Doing Gardening, Doing Good, Doing Well

At a dinner in Boston last week, a colleague joked that he is always on the lookout for new ways of fundraising for his main cause, his church. “What about indulgences?" he quipped. "Surely, Episcopalian ones would be worth a lot.”


My main cause is a not-for-profit land trust I board-chair. You have yours, too. Who among us doesn’t? This is the privilege, responsibility—and joy—we all share: being able to help change something for the better.


When I need to think things over from a new angle, I often do so literally: I go out into the garden and—the ground usually frozen this time of year—climb ladders to prune hedges, pollard trees, rework espaliers, groom pergola canopies, or manicure topiary. Today was for pruning the hedge of American holly.


Ilex opaca Tilia cordata Winter Orange looking west 012816 640


When my eyes and hands are ten to twenty feet above ground, I see everything from a higher elevation. The view is wider, longer, and clearer. When I'm back on the ground, it's usually with a better sense of direction.  


While pruning, my friend’s deeper question—Is there an additional way to raise money for good causes?—still resonated.


As is typical for architects and designers, my business funds itself via percentages against a project's base costs for materials and labor. For larger projects, that aggregate income is sufficient for me to be able to offer clients a discount. This is both a "Thank you" for the exciting project we've developed together, and an enticement to give approval for even more wonderfulness: Since the original budget was acceptable, perhaps the amount of the discount could be returned to it, adding to the project something that had still been on the wish-list.


Then, an answer to my fundraising question came into focus: Instead of a discount, I could say "Thank you" by making a contribution of equal size to a client’s designated cause. Every not-for-profit agency is always ramping up for its next gala, capital campaign, annual appeal, or membership drive. And while an additional gift from the current donor base is always appreciated, one from a new donor—me—would be even more valuable.


There's plenty of benefit for the client, too. Bringing a new donor to an agency means a gold star right off the bat. And what if that new donation were paired with a match from the client? That would be double the benefit and the kudos. Perhaps best of all, the impetus for the donation—donations!—is a project that enhances the client’s own property.


Enlightened self-interest is always more far-reaching when it is achieved collaboratively. Could this example of it be any better? And better for all of us: The client, me, the not-for-profit, the community it serves. Everyone. Working together, we can do even more—and for more—than working alone.


The amount of the donation would be proportional to the project budget. Over the years, I have been able to provide discounts ranging from just a thousand or two to well up into six figures: significant money that, if used as a donation, would be warmly welcomed by any agency.


I'm excited about these possibilities for doing even more good in the world. I look forward to opportunities to strategize projects so that such important donations can be confirmed.


Back outside: From the side, the "mohawk" of colorful twigs atop the espalier of 'Winter Orange' lindens highlights the slightest irregularities in the top of the holly hedge. 


Ilex opaca Tilia cordata Winter Orange from the south 012816 640


Time for more high-altitude ladder work. More pruning—and good thoughts—await me.



Here's a look down the length of the hallway between my hedge of American holly and the espalier of Winter Orange lindens, as this face of the holly hedge received a coat-racking.


Here's how to grow a yellow-berried form of American holly. Its hardiness and handling are the same as those of the straight species.


Here's a look at an American holly that has been growing free-range for many decades.


Here's another look at Winter Orange lindens, as well as how to grow them.

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