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Guest Post: Fundraising Lessons From Apple Picking

December 02, 2015
(NOTE: On occasion, we love reaching out to our friends and partners in the non-profit fundraising world to find out what they’re thinking about when it comes to helping charities raise the most money possible. This week, we’re re-posting this wonderful essay by Connie Johnson of the Benefit Auction Institute about the parallels between fundraising and the outside world. Enjoy!)

Eight years ago my husband planted a Honeycrisp apple tree in our front yard. And being Minnesotans we are very biased that all Honeycrisp apples — if not the ones from our very own front tree — are the best on the planet. Of course, we place a premium on the fruit that the tree produces because there is some amount of work in getting to the point of harvest. Between the watering, the tiny amount of spraying, and the occasional pruning of the branches, there is something very satisfying about getting to the place where we can pick our prized apples.

Here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned from our apple tree and some parallels I've found in charity event fundraising:

Some apples are a lost cause. Get rid of them!

Despite our intention to have as near to organic fruits and vegetables in our yard as possible, my husband learned through trial and error that some degree of fruit would be lost without preventive measures like spraying. And even then, some apples still end up taken over by worms, bees or various bugs. We don’t try to save those apples. We get them off the tree and into the compost bin so they can feed the soil and serve us in some capacity later.

Relating to fundraising, you should be surveying your practices regularly, analyzing what works best and offloading the practices that have bugs in them. What produces the most donor fruit? Focus there and lose what is ineffective or even harmful.

Some apples are only partially compromised. Save what can be saved.

OK, so here’s the thing: At our house we try really hard not to waste what can be saved. And honestly, when you take a good look at “bad apples”, many apples can be saved—at least in part. We pull them off the tree and cut off the bruised or compromised area and eat the part that’s OK.
In planning your event, maybe you don’t have to dispose of an entire procedure, but merely tweak it for better results. Cut out what’s undesirable. Find a way to make what’s left work.

Some apples are beautiful on the outside, rosy and colorful, but don’t taste good because they’re not ripe enough or they’re overripe. Strike when the fruit is at its peak!

So much of effective harvesting boils down to timing, doesn’t it? Strike too soon or too late and the fruit may not taste right. It might be too tart or have little taste at all.

When harvesting donor gifts, you have to consider if the donor is ready for your ask. Have you done the proper work to select the optimum date for your event’s demographic? Have you informed them of what your nonprofit’s mission makes possible and what you’ll be able to do with more resources? Have you reminded them that your event is a key part of your nonprofit’s giving calendar and how critical each gift is to your cause? Have you let key person-to-person encounters pass by — and with them a great opportunity to ask for their support?     
    
When picking apples, your reach matters.

Several weeks ago we got a frost warning. In essence, get those apples off the tree, or lose them! My husband worked so hard to care for the tree and its fruit and I wasn’t about to lose those apples to a cold night! I grabbed the step stool from the garage and very carefully pulled down what I was capable of getting to. But here’s the thing: I am a petite woman and could not reach all of those apples by myself. I plucked off what I could, but I also knew my limitations and called in reinforcements. My husband is a tall guy and was able to “reach higher” (the Benefit Auction Institute’s tag line) to get those last apples down.

In the world of fundraising galas, you know as well as I, that it takes a solid and strategic team effort to get your best results. Look carefully at your limitations, opportunities and resources, and make sure that the right person is working on the right task to optimize the event that you work so tirelessly on for months.

Enjoy the fruit and share it.


At a family party before the final harvest we let everyone pick an apple off the tree. We had plenty and some gifts are meant to be shared. My soon-to-be three-year old niece heard she got to choose her own apple so I brought her out to the tree and hoisted her up. She looked at her options and then yanked her favorite apple off. Before I could even get her inside to wash the apple, she took a gleeful bite out of it—her “apple moment”, and that sight made my week.

Isn’t the point of fundraising to share the bounty? To make sure that the resources that your nonprofit needs are within reach because of the generosity of people who care about your mission and programs? Then share. Share donor resources. Share stories — donor, program recipient, volunteer, staff member. And give everyone on your team a chance to have their “apple moment.” It is the very best part of fundraising.

Happy harvesting!

(Big big thanks to Connie Johnson and the team over at Benefit Auction Institute for sharing their apples with us this week! For more information about the Institute, go to benefitauctioninstitute.com or call 651-318-0115.)