July 29th, 2010
When Bob and I were married in 1993 and were combining our households, we were stunned by how much stuff we both owned. It seemed almost obscene to have so many things and it was shocking to consider the money spent on so many items that had been stored in basements, garages and closets that were essentially use-less. They were perfectly good, workable things yet we weren’t using them – and because they were stashed away in our respective homes – no one else was either.
Bob is a United Methodist minister; I’m a nonprofit agency director and consultant. We both were informed and aware of human needs and worked to meet them through our work and our personal lives. That’s why we were shocked. We believed we were living generously and gratefully – but when we viewed the mountain of stuff – it became obvious that we had some work to do.
We’d both been generous givers to our churches, maintaining a standard 10% tithe. We’d also been (or what we thought of as) generous in our contributions to agencies and issues we support: reproductive rights, peace action, hunger and housing organizations, with gifts of time, leadership and money.
The turning point in our realization about generosity changed when we joined our lives and households together. After our initial shock, we decided to deliberately live our principles more concretely. Rather than simply continue as we had individually; making gifts and volunteering for issues we cared about, and essentially “doubling” our effort, we decided to be deliberate in our giving based on the gifts we’d been given so that our giving always reflected gratitude.
Among our gifts are supportive families of origin, an extensive network of friends, and stable and predictable work for Bob, which provides a salary and good benefits, including the provision of a parsonage. This means that as long as Bob is serving in the United Methodist Church, a home is provided at no cost to us. In exchange for the gift of housing, we decided an appropriate threshold for our annual giving would be to give the amount equal to the average cost of housing for families like ours. We determined that between 35-60% of our annual earnings would be designated for charitable giving since that is the range of housing costs for working families like ours. In that way, we would always be reminded of the blessings of the gift of housing provided for us. Stated another way – how could we possibly use the generosity of church members in providing housing for their ministers and families as a basis for our own financial security?
Since neither of us had any substantial assets (I was a single parent at the time and had recently bought my own home, but of course, it was mortgaged), we didn’t merge our lives with any kind of financial cushion. This was truly a commitment to live our values by using our money as a tool of gratitude.
Since that time – we’ve experienced the joy and freedom in “giving beyond our means”, as well as devastation when I lost my job and we were faced with months of struggle. That’s the deal. We take the good with the bad – but we always live in generosity. We may appear foolish or misguided when compared to the conventional wisdom about financial management, but we know that “all we have is gift, and all we do is offering”.
There have been times when our extended family rescued us during tough financial times. There were some very dark times when I questioned our decision to live so close to the edge and felt foolish and stupid in not providing better for my own family of creation.
That’s the deal, too. This has kept us closer to others who live without a financial safety net in our country, so we are never too far removed from issues of poverty and justice and think we know more about how to deal with these issues from our “lofty” position of privilege. Instead, we’ve changed our thinking so that generous giving keeps us closer to our values, and closer to what we believe is the best way to show our gratitude.
| Midwest | 40 to 59 Years Old | Under $1M | at least 50% | Profession |
| Peace | Social Justice | Fairness | Faith | Simplicity |
Posted on August 20th by Jill Warren
Greetings Generous Friends,
I love extending our initial conversation!
Betsy - thanks so much for the introduction to Lumunos. I love the description of "living our legacy" - that's a great mental picture for me.
Laurel - I completely understand your commitment to animal causes. We've always had animal companions and they are a part of our family - don't apologize for loving beyond human connections. I love your approach to managing debt along with giving, and your personal connections to where you give.
Sharyn - I agree with the the thrill of receiving unexpected income and imagining what it could be used for. Since Bob is paid a salary by the church, we donate all his honorariums for weddings, funerals and special services when ministers are typically paid something by the family. We've decided that these gifts should always go to the church he's serving. This is in addition to our 10% pledge to the congregation. Since it's not predictable income, we don't budget it into our pledge commitment. I do know a UU minister who paid his church pledge entirely with honorariums from other services - but I think this is unusual.
