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If you sometimes feel the joy of giving is eluding you, you are not alone. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of individuals, couples and families in working with the issues that affect their philanthropy. While each individual and family’s situation is unique, we have found the following five challenges to be most universal. Discuss it with your family and see what kind of response you get.
TIME: The source of the most frustration for giving families is the lack of time to commit to the giving process. Good giving is work and takes a commitment of time and energy. Most donors have not given their philanthropy much thought and do not know what their focus needs to be. As well, because of this lack of direction and the time to create it, many opt to simply give reactively to a wide assortment of ministries and organizations or succumb to pressure from friends, business relationships or family members.
FAMILY TAX: Everyone knows the family pays a price for business success and yet everyone is surprised by having to work through those issues before they can begin to give effectively. Oftentimes, the spouse and children feel they were not as important as the business and are not as excited about the new business (the foundation) as the donor. Many times the donor wants to run the family foundation as an autocrat with only one vote counting. When this is the case, the rest of the family bows out emotionally.
COMMUNICATION AND TRUST: Typically, the spouse and children do not know the full extent of the family wealth and are at a disadvantage initially in making decisions about giving. Moreover, there are always a number of unresolved family issues that keep complicating the giving until things are on the table and talked through. Finally, the donor assumptions about the children and grandchildren’s values are not always correct and it’s the shared values that make family foundations work.
LOOKING LIKE AN AMATEUR: Extraordinary competence created the wealth and nothing is as painful to competent people as looking like an amateur or making obvious (and visible) mistakes. Sometimes, making serious errors in judgment about people and organizations early on destroys their confidence and keeps them from persevering. One option many take is to find key foundations and learn the ropes from their giving strategies until they find their own way.
RELATIONSHIPS: Families want to be taken seriously by organizations and to be accepted as ‘players.’However, sometimes they are unaware or resentful of how long it takes to earn influence and respect based on something other than being a donor.
THE FIVE FEARS OF PHILANTHROPY:
1. Fear of Exploitation
2. Fear of Personal Financial loss
3. Fear of the Next Generation’s Values
4. Fear of Family Fights
5. Fear of FailureComments
I have been reading surveys from conferences designed for major donors. It’s not something I recommend and I would rather be reading John Grisham or even John Calvin. I’m not much of a spreadsheet person…but I am curious about what matters to people.
Of course, what people say matters to them and what actually matters are often two different things. However, in the case of one particular issue what they say and what they actually value are absolutely consistent. That is the need for encouragement.
Why do wealthy people need encouragement? What could possibly discourage them? I have come to believe there are generally four areas of life that are discouraging to them and where they most value periodic encouragement.
First, while they are not friendless by any means, many of them are not altogether sure of the basis of those friendships. People want to “minister” to them or meet their needs, get to know them, or take them out for coffee to get their perspective. They are always on low level alert and, just like an app you leave open, it drains your battery over time.
Second, their kids often do not share their values, and that creates tension. While entrepreneurs have a “high tolerance for ambiguity” in their drive for achievement, they are often puzzled and unprepared for their children’s beliefs about the world. While they were shaped by their circumstances in life, they have a hard time understanding the same is true for their kids.
Third, it is true that increased wealth brings increased responsibility – and sometimes more worry. “For wealth certainly makes itself wings…” as Proverbs says. There is not just the individual responsibility of managing, but also the added responsibility of taking care of, others. Often it is not only immediate family but relatives, employees, and boards of organizations looking to them for wisdom and guidance.
I have not met a person yet at The Gathering who is not carrying a certain amount of financial burden for others.
Fourth, relaxed conversations about the use of wealth and giving are rare. While they think about it a great deal they have almost no place to talk openly without being guarded or ready to pull back quickly. This may be the biggest area of discouragement for most. So, there is no give and take – only an internal monologue.
So, at least in this area, people are absolutely honest when they say the primary value of getting together with others in similar circumstances is encouragement. That’s why we call The Gathering a community and not a club.Comments
I received an email from a new friend telling me he was on his way to spend a couple of days in an exclusive location with a room full of young evangelical elites.
