Strolling past beds of tulips or daffodils or walking under the oaks and dogwoods at the State Botanical Garden, Andrea Parris might be making the perfect match.
As the development director for the garden, a public service and outreach unit, Parris said her job is a little like playing matchmaker as she pairs donors with the perfect gift.
“I feel like I just really match people up with the things that they’re interested in and give them an opportunity to give to something that will bring them joy,” she said.
That might mean side-by-side memorial trees for a husband and wife, a peony collection for a spouse who loved the showy flowers or a children’s garden for a long-time board member.
The goal is for a gift to the garden to be long lasting and meaningful.
“We want it be something that they’ll be proud to put their name on,” Parris said. “We’ll walk all over the garden, I’ll get to know them or the person they’re trying to honor and find the perfect fit-it’s uncanny how things come together.”
Fundraising is what helps the garden grow-all of the gardens and collections as well as the four public buildings at the garden have been built with private support from individuals, corporations and foundations.
And as a fundraiser at the garden, Parris’ job isn’t cold calls and hard sells; it’s relationship building. She visits with donors around the state and collaborates with board members. She meets with families who are interested in remembering loved ones with plaques on benches or trees.
She also writes grants and plans fundraising events like the annual Gardens of the World Ball. Parris helped establish the Giving Tree Tribute, an annual event that recognizes major donors for contributions to the garden.
She speaks to community groups and promotes the garden, because growing relationships is about “shared experiences and people touching what we do,” she said. That means taking a class, coming to a concert or wandering through the gardens and trails.
Wilf Nicholls, director of the State Botanical Garden, describes Parris as positive and pleasant.
“She’s incredibly friendly,” he said. “She makes everybody feel welcome, valued and involved.”
Currently, Parris is working on a capital campaign to raise $3 million to build the new Children’s Garden, which will be a learning environment that could have edible landscapes, a tree house, canopy walk, creature habitats, hands-on garden plots and a woodland theater. It will be part of a national effort to enhance science education for children at botanical gardens.
“In this day and time, children are so connected to technology and not getting outside-here we are-313 acres where they can run, play, explore, touch nature and have a really different experience than what they’re seeing on television,” she said. “If they learn to love the Earth now, they’ll want to conserve it when they’re adults.”
Parris’ own children go to summer camps at the garden. She takes garden classes like wreath making and attends the outdoor Sunflower concerts in the summer with family and friends.
“I think there’s something for everyone here,” she said. “I’ve found that through what I do.
“People come out [to the garden] because it’s beautiful or to get some exercise, but there’s a lot that goes on here that makes a difference in everyone’s life,” Parris also said. “All kinds of medicines come from plants, and we have a dedicated staff in plant conservation and research who are passionate about protecting plants that just might provide the next cure. Ultimately, the garden is the kind of place that could change the world.”