Landscaping Your Generosity

chestnut tree

The light streaming through a crack in the shades woke me earlier than I would have liked. I padded downstairs and brewed some coffee. The bright sun was already heating the house, so I took my cup to the backyard in search of some shade and a bit of breeze. The best I could find was further down into the part of the yard shaded by the neighbour’s hedges. I set up my chair there and savoured my coffee while listening to the birds singing. Because our lot is very deep and narrow, I had never really used much of this part of the yard before, but I was struck by what a lovely spot we had right under our noses. The next morning, I invited my wife to join me outdoors, and I could tell by the look on her face that we were thinking the same thing.

Two years and too many trips to the hardware store later, we have built a deck and a small cottage, planted a garden, and added a chestnut seedling to the southwest corner of the backyard. At barely eight feet tall now, that chestnut tree looks a bit scraggly and offers no immediate benefit. Certainly, we could have planted something more beautiful for ourselves, like a bed of colourful zinnias or tall hollyhocks, but those tend to be short-lived and need replacing every year. We wanted something that would last.

Plant Your Giving Landscape

Through our actions and words, we are planting seeds of generosity every day. Sometimes, we choose to plant ‘generosity annuals’, a one-off gift to a specific cause where we get to enjoy that bloom of giving, and then move on. Other times, we plant ‘generosity perennials’, those feel-good gifts we have committed to donating year after year, trusting they will have a substantial cumulative impact.

And then there’s the ‘chestnut trees’ of generosity – those are the gifts focused on building capacity so that giving and helping can continue. This is usually the stuff that is necessary, but not sexy – helping a charity with staffing, renovations, supporting endowments and scholarships, or just paying to maintain a brick-and-mortar location. Often, these gifts don’t feel like they have an immediate impact on the people the charity supports –they are all about the future. There’s a place in the landscape of our lives for all of these different giving styles, and we need to be intentional about sowing variety and helping generosity take root.

Rooted in Generosity

The generosity landscape my wife and I have cultivated is a little like our backyard – carefully planned-out, diverse, and comfortable. We have money and time set aside to support causes with one-off gifts – a friend’s participation in a run, a contribution to the youth mission trip, or bringing a meal to someone recovering from illness. Our perennial gifts to our favourite charities require little more than a bit of occasional maintenance. At the same time, we have our Chestnut trees – the unrestricted donations that help the charities we care about do the work that they do. We know that these gifts won’t immediately end homelessness in our city or ensure all the girls in the world have access to an education tomorrow. But we give in hopes of increasing the capacity of the organizations committed to these causes so that one day those lofty goals will be accomplished.

Choose Generosity Landscaping that Lasts

Taking the time to do this ‘generosity landscaping’ has meant planning our affairs in such a way that our giving will outlast us. A saying that is frequently quoted reads, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Certainly, my wife and I hope this will be the landscape of our generosity.

It will be twenty years or more before the chestnut tree at the bottom of my yard grows to its full height. We might not even be living in the same house by the time the canopy of glossy emerald leaves shades the path from the late-afternoon sun. But that’s just how it is when we put down roots.

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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