The Giving Tree

By Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree

Once there was a tree….
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree….
very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy.”
“I am too big to climb and play” said
the boy.
“I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?”
“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time….
and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook with joy
and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy.”
“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy.
“I want a house to keep me warm,” he said.
“I want a wife and I want children,
and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?”
” I have no house,” said the tree.
“The forest is my house,
but you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy.”

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered,
“come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,”
said the boy.
“I want a boat that will
take me far away from here.
Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk
and make a boat,” said the tree.
“Then you can sail away…
and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy
… but not really.

And after a long time
the boy came back again.
“I am sorry, Boy,”
said the tree,” but I have nothing
left to give you –
My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak
for apples,” said the boy.
“My branches are gone,”
said the tree. ” You
cannot swing on them – ”
“I am too old to swing
on branches,” said the boy.
“My trunk is gone, ” said the tree.
“You cannot climb – ”
“I am too tired to climb” said the boy.
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree.
“I wish that I could give you something….
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry….”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy.
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.



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Many thanks to The Perrone Group for their ongoing support of the Annual Giving Network and their current sponsorship of this blog!

The Perrone Group is an integrated direct marketing firm providing strategic, creative and tactical solutions designed specifically for annual giving programs.  Click here to view a list of their clients and a sample portfolio.  Their scope of services includes:

  • Strategic consulting
  • Graphic design
  • Copy writing
  • Comprehensive variable data production services
  • Creative design for multi-channel communication
  • Efficient mailing services, fulfillment, and web-based solutions
  • Annual giving program evaluations

For more information about how The Perrone Group can help your annual giving program, please contact Paul Barry at

In The Weeds

I think everyone should have a chance to work in a restaurant.  It’s a good place to learn about fundamental business principles like the importance of customer service or the way that incentives (e.g., tips) can impact employee performance.  On a personal note, I can also say (15 years later) that working in a restaurant is also a good place to meet a future spouse.

Like most industries, the restaurant world has its own unique character and culture.  It even has its own language.  For example, “eighty six” means to remove a dish from the menu because the kitchen no longer has it in stock.  “In the weeds” refers to a waiter or waitress who is overwhelmed and can’t keep up with their orders.

Annual Giving has its own unique culture too with its own set of characteristics and its own language.  “Lybunts”, for example, are donors who made a gift last year but who have not yet made a gift this year and “retention rate” is the percentage of prior year donors who also made a gift in the following year.

Learning the language is a good first step for newcomers to any business or culture.  Leaders, though, need to understand the new ideas, trends, and techniques as they evolve.  We call these “best practices.”

Don’t confuse best practices with solutions or answers.  Every organization is unique in some way.  However, best practices provide leaders with context for their industry.  They represent conventional wisdom.  They suggest what has (or hasn’t worked) for others so that they can think about what to include in their own strategy.  There are many ways to learn about best practices:

  • Hire a consultant who has worked with other similar organizations to tell you what they are seeing and hearing
  • Pick up the phone and ask a colleague what their programs are doing
  • Attend a conference
  • Read an article or an expert’s blog
  • Conduct a survey

Understanding best practices comes with many benefits.  The most important benefit of all, though, is that understanding best practices helps keep leaders out of the weeds.

How Important Is It?

This past spring, we asked 262 annual giving professionals to rate the importance of various tactics and programs on their fundraising performance last year

Here’s what they said:

  Very Important Important Moderately Important Not Important
Call Center 42% 19% 14% 25%
Direct Mail 80% 14% 5% 1%
Email 31% 36% 22% 11%
Texting 0% 2% 3% 94%
Staff Outreach 46% 24% 16% 13%
Social Media 8% 24% 41% 28%
Events 20% 33% 30% 17%
Board Giving 53% 23% 13% 11%
Volunteers 33% 25% 20% 22%
Leadership Gift Society 39% 30% 14% 17%
Loyalty Program 18% 26% 16% 40%
Recurring Gifts 13% 22% 34% 30%
Predictive Modeling 4% 12% 23% 61
International Outreach 3% 8% 22% 68%

Click here to download a free copy of this 2012 annual giving research study.