Rob - thanks for introducing me to Generosity Patriot - I look forward to learning more. As for maintaining a dynamic tension - it's not an issue for our family. If we have money - we use it - and that includes giving using our 30-65% framework. We don't try to balance between competing needs (i.e. internal vs external) - they're all in the mix. Our realization is that there will never be enough - for anything - including our giving. We've simply decided that offsetting our housing costs is better used as lifetime giving rather than saving or using it for something else inside our family.
Anne - I so appreciate your wisdom and leadership! I wanted to write a little about my religious beliefs and giving since you posed the question about whether my faith in God helps give me a sense of security in giving. I'm not as comfortable living the belief "God will provide all I need". I really do take literally, though, the Christian teaching about not worrying about these things. If I spend time worrying about my own needs - how can I be a good disciple and live a life of generosity? So - it's not that there's a sense of security about our financial well-being - just a strong belief that worrying about money for ourselves (or the things/services it can buy) is the wrong emphasis for us if we're going to be faithful disciples and good United Methodists. One of my favorite scriptures is "...where your heart is, there your treasure will be also..."
I agree with you that money can buy privileged isolation. Our parsonage is in a community that has many gated neighborhoods and private clubs. I also know people who live in long-established colonies of privilege in northern Michigan who really savor the privacy that money provides. It's a luxury to travel by private jet (which I got to do on a couple of occasions through the generosity of a wealthy donor to the agency I was leading at the time) and not have to wait in long lines for security or for your luggage. It was a real treat to see how "the other half lives" with regard to travel. Yet - some of my most memorable experiences have come by using public transit. We were in New Orleans earlier this year as part of Amnesty International's annual general meeting and volunteering with Hands On New Orleans. Rather than rent a car to get around - we decided to use public transit. While waiting with our bags for the bus, we met a musician who was in town for a festival and had to get his saxophone fixed so he'd taken the bus to the repair shop. He invited us to listen to him play at a local club (definitely off the beaten track). He caught a bus before us - but when we finally got to our destination - we were serenaded by him (now with his sax fixed) as we walked up the street. We wouldn't have had that kind of experience using private transport!
Now it's time for me to fess up - we don't deny ourselves pleasures & comforts - so not much sacrificing going on. We live really well. We travel, enjoy hosting parties and going out to eat, going to the movies, concerts and vacations. We use cable tv & wireless internet, have closets full (again!) of clothes and coats, our home is filled with books, music, art and family mementos and the garage has 2 cars, golf clubs, skis & bikes. Granted - most of the items are either hand-me-downs or from second hand stores. We enjoy gathering more than spending. We do have a household rule though - if something comes in, then something else goes out. I guess you could say we "rent" our possessions.
Giving is really just an extension of our daily decisions. When we buy on the primary market we use socially-responsible sources (not always an option - especially when buying gas & oil). That means we spend effort to learn about companies and sources which definitely requires a lot of time (the ultimate luxury?). We support our farmer's market and buy meat from a vendor there. Because it's more expensive, I think we've become more mindful of preparing it thoughtfully and enjoying it thoroughly. We drive a hybrid as our primary car (now paid off) and were given a 1984 Chrysler (not their finest year - but it's more responsible for us than buying another car) since we live in the suburbs and there isn't public transit.
Thanks to whoever posted the link to the Today Show - love the convergence with our conversation.
Posted on August 20th by Betsy Perry
What a great conversation around what is enough! It seems to me that Jill and her family are “living” their legacy rather than worrying about “leaving” a legacy. I know this may sound like an “ad”, but the small non-profit I work for is just publishing a workbook called, Looking Back and Giving Forward: Finding Common Ground for Positive Aging. It looks at the concept of living your legacy, and here is a brief excerpt which I believe speaks to a more holistic understanding of legacy and money. In Jill’s conversation with us, I heard a holistic approach in which money is only one component—more of a tool for doing what’s in their hearts.
Legacy is the bestowal of what you believe God may be calling you to impart to those around you. As you frame your personal search for legacy over the weeks ahead, try not to restrict your definition. God may be calling you to a new and deeper understanding of legacy that might include some of the concepts above ranging from the mundane and material to matters of mind and spirit. It can even include certain things you have little choice about such as genetic traits. You should feel free to go beyond your current concept of legacy, to endow it with what you feel is God’s truth for you and your community now and in the future. Legacy contains the whole range of human experiences, and like the core of a human being, it is both unique and universal. How rich a search it will be!
