Growing Generous Givers
What’s the secret to getting major gifts for your ministry? It might not be what you think?
My Giving Journey
I grew up as a pastor’s kid. There were six kids, and I was fifth out of six. My dad always pastored small churches so it meant that the offerings were small and that we had to make do with what was given to us. It was a great experience to see my mom and dad walk in faith.
I watched them faithfully tithe even to the point of recording gifts they received and tithing off their increase. My mom would crochet little doilies and sell them just so that she could have her own money to give towards missions. Years later, my brother did an accounting of their financial records and found that if they received $150 a week they might well give $100 a week.
They always dreamed that each of their kids would be pastors, missionaries or the wives of pastors or missionaries. They got their wish with 5 out of 6 kids. For me, well, I enjoyed working and from my earliest days I was out working, including picking cotton in the cotton fields. By the time I was in high school, I found my great love—retail. I worked at a local five and dime, graduated to working at TG&Y before founding Hobby Lobby.
The growth of Hobby Lobby has been so much more than the just the growth of a retail business. It’s also been about learning to live generously and also the purpose of this article.
When we started Hobby Lobby, my wife and I were already tithers—because we’d seen the example of tithing in our own families. In time, we began tithing out of the business, and later we began moving well beyond a tithe where today we seek to give at least 50 percent of our profits. We’ve had the opportunity to be creative in our giving as well by giving things like real estate. When I talk to groups of donors, I tell them that my journey has been an evolution. If someone told me 25 years ago, that we’d be giving 50 percent of our profits, I would’ve told them they were crazy.
“My hope is that as you read these words you’ll grow in your appreciation for teaching and learning the lessons of generosity.”
For several years now, I’ve had the opportunity to host groups of business leaders and encourage them in their own generosity, their business and their families. As I hosted those events, many encouraged me to write that story down so together with Bill High, we put together a book.
Giving it All Away
When I wrote Giving it All Away and Getting it All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously (Zondervan 2017), I didn’t anticipate some of the response that we’d get. One gentleman wrote to tell us that it was the third best book on biblical stewardship that he’s ever read next to the Bible and Randy Alcorn’s, The Treasure Principle (Multnomah, Revised/Updated, 2017). That’s pretty good company.
We’ve also heard stories of people who have dramatically changed their giving as well as made fundamental shifts in their estate plan. To be honest, some have told me that they are giving dramatically more to ministry as a result of reading the book. Some have told me that they are rethinking their concept of wealth. Some of have changed their estate plans and are giving dramatically more to ministry. Some are rethinking how much they will leave their children.
Within the book, I reference several key ideas:
- Wealth is more than money
- Wealth is about our values
- Values are the first things we ought to pass down to our children
- One of those values is the joy of giving
- Ownership versus stewardship
As part of my own journey, I tell people that the size of Hobby Lobby and its over $4 billion in sales scared me. I knew that I could leave the kind of wealth to my kids and grandchildren that could ruin them or at the least prevent them from ever having to work again. I had to come to a place where I was willing to give away the company, to lock up the stock of the company so that no one could benefit if the company was ever sold—other than ministry.
And that’s exactly what we did—we have effectively given away the company. On the other hand, what we’ve given our family is an opportunity to work in the company if they desire. While they can’t own stock, they can have a great opportunity to have a great career, to work for something and to participate in the ministry of the company.
By taking these steps, we’ve carefully defined the future vision for our family. We’ve tried to set the compass settings for future generations to follow Christ, and not let financial wealth be a hindrance. At the same time, we want to encourage the ministry of being generous and supporting gospel-centered ministries.
Generosity Lessons for Ministries
My hope is that as you read these words you’ll grow in your appreciation for teaching and learning the lessons of generosity. Bill High, my co-author and friend, works for the National Christian Foundation Heartland, and he can share with you similar stories. We host these business leader events together, and the themes are always the same. And it’s these themes that ministries can learn to grow as they serve givers.
- Everyone needs to learn the lesson of God’s ownership.
I referenced this idea, but until people begin to experience the idea that God is the truly the owner of everything they have they probably won’t give much more. To put it differently, until they realize they are only a steward of God’s resources—God’s money manager—they may still hold on too tightly. Often the idea of learning God’s ownership is best learned through a peer, or a moment of crisis. I’ve seen few people cross the threshold to generosity until they learn this principle.
- At the heart of generosity is family.
Every single family that I’ve seen has a great burden for their family. There is no greater heartache than to see children and grandchildren struggle. They want to see their family succeed—for generations. Financial wealth is easy to pass on, but other forms of wealth like spiritual and emotional capital are much harder to pass on. Those ministries that seek to engage givers at a family level, or who can point them to those who can serve their family have a far greater likelihood of success. Why? The key to generational transfer is often success in transferring the value of generosity. On the other hand, few want to pass on wealth that will prohibit their children from working.
- Generosity needs to be practical.
Generosity takes a plan. It takes intentionality. In our family, we aim to give 50 percent of our profits. That’s a decision we make as a family. We meet monthly to discuss our giving. We use donor advised funds through the National Christian Foundation. We have funds for our children and even our grandchildren to learn how to give. But we also had to take steps on our estate planning. It led to the biggest decision of our lives in terms of what we’d do with the company. My encouragement is for people to apply the same level of intentionality to their giving as they do their business or ministry.
- Generosity needs a big vision.
In Giving it All Away, I talk about the idea of big visions that have stirred our souls. The majority of what we do goes only to a handful of ministries. We want to do big things like reach nations. We focus on big ideas—God’s Word and man’s soul. My son Mart has been involved with eradicating bible poverty through Every Tribe Every Nation. That’s a big idea. My son Steve has helped lead the efforts to create the nation’s first Museum of the Bible. Those are big ideas that grab people’s attention, yet at the same time they must be backed by capable leadership with proven track records.
Growing generous givers to your ministry is important, but it’s less about writing great proposals. It’s about focusing upon the ideas of family, legacy and generosity. You can take a look at Bill’s website (www.billhigh.com), and it’s helping people understand as I wrote about in Giving it All Away, that we “only have one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
David Green is the founder of Hobby Lobby and an in-demand speaker at business and leadership events. He serves on the Board of Reference for Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a recipient of the World Changer and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards. He and his wife, Barbara, are the proud parents of two sons and one daughter, grandparents to ten, and great-grandparents to eleven.
Bill High practiced law for twelve years before becoming the CEO of the National Christian Foundation Heartland. His mission is to change the way people think about generosity and their practice of it. He is married to Brooke, and they have four children, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren. He can be found at billhigh.com.