Over the holiday break, my family bought a cow, two goats, and four chickens.
No partridge, but we did also buy a fruit tree.
In what has quickly become my new favorite tradition, after a turkey dinner on New Year’s Eve, my family sat around the table to discuss how we’d spend money we’d be donating to Compassion International.
When we started our business twenty years ago, I knew I wanted it to have a charitable component. Most companies give from their profits. I didn’t know how long it would take us to be profitable (spoiler alert: seven years!), so I came up with a different plan. I decided to build giving into the cost of every product we sold. It started at three percent, so if I sold one hundred dollars worth of books, we’d donate three dollars. Eventually, we bumped it up to five percent and expanded it to include my speaking fees as well.
This year, we donated more money than we made in our entire first full year in business.
Over the years, we’ve given to a number of charities that improve the lives of children throughout the world, but our recent focus has been Compassion. They are the world’s leading authority in holistic child development through sponsorship. Kim and I decided to co-sponsor a child from Ethiopia way back when we were dating. It was a big sacrifice at the time, but we stuck with it and ended up sponsoring Hailemairan from the age of 4 until he graduated from the program at age 21.
We currently sponsor three children, in Mexico, Guatemala, and Rwanda. They share birthdays with our kiddos and we are thrilled anytime we receive a letter from one of them.
Last year, we gave each child’s family the maximum gift allowed. Months later, and quite unexpectedly, we received letters telling us how the gifts were used. Allan’s family was able to buy three cows, which was an answer to their prayers. (In previous letters, he had asked us to pray for his family that they might be able to acquire a cow.) Rosa’s family bought new flooring for their home, a mattress, a refrigerator, and a bicycle.
One of my favorite things Compassion has done is to create a gift catalog, serves as an awesome tool to help make the giving more tangible for our young ones. It allows us to talk about the needs people have in different areas of the world and helps them to appreciate conveniences we so easily take for granted.
After once again setting aside some money for our sponsored children’s families, each of our kids was given a certain amount of money to allocate however they wished. Ben was the one who bought the cow and two goats, along with some art and music classes. Lucy wanted money to go to a small business startup training and “newborn bundle.” Ginny, our six-year-old, elected to help a girl at risk and provide a water bundle, to go along with an art class, three chickens, a mosquito net, and the aforementioned fruit tree.
It was so cool to see how thoughtfully they considered their contributions, and I hope this helps form a foundation of generosity that lasts their entire lives. It has already inspired them to contribute a percentage of their own money to the collection basket at church each week.
It’s easy to plan to be generous once you become “rich,” but it’s just as easy to find different places for your money to go as you get more of it. I subscribe to the adage that more money just makes you more of who you already are, so if you aren’t generous when you have little, you won’t suddenly become a philanthropist when you’re wealthy. I am so glad that we started this habit of giving early on. It didn’t feel very significant in the early days when I was writing checks for forty dollars here and there. But it adds up, and the habit becomes stronger.
As the saying above attests, helping one person may not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person.
If you have ever bought something from us or had a hand in booking me to speak, thank you. The only reason we’ve been able to do any of this is because of your support and belief in what we’re doing here.
Sometimes I think of all the things we could have bought with the money we’ve donated. I might have a nicer car, a bigger house, or more padding in my retirement account. But then I think of all the blessings we’ve been given, the cool doors that have been opened, and the uncanny way things just seem to work out for us. I have no empirical proof, but my faith tells me they’re connected.
And suddenly, a nice car pales in comparison to a cow, two goats, and four chickens.
Next year we’re going for the partridge.