Have you ever thought of some of these ideas as being a part of your living legacy?
• genetic traits (appearance, abilities, interests, conditions, disease)
• material things (wealth, property, heirlooms, mementos)
• opportunities (enterprises, affiliations, experiences, possibilities)
• information (family tree, dates, addresses, recipes, medical history)
• history (historical events, context, local impact, documents)
• traditions (holidays, food, places, songs, stories, allegiances, observances)
• religion (denominational ties, worship practices, theological tenets)
• spirituality (living into wholeness, contemplative practices, exploring meaning of the Creator)
• memories (experiences, turning points, details, skeletons-in-the-closet)
• understanding (impressions, advice, meaning, beliefs, spin)
• perspective (life course, wisdom of hindsight, patterns, diversity)
• personality (emotion, humor, voice, reactions, passions)
• identity (connection, continuity, purpose, values, faith)
• love (sense of being cared for and valued, belonging, self-worth)
Posted on August 20th by Laurel A. Wirtanen-Siloy
My husband and I both work for social services nonprofit- clearly we don’t make a ton of money. We live in a modest neighborhood, and thankfully other than the occasional splurge to Sephora’s, aren’t focused on name brands, fancy cars, etc.
Here’s my thoughts on charitable giving. Right now, I have a huge student loan to pay off, and other regular financial obligations (ie- mortgage). However, I feel like there are people and causes that are less fortunate then me, who need the money, in an emergency mode, today. I feel it’s my obligation to them. My personal life has been touched by the charities I support, and therefore, I seem to understand, firsthand, why the contributions are so important. I only support two in a ‘meaningful’ way. An animal cause, and a kid cause. Through the years, I have become more and more attached to these two causes, and therefore, they become a priority. My charitable contributions exceed any kind of contribution made to all of my family members for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, etc. Charity, becomes more of a priority, over paying down debt and getting a new dining room table, or giving a loved one a material object. It’s more important than seeing someone smile over a juicer.
For the animal cause, I know, sick and twisted as though it may be, my dog died and it was like the loss of a family member. Doing something good in her name, makes those bad moments of hers at the end, easier to swallow. I guess my therapy, is therefore, charitable giving. And, we’ve had that where I work as well- a donor loses a child unexpectedly, a parent unexpectedly; doing something meaningful in their name, helps with the healing process.
For the kid’s cause, I became a big sis to a client where I work, and everything she dealt with- made me see the importance of giving back to humanity. I saw her struggles, up close and personal- not just as the fund raiser- and it changed my perspective.
Mind you, I do have a very aggressive plan to pay off the debt (10 year loan becomes 5-6 year loan), BUT, I won’t take on the 4 year repayment plan, because even though the accrued interest is a killer, these charities need money, today. I can bite the bullet with interest. Opportunity costs, so to speak?
I have decided to leave most assets to charity upon my passing. My reasoning is this. My spouse has enough assets to get him through difficult times, in the event he outlives me. Second, all other family members are fortunate enough to be blessed financially on their own- and therefore, don’t need it. Selfishly, I figure, I had to work for it, you can work hard too.
I didn’t read the freedom of giving post ... but my thoughts are, I feel more satisfied, and more content, giving a bit beyond my means. It helps put life into perspective.
Good reads, I’ve been enjoying reading the other posts!
Posted on August 20th by Sharyn Dowd
Great questions. I’ve been a professor and now I’m a pastor and I’ve never made more than $70,000. I’m currently giving 15% to the congregation I serve and smaller amounts to missionaries, colleges, and other ministries including special offerings in the congregation.
I was brought up to give 10% and have enjoyed increasing that over the years. I have always lived in fairly small spaces (from 750 – 1600 sq ft) furnished cheaply. I trade cars seldom, don’t pay for cable TV and work on other ways to live simply. That would be very different if I had to persuade a spouse and children in that direction, I’m sure, but that has not been an issue.