He had misgivings about it because he’s a reflective type but, as he said, the draw toward being identified as an elite is compelling and attractive. Some might say tempting. I could not help but think about Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde was one of the most promising talents of the 1800s. Born in Ireland, the son of successful and influential Dublin intellectuals, Oscar excelled in languages, academics, journalism and drama. He became at a very early age one of the most sought after elites among the society of London.
After a brilliant and financially successful start, he became involved in a scandalous trial which resulted in his being sent to hard labor in prison for two years. He became seriously ill and died shortly after his release –penniless and ostracized. However, while in prison he wrote a 50,000 word letter, De Profundis (Out of The Depths), in which he examines his life in great detail:
“I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand. I am quite ready to say so. Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.
“The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation.
“Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility."
Absolute humility. How much better it would have been to begin there.Comments
If you ask most people to describe The Gathering they will tell you it is a conference. Hopefully, they will also add it is a great conference and one of the things they like the most is being introduced to ministry leaders and speakers whom they have never heard or met. Being a little "ahead of the curve" is one of the attractions. We work hard at keeping that fresh. George Romney said an officer can get so far ahead of the troops that he starts to look like the enemy. We don't want that to happen!
However, there is a downside to discovering new talent and a conversation I had with Stephan Tchividjian from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida this morning gave me a reason to use the coffee break to think about that. Stephan is wise and has been for many years. He grew up among the evangelical "royalty" (he is Billy Graham's grandson) and has somehow avoided the hubris and inflated sense of entitlement that sometimes brings. He has learned from others and has listened to strong people around him. So, when he said a few words about "new talent" I took him seriously. I did not want to interrupt him by writing as he talked so this is a paraphrase.
"We are not doing some of the young men and women any favors by exposing them so quickly to large and adoring crowds. We want them to be young, articulate, impassioned, restless and iconoclastic. What we are in danger of giving up in that is what I call "seasoning". They have not been exposed to failure, hardship, disappointment, serious temptation or long exposure to the complications and frustrations of a local church. They are still in a cocoon and we don't yet know what they will be but we are pulling them out of that cocoon before they are ready. We need to wait for them to become more than great and gifted communicators. In a sense, they need to become illustrations of endurance and not just message makers."
I know he was not indicting anyone in particular. He was just reflecting on what he sees as he looks at the circuit of celebrities making the rounds of all the conferences and wondering, wisely, where they will be. Are they child stars or prodigies or will we allow them to grow and mature and be more than a young celebrity distracted by people like me looking for new talent?Comments
The Velvet Revolution, or Gentle Revolution, was a non-violent, student-led revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989. Dominated by student and other popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, it saw to the collapse of the party's control of the country, and the subsequent conversion from Czech socialism to parliamentary republic.
As well, it vaulted Vaclev Havel, an essayist and playwright, to fame. Twenty-one years later, the Arab Spring was precipitated by students taking part in mostly non-violent protests. In both cases, it was young people taking the lead.
Today, I heard something that surprised me. It was not a revolution, but it was like seeing the first red leaf drop from a tree in the fall. It was not a young person but someone in their 70s - someone I have known for many years to be a conservative evangelical supporting the causes you might expect.
Now, she did not raise her fist or lay down hoping to be carried away by the police but what she said took a little air out of the room. "I love National Public Radio, and I support it and think we should all support it. It is a glimpse into the world in which we live."
I don't think she was laying down her life for Big Bird. I think she was saying something indicative of a feeling that is building.
In the past I have heard it said that Christians should support only Christian causes because there are plenty of pagans to support the arts, museums, planetariums and NPR, but only Christians will support evangelism. But what happens to our culture if Christians withdraw their funding from these secular institutions? They would disappear completely because those institutions are not mainly supported by non-Christian foundations and donors but by thousands of Christians who care about their communities.
I think we all know that the younger generation believes supporting these things is legitimate but when those of us who are older and come from the mainline evangelical community say it as well then there has been some kind of a very, very quiet change of season.