Multiple hands holding seedlings in balls of dirt

Nonprofit Harnesses Tech to Plant Tens of Thousands of Trees

What does it take to make a city greener? In San Francisco, it took a small group of motivated people to come together to create a nonprofit.

After the city cut funding for urban forestry 36 years ago, seven individuals decided to take matters into their own hands. They created a nonprofit, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF).

Starting with a Small Budget, FUF Plants Nearly Half San Francisco's Street Trees

The organization started off with just a small budget from a leftover city grant. Then it used grassroots efforts to rally neighborhoods throughout the city around urban trees. By empowering and supporting communities and homeowners to plant and care for their own trees, FUF has successfully planted 60,000 of the 125,000 trees in San Francisco. The group eventually even worked with the city to create San Francisco's first ever Urban Forest Plan.

FUF Harnesses the Power of Many Volunteers to Plant and Advocate for Trees

FUF is a member of TechSoup, and TechSoup's staffers were very excited to reach out for an interview to hear more about the group's impact. My team joined FUF early on a Saturday morning for its volunteer tree planting event in the Portola neighborhood, a part of the city that is lacking street trees. It was cold even by San Francisco standards, but there was an impressive turnout of volunteers present and ready to plant.

The executive director of FUF, Dan Flanagan, joined us and told us about his work. "We get to get out in the city and make it greener. We advocate for trees; I always call ourselves the Lorax of San Francisco. We are the only organization in San Francisco that is speaking for the trees." 

FUF Gets the Chance to Plant Even More Trees … in Neighborhoods That Really Need Them

Dan was excited about a recent accomplishment for the organization. San Francisco just passed Proposition E, which opens up major opportunities for the nonprofit. As he said, "It changes the responsibility from street trees and sidewalks away from the homeowners and to the city. As a result, homeowners are no longer responsible, and now we actually get a chance to make the city more green than ever before by planting more trees in neighborhoods that couldn't afford it before." 

This policy makes the city responsible for maintenance, but it will still require FUF to continue its work of planting the trees. FUF hopes to plant 1,700 trees this year and ultimately hopes to plant 3,000 trees every year.

FUF Puts Technology from TechSoup to Work

I was curious to find out how FUF was using technology to further its mission. Jason Boyce, individual gifts manager, said: "Here at Friends of the Urban Forest, a lot of our field staff tend to be out in the field all day; technology really needs to be out of the way to allow us to plant. So, as a result, the relationships we build with our community tend to be stronger because we use technology to enable our work, but it doesn't get in the way of our work." 

Jason explained, "We have been working with ArcMap for years, ... GIS software that TechSoup has provided for us. We use it to plant trees, to figure out where we are going to plant. When we do our plantings, we actually dole out the maps that our volunteers use to do the plantings, and all that comes through ArcMap. We use Adobe Acrobat to put together our tree manuals for our new tree owners and volunteer manuals. We use AutoCAD to put together the permit drawings for our sidewalk gardens. Technology plays a really important role in doing our plantings and making San Francisco more green."

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FUF Partners with the City to Calculate the Environmental Benefits of Trees

Jason also recently worked with the city on the Urban Forest Map, which is an interactive online map that tracks every tree in San Francisco. The map helps calculate the environmental benefits the trees provide, including stormwater mitigation, air pollutants captured, and carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. This platform has increased the visibility of the city's urban forest. [Note: Does not appear to be online anymore.]

As Jason said, "We are now at the forefront of cities worldwide that are building software to manage their urban forests. … [This] really gives a lot of benefit to the people living in San Francisco."

TechSoup is proud to support organizations like Friends of the Urban Forest by enabling them with the technology they need. That support gives them more time to focus on their impact, like planting trees, or to build the communities that help them thrive.