But I can definitely echo Jill’s point about freedom and joy. When I get an unexpected check, I get a lot of pleasure of thinking about giving a gift that I hadn’t planned on being able to give, and I never worry about whether God is going to come through with what I need.
Posted on August 20th by Heather
How much is enough? I think you and your husband have to decide that.
Here's a bit of my story if it's helpful:
I think finding how much is enough is a journey. We needed more money a few years ago because I needed more stuff or the right car (though it was always something we could afford). Since then, I began a journey of trying to be a better steward of the environment which really led me to think about what's important in life. There was also a question my husband was going to have to answer when he became ordained in The United Methodist Church: Are you in debt as to embarass yourself? Now, that's a subjective question but for us we knew we wanted no debt (except for house) when he was asked and we met our goal. With all debt paid (except for house) I couldn't believe how fast money was accumulated in the bank. When we looked at the amount we both immediately identified some places we wanted to give, but had been unable to in the past. There was great joy and freedom. It made us want to give and save more. It didn't make me want to make more money, it made me want to spend less.
I think by asking these questions you've started your journey.
PS- I find it funny that we're having this great discussion and The Today Show airs a piece on it.
Posted on August 20th by Rob Copeland
What a great question...how much is enough? I would like to share my experience (without the benefit of having yet listened to the conversation...thanks for recording it and making it available). Typically this question is approached from the perspective, how much is enough to leave my family? What I like so much about this angle is that the person answering has already determined that they will give (unfortunately many don't). I believe the challenge to answering this question (borrowing from Andy Stanley) is that the answer is one that will never be resolved. Rather it is a tension that is to be managed. If you answer the question with certainty (i.e. I think $10,000 is enough) you inhibit growth and create barrier to progress. $10,000 may be enough one time but $20,000 might be right the next time. Also, the instances when I have experienced joy and freedom in giving have been when my giving was sacrificial, otherwise it can tend to become just another "bill".
Posted on August 20th by Anne Ellinger
Thanks for that great question, Elizabeth. I found that part of the conversation quite dazzling, especially when Jill talked about the sense of freedom she gets from living on the edge like that and staying true to her commitment to giving. It's just so different from how I've dealt with money and from everything I've been taught regarding financial prudence. My husband Christopher is a careful planner and budgeter -- a very different temperament from mine, and I'm grateful to benefit from his ways! We've mapped out as best as we can our lifetime financial needs.... different contingency plans... retirement needs.... We don't have Jill's faith in God, and I wonder how much that is core to her sense of security.
I have, however, experienced wonderful freedom from wanting little and spending frugally (esp. when I was younger). I remember in my 20's loving to go to flea markets and buying nothing: just savoring the life-filled feeling of wanting things and not needing to buy them in order to have the pleasure. And I've experienced the joys of interdependence -- of sharing belongings and services with friends and neighbors instead of each of us needing to buy our own things. This includes borrowing each other's cars (e.g. if I need a van sometimes), bringing each other special meals instead of going out to eat, giving rides to the airport instead of taking taxis, sharing a snow-blower, and more. In our culture,money often buys isolation. "How much is enough" can be a lot less when you share.
Posted on August 20th by Elizabeth Wohlers
The following question and responses are from an email listserv discussion held by Bold Conversation teleconference participants following the July Bold Conversation with Jill.
A question that has been on my mind since the call with Jill is "how much is enough?" I was really struck by Jill's stories of the times when she and her husband found themselves seriously pinched- they could have used the money if they had saved it rather than giving it away- but that hasn't changed their joy in giving so much.
I'm a young adult and as my husband and I look forward to the direction to take with our careers and family, we're asking these questions about how much is enough- to earn, to spend, to save, and to give.
I'm intrigued by the way Jill describes feeling freedom in giving so much. I'm curious to hear from others- How have you made decisions about how much to give? Can you identify with the freedom in giving that Jill talked about?
Posted on August 9th by Jill Warren
Just passing this along to those of you working with working class donors. I'm looking forward to reading their book.
