Community Foundations as Orchards

Having just presented a session on Telling Your Organizational Story at the Community Foundation of Canada’s International Conference (May 10-12), I was reminded of a story I wrote last year when working with a community foundation in Alberta.  It’s based on the metaphor of a community foundation as an apple orchard.  So, just for fun, I thought I’d share…let me know what you think.

When you first see the orchard you notice the strong fence and large, sturdy gates that open onto a perfectly maintained garden.  Just inside the gate is a sign featuring the community foundation’s name and the year it was established.  As you step further into the orchard, you see rows of apple trees of all different ages and sizes.  The larger, older ones are heavy with fruit, and yet on closer scrutiny, even the younger, smaller trees have some fruit ready for picking… after all, it is almost harvest time. 

When you walk closer to the first row of trees, you notice that around each trunk hangs a beautiful plaque with a name inscribed on the front; familiar family names, names of local charities and other plaques that are simply inscribed with words like health, youth, environment, sport and arts. And if you turn the plaque over you can read the story of the person who planted this tree and why they did so.

Upon closer inspection of the base of a particularly large tree, you notice an intricate web of watering hoses and as you follow its trunk up toward the clear blue sky, you realize this is a strong, healthy, perfectly groomed tree that appears quite proud of itself.

All in all this is a well maintained, happy orchard.

Every year at harvest time, the apples are gathered and distributed to those who really need them in the community.  Keeping a close watch on the community to determine those most worthy of the apples is part of the community foundation gardeners’ work.

Most of the trees have been planted as a result of gifts from families, organizations or individuals and most don’t want their tree to ever be cut down, but want the annual harvest to be distributed throughout their community.  Others have told the gardeners that if and when there is an immediate or urgent need for wood in the community – perhaps to build a shelter or provide fuel for warmth – then they have permission to cut down the tree.  And when this happens, the number, size and condition of the exposed rings of the tree reveals its own story about the age and health of the tree.  Some years it’s obvious that there was more growth than others, but even when the climate wasn’t supportive, with the gardeners’ help the tree still survived.

In a far corner of the orchard stands the nursery.  These trees have been planted by those who wish to have the gardeners care for them during those all-important early years.  And, if and when these individuals believe their own family is ready to take care of their tree and distribute the annual harvest on their own; the trees are transplanted to the family’s private orchard.

Over time, the gardeners change as do those who benefit from the annual harvest.  And, the children and grandchildren of those who first planted some of the trees years ago sometimes visit the orchard. They usually spend time with the gardeners and bring gifts of fertilizer to maintain the health of their family’s tree.  During these visits, many turn those plaques over and read that familiar story once again. And, it’s not unusual during these visits, to witness trees receiving heartfelt hugs.

Why not consider planting your own tree?  Whose name would appear on your plaque? What story would you tell?  Just imagine being able to be part of the happiness that accompanies those annual harvests.

This is the type of philanthropy that will help people in your community for as long as you want to and something your children and their children can continue to enjoy and support well into the future.

It all starts with you and a tree.

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About Norma Cameron, CFRE

Norma Cameron is owner and principal of The Narrative Company, formed in 2006 to help people and organizations understand and apply the “power of story”. Prior to this, Norma had over 20 years’ experience in communications, fundraising, organizational development, performance storytelling, public speaking and training. As an engaging keynote speaker and seminar leader, she works with public, private and non-profit sector clients. As a seasoned storyteller, she has performed at conferences, concerts and festivals across Canada and the UK.
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