date

The good news is we are quite far along, even if not yet done with the preliminary tasks. Our early progress so far has been in six key areas:

1. Listening/Discussions.

Always a good first step in any new community-based effort. In-depth initial discussions have occurred with various Whatcom County-based planting/conservation partners we will fund. We’ve also met with other environmentally-focused Whatcom County nonprofits. We’ve shared our goals with several groups, from neighborhood associations to Whatcom County-based Facebook groups loaded with tree-lovers. And, last but not least, we’ve networked with key staff in the City of Bellingham and other cities, and with Whatcom County staff.

Verdict: Everyone is hoping we will succeed, but there is a lot of skepticism out there — particularly among existing Whatcom County nonprofits who have struggled for years to boost their own funding. We’re kind of the new kid on the block. We believe will be perceived as real once we start raising substantial funds.

2. Paperwork.

Submitting pages and pages of State and Federal forms are required to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We’ve done that plus created detailed Bylaws, a Conflict of Interest policy, and other internal documents and recordkeeping systems that are required. It’s a mind-numbing array of legal nitty-gritty, but once it’s all done the paperwork decreases substantially.

Why become a 501(c)(3)? It enables tax-free donations and other funding to be granted directly to us — which can simultaneously be potentially a tax deduction for the giver. And so that we can synergize most effectively with other nonprofits — within Whatcom County as well as nationally — that are aligned with our mission, such as our long-established tree-planting partners.

Verdict: So far, we’re approved by Washington state as a nonprofit. (Hooray!). Now we are awaiting our 501(c)(3) status approval from the IRS, which should arrive by September. (Meanwhile, if you wish to donate to us now, we have a tax-deductible Whatcom Million Trees Project Fund at Whatcom Community Foundation which can provide all the usual tax donation benefits to givers.)

3. Board Building.

An essential part of all successful nonprofits is having a terrific Board. Our Board includes…
Tim Douglas (Bellingham’s popular former mayor),
David Roberts (President/Founder of Peak Sustainability Group/Kulshan Services), and
Laura Weiss (active on multiple Boards and has a strong environmental background).

Not on our Board but an enthusiastic “Ambassador” for us is Satpal Sidhu, Whatcom County Executive. He was the first locally to call for one million trees to be planted within Whatcom County, which set the stage for our nonprofit to be established.

You can find out more about all of them here.

Verdict: We love our initial Board members. But we aren’t done. Ideally, we’d like to add two more. And we won’t settle for just anyone. We want well-known locals who are motivated to give effective policy feedback, promote us to their network of friends and colleagues, and open doors to fundraising. Have a suggestion? Please contact us.

4. Trusted Advisors.

Separate from the Board, we have established an Advisory Council composed of people with specialized expertise who have agreed to be readily available to us for guidance and perspective. So far, they are drawn from our local tree-planting partners and the Whatcom County Climate Impact Advisory Committee. Plus an awesome Montessori teacher to guide our educational efforts. You can find out more about all of them here.

Verdict: We are grateful that these very busy people are interested in our mission. More Advisory Council members will be added over time as needed. Have a special expertise that may be useful to us? Please contact us.

5. Staffing Up.

An enthusiastic, skilled ten-person team of volunteers and Western Washington University interns has started to chip away at various efforts. That includes background research for some of our initiatives, building our presence in Instagram and Twitter, planning for K-12 classroom outreach sessions that will start in the Fall, and creating exciting new Resources that are not available elsewhere on the planet. Stay tuned! (The best way to not miss out: subscribe to our newsletter.)

6. Website Building.

The first step was creating the first iteration of our website, one that worked well on a wide array of devices. Ta da! We hope you take a few moments, if you haven’t already, to explore our webpages. If you’re a tree-loving individual, be sure to check out our Individuals page for all the ways you can help trees locally. If you’re a business with a goal of corporate social responsibility, please click into our Business Partnerships page for terrific partnership ideas.

Verdict: Now it’s time to expand our website content. We will start to regularly post blog articles on several topics:

  • Common questions and answers not already in our FAQs;
  • Details about the nine types of projects we will fund;
  • Our funding successes as they occur, of course!
  • Myths/truths about trees and reforestation for climate change;
  • The science of how trees benefit all of us;
  • Governmental policies that affect trees locally, and
  • What other communities are doing to expand their trees.

Plus we’ll sprinkle in some thought-provoking ideas about how to expand the right trees in some unexpected right places within Whatcom County. (Well, some of the ideas may seem like crazy ideas but that’s how innovative progress typically starts.)

Whatcom Million Trees Project Bottom-Line

The Whatcom Million Trees Project start-up process is complicated, like with all nonprofits. All in all, we’re proceeding rather quickly, especially as an all-volunteer organization without paid staff. But our mission is urgent. There is no time to waste.

We’re chomping at the bit to start fundraising in innovative ways to greatly boost tree-planting and protection in Whatcom County. We’re eager to expand a nature-based response to the climate crisis that will enhance the well-being, resilience, and health of all of our Whatcom County communities.

Soon the early steps — and the 40% Factor — will be behind us so we can dig into the (even harder) work of building new partnerships to fund and protect trees locally. Thanks for your patience!

Comments? Questions? Ideas? Please contact us or leave a comment below in this blog post.

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