June 30th, 2011
June 30th, 2011
I grew up in a family that passed on values and faith, and my adult life has been guided by those roots. Early on we learned that a part of our allowance was to go into the church offering basket each Sunday. My mother taught me that life isn’t fair- and we should try to make it fairer. I went off to seminary to become a pastor and to save the inner city. Two years as a student pastor was enough to convince me that I wasn’t cut out to make a living as a pastor. After wandering for a few months I ended up in the insurance business, where I spent the next thirty years as an underwriter and executive. At age 53. Bob Buford’s book, Halftime, moved me to change my focus from business success to pursuing significance. I “retired” from the insurance business and returned to the ministry.
In 2000, I was handsomely compensated for participating in the sale of the division of the insurance company I was managing. The compensation I received enabled my wife, Jean, and I to become financially independent. I found it very easy to tithe out of my abundance. Over the last several years we have gradually increased our giving to about 40% of our income.
I currently serve as a pastor in the United Church of Christ, but most of our giving is not to the church. Although we support local charities and I volunteer in the local homeless shelters, we believe that our money has a more significant effect outside the United States. We know that just living in the United States is a blessing, and that poor people in our country would be considered middle class in the developing world. Many people in the world live on less than $2 a day and don’t have access to the services we have in the United States.
We donate most of our money to CARE, an international relief agency that is trying to reduce world poverty. (In college, I discovered CARE’s “Mothers’ Day Gift Card” — a present my mom appreciated far more than flowers. I’ve stayed a CARE fan ever since: their development staff do a great job bringing me on site visits, and it’s my temperament to stick with one thing if I respect it.) I fully support CARE’s strategies of reducing world poverty by developing clean water systems (eliminating the need for girls to spend all day carrying water), educating girls, and providing family planning and AIDS relief and prevention. Poor countries can dramatically improve their economy and their standard of living when they engage women — the 50% of their population that has historically been excluded from basic economic activity. While Jean and I have supported a couple of specific projects: a water system and a school in Bolivia, most of our donations have been unrestricted. We believe in the importance of unrestricted grants and respect that CARE is a professional organization that will apply the money where it is most needed.
We currently give CARE about $50,000 a year. I spent last summer in Ghana volunteering with CARE on a program called Access Africa, a program designed to bring financial services to the rural poor in Africa, beginning with a savings program. I also found a school that needed to be rebuilt in Northern Ghana and am underwriting the school through the local municipality. I like knowing that some of our giving will bring people tangible benefits for many years. Our goal is to donate at least $1,000,000 to CARE while we are alive, and another $1,000,000 to CARE in our will
We also hope we can pass on our values to our children and our commitments to reducing world poverty. Our kids, age 27 and 30, know that the best gifts to give me are donations in my name. One of the ways I try to teach children about the importance of giving is through a program at our church called Children for Change. The children go into the congregation with baskets to collect change from the adults. Even though our church has only about 70 people, the children collect between $50 and $75 every Sunday. This buys socks and underwear for the homeless, mosquito nets, emergency blankets, and school supplies. Most recently, the children collected over $5,000 in 9 weeks for Heifer International. People liked the project so much, some put $500 checks into the basket instead of change! I give my congregation as many opportunities as possible to give – and always reassure them that there’s no obligation.
As a conservative businessman, I have always avoided debt, saved for emergencies and tried to live simply. My challenge now is to realize (and believe) that we have more than we need so we can be even more aggressive in our donations. It’s a stretch for me to be public about my giving, as I’m being here. I’m keenly aware that many people give far more generously than I do, and I cringe to think that some may interpret my story as bragging. But I’ve learned that no one benefits by my silence, and lots of good can come from simply sharing my enthusiasm about giving. I benefit from hearing about people who, like me, want to share their wealth while they are alive, so I hope my story might help someone else, too.