The following appeared on Boston.com:
Headline: Have less, give more
Date: Aug 9, 2010
"Surprising insights from the social sciences"
To see this recommendation, click on the link below or cut and paste it into a Web browser:
Posted on August 9th by Jill Warren
Thanks so much Nayna! I wish you freedom and joy in your decision, too.
Posted on August 5th by Nayna Agrawal
Jill (and Bob),
Your story made me commit to donating 10% of my salary; I strive to reach your goal one day. Thank you for sharing your story and for being so incredibly generous. We're hearing right now about billionaires giving 50% of their salaries; but, for us "regular people" to commit at that level is what is most admirable to me. Thank you for reminding me that there are truly selfless, giving people in this world. In admiration, Nayna
Posted on July 31st by Jill Warren
You know it runs in the family! Love you, too.
Posted on July 30th by Denelle
I knew you were special but this interview showed me stuff that I didn't know about you and I lived with you for a year!?! I'm so proud that beside calling you friend, that you're family. I also want you to know that I have always looked up to you and that you're one of the heros in my life.
Posted on July 29th by Jill Warren
Congratulations, Theron - on your marriage and on working with your partner to determine the right balance for your family. Thanks for being on the call and your kind words, too.
Posted on July 29th by Anne Ellinger
On the call, I mentioned that I had a few other resources to pass on about the liberation and play of giving.
I love the spirit of Harvest Time: "Christians with wealth engaging money as a doorway to spiritual transformation." Browse their past newsletters, and you'll see they definitely look at giving through a lens of liberation and play. http://harvesttime.cc/resources.html
I'm also reminded of minister I knew who played with giving by setting up a "Lord's fund" in addition to his regular giving. Whenever he saved money in an unexpected way he added it to this fund. The examples ranged from finding a dime in the street, to getting a bargain on airline tickets, to not being served a speeding ticket when he should have been, to giving thousands in tax savings when the tax code was changed to benefit the wealthy.
You and others on the call might also enjoy these resources on our site:
Stories from Bold Givers motivated by faith: http://ow.ly/Ieqy
Stories from Bold Givers who, like Jill, live fairly simply so they can give more: http://ow.ly/Ieqy
On Bolder Giving’s “channel” on YouTube, you can watch 11 brief video clips of different donors talking about “How much is enough?” Go to this link: http://ow.ly/IegF
and then see the playlist on the right.
Thanks for being on the call!
Posted on July 29th by Theron
Thank you for your generous sharing of your story, and for your courage all these years. My wife and I were just married last September, and your story is an inspiration to us as we continue discerning how to structure the balance of saving, giving and living in our lives.
Thank you again -
Posted on July 29th by Jill Warren
Thanks to everyone who participated on today's call - especially those from AK, HI & west coast who started their day with the call! I appreciated your questions and affirmations. You've helped me to think further about my giving approach, too.
Things I’m reading or have read that influence my giving:
Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History, Friedman, McGarvie
What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Wagner
Making Nonprofits Work, Light
A Place Called Simplicity, Cloninger
People of Integrity, Morgan
The Selfless Gene, Foster
Values-Driven Business, Cohen, Warwick
True to Yourself, Albion
The Call of Service, Coles
The Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking, Orosz
American Foundations, Dowie
...and of course, the United Methodist Social Principles, find them at www.umc-gbcs.org
If anyone would like to contact me directly, please feel free to do so at:
It was wonderful to share the call with you.
Posted on April 20th by Jill Warren
Hi Anne - haven't done any "official" talking with United Methodist families - but perhaps it's time I did. I'm not aware of others doing so - it's more common that clergy families use what they would've spent on housing to buy a place for retirement since housing discontinues after active appointment serving a church.
Posted on April 17th by Anne Ellinger
Wow, Jill. I just re-read your story again -- had been a year or so since we posted it -- and I'm most moved by your courage and commitment. Even though I've been a "Bolder Giver" I don't live nearly on that edge. I love your matter of fact attitude about it all, taking the bad with the good.
I'm curious... have you talked with other United Methodist ministers about contributing what they would have spent on housing costs? Know any others doing it?
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