Fine Lines

Kenny Rogers, country music legend and writer of some great love songs, recently released his memoirs in which he tells his readers, “there is a fine line between being driven and being selfish.”  He makes a great point.

For those of us who work in philanthropy, there are a few fine lines that we need to be mindful of ourselves.  For example, there’s a difference between:

  • An annual fund and annual giving
  • Being friendly and being phony
  • Personalization and computerization
  • A receipt and a thank you
  • Research and prying
  • Hearing and listening
  • A volunteer and a volunteer leader
  • Fundraising and development

We should also remind ourselves of one other great piece of advice that Kenny has echoed through the yearsyou got know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.

The Reason Campaigns Fail

In the broadest context, campaigns are an excuse to do something the right way.

We launch campaigns because they work, because people respond to goals and deadlines, and because (deep down) everyone wants to belong to something larger and more important than themselves.  The important ingredients in any campaign (annual, capital, other) are:

  1. a compelling case
  2. prospects
  3. infrastructure (staff, volunteers, budget)
  4. leadership

It’s #4 on this list that’s probably the most overlooked, but also probably the most important.  That’s because when campaigns succeed, it’s usually not just because a lot of people got involved.  It’s usually because great leaders got involved.

I know someone who likes to say:  when campaigns fail, it’s usually not for a lack of giving but rather for a lack of asking.  While that makes its point, I think that a greater truth is that when campaigns fail, it’s usually for a lack leadership.

What’s Stewardship?

If you don’t know Josh Birkholz, you’ve missed one of the most interesting people in development.  He’s a writer, analyst, consultant, and entrepreneur.  He’s got a great blog and a great book on analytics for fundraising.  Check him out here!

Last May, I got to hear Josh address a group of fundraisers at a conference in Portland, OR.  He was talking about some research that his company had done around what donors expect from the organizations they support.  As usual, he cited some good data points and made a funny joke or two, but then he said one of the most interesting things I’d ever heard:  Stewardship, he said, may not be your #1 priority, but you can bet it’s the #1 priority for your donors.

That’s brilliant, I thought.  I’ll have to use that line someday.

Six months later I got my chance when I found myself addressing a class of college students in a course on philanthropy.  About ten minutes into my talk, I decided to go for it:  Stewardship, I said, may not be your #1 priority, but you can bet it’s the #1 priority for your donors.

That went well, I thought to myself, and continued talking until one of the students interrupted with a question.  I keep hearing that term stewardship, she said, but what does it actually mean?  There was an awkward silence until I managed to answer (without much confidence) that stewardship was the way we thank our donors.

On the way home from class I thought to myself, that was the wrong answer.

What I should have said is that part of stewardship is the way we thank our donors.  Indeed, the promptness of a gift receipt or the personalization of a handwritten thank you note are important ingredients of stewardship.  But it’s also a newsletter story about gift impact or a picture of those impacted smiling in a magazine.  It’s a name on a recognition list, an invitation to a party, coffee with a gift officer, or even a simple birthday card.  It’s also the next solicitation and the one after that and the one after that.

Stewardship, I realize now, is everything we do.

“Ah-ha” Moments from 2011

What annual giving best practices emerged at educational organizations in 2011? 

Who is using video successfully?  What tactics are reactivating lapsed donors?  When do you need better stewardship?  How can the social web support annual giving campaigns? 

Find out as Brian Kish, Senior Vice President at the University of Arizona Foundation, leads us through a 1 hour webinar that reveals the “Ah-ha” moments uncovered in the 2011 donorCentrics benchmarking season. 

Click here to view this recorded presentation.

Canadian Congress

Registration for the 2012 Canadian Higher Education Annual Giving Congress is now open!

This spectacular two-day event brings together annual and leadership giving staff from schools across Canada, so that they can share success stories, discuss challenges and best-practices and exchange information about the work.

When: Thursday October 25th & Friday October 26th, 2012

  • Where: Toronto, Canada at Ryerson University’s International Living and Learning Centre
  • Cost: $150 per attendee – includes some meals
  • Registration: September 5 – October 12.
  • Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Toronto City Centre, preferred rate $139.00+gst

Click here to register now.