#205 – Don’t Just “Give” Generously in 2024

During the past week, you have undoubtedly had your e-mail inbox filled with reminders from charities to “give generously” of your wealth before midnight on December 31.  Giving generously from wealth is a very good thing both for faithful leaders personally and for the businesses they lead, but faithful integrity and business a better way demand more.

Just as there is a faith/work movement in the United States, there is also a generosity movement.  Groups like Generous Giving, Generosity NY, the National Christian Foundation and The Signatry do important and excellent work helping people of faith understand the importance of being generous with their wealth.  However, by itself, the message of “give generously” can draw a faithful leader into, or at least positively reinforce, a faith as usual Side Road that misses the ancient path of God’s best purpose for work and business. We believe that ancient path–leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing–requires much more.  It requires an organization to “live generously”.

We want to challenge you to “live” generously in 2024.

Refresher: Stumbling Blocks and Side Roads

In Leading Faithfully Basics post #160 (The Ancient Path), we said every faithful leader is on a path of some sort, but leading with faithful integrity requires getting on, and staying on, the right path.  We believe the right path is the ancient path of Jeremiah 6:16:

Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

In post #179 (The Misses of “Faith as Usual”), we suggested that many good-intentioned, faithful leaders never find the right path to faithful integrity, or stumble off it, because of good-intentioned “faith” messages or approaches that send them in the wrong direction–“bad theology” or, at least, poor communication of good theology which create stumbling blocks that substitute the “good” for the “best”.

In post #180 (The Stumbling Blocks of Faith as Usual), we took a closer look at five Placebo stumbling blocks of faith as usual: The “4-Hour Content” Pill, The “Save or Give” Pill, The “Add Some Faith” Pill, The “Bless You” Pill and The “Success First” Pill.

These Placebo stumbling blocks can lead to various Side Road detours of faith as usual that can substitute a lesser “good” for the “best” of transformational heart-change in the organization–transformation of its WHY.  We identified seven in post #181 (The “Side Road” Detours of “Faith as Usual”).

The reason for identifying these Side Roads is not to criticize those well-intentioned faithful leaders who are traveling them or to devalue the good they are doing through their faithful leadership.  It is to put a spotlight on the “so much more” that comes through getting back on the ancient path and pursuing the heart-change of faithful integrity through business a better way–the heart-change that prioritizes Biblical flourishing over profit and puts profit in its proper place as a necessary means rather than the end to which the business is managed.

The “Give Generously” Stumbling Block

The Placebo stumbling block tied to a “give generously” message is the one we call the Save or Give Pill.  To understand the Save or Give Pill, you need to recall the Gaps that we described in post 165  (The “Gaps”)–the gaps a faithful leader must cross to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way.

The Save or Give Pill is a message that crosses the Sunday/Monday Gap (understanding that faith is not just for Sunday or Saturday) but then gets stuck.  It correctly gets the leader across that Gap by acknowledging business is a platform for doing Kingdom work, but then stalls the leader short of the next Gap–the Sacred/Secular Gap (understanding that business is a sacred activity with intrinsic Kingdom value) by suggesting that only two types of Kingdom work can legitimately be done from the business platform:

Save – Evangelizing people at or through work (e.g., employees, customers, vendors) or serving the less fortunate (e.g., through products and services that serve the less fortunate or through community service), or

Give – Generating wealth that can be donated to support people and organizations (like the local church and missionary and humanitarian organizations) that do the “real” Kingdom work of evangelizing people or caring for “the least of these”.

The problem with this message is that it sees business as a secular platform for sacred work, rather than a sacred platform itself.  This is the definition of being stuck between the Sunday/Monday Gap and the Sacred/Secular Gap.  It fails to see business as having intrinsic Kingdom value.

In most cases the Save or Give Pill is tied to a belief that sacred work is all about, and only about, the “Great Commission” (make disciples) or the “Great Commandment” (love your neighbor)–ignoring the Creation Mandate.  If a person’s focus is on the Great Commission and evangelism, it is hard to see how business (or work) can be “Godly” unless it is explicitly evangelistic or directly serving evangelism.  If a person’s focus is on the Great Commandment and social good, it is hard to see how business (or work) can be “Godly” unless it is “doing good” for the less fortunate.

The “Give Generously” Side Road

The Side Road most uniquely tied to the Save or Give Pill and the “give generously” message is Monetizing.  The essence of the Monetize Side Road is captured by the phrase “I’ll make more money for God”.

The Save or Give Pill tells the business leader that faith/work integration means evangelizing people at work (or finding ways to help the less fortunate) or giving money to evangelists (or those who serve the less fortunate)–period.  We believe many leaders will opt for the easier “Give” option.  And it is very safe–who can criticize a person or business for being more generous with wealth (other than owners focused on Profit as Purpose)?

Monetizing by a leader is not a bad thing–it is actually affirmatively good.  The leader will likely “feel good” about himself or herself and will certainly receive affirmation from others (particularly recipients of their giving).  The leader may well be courted by faith-based non-profits focused exclusively on encouraging monetary generosity. Business leaders sometimes say that they feel like ATM machines at church, so “giving at the office” is familiar.

Some leaders will even get put on stage at faith/work or “generosity” events to share how they have integrated their faith and work by giving away a huge percentage of revenues or profits.

But Monetizing by a leader is not leading with faithful integrity through business a better way because it is focused only on what to do with the profit of the organization, ignoring how those profits were made–the culture and operations of the organization that generates those profits.  It is focused on generous giving rather than generous living (which includes generous giving).

The “Give Generously” Problem

Again, “giving” generously is absolutely good, and a well-intentioned faithful leader can become very comfortable generously giving away a portion of a business’s profits to faith-based causes, believing they are pursuing God’s purpose for their organization.  The problem is that monetary generosity can peacefully co-exist with a WHY of Profit as Purpose (and all the problems that come with it), but a WHY of Profit as Purpose will prevent the faithful leader from God’s “best” of leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing.

We have identified several “misses” that can result from a faithful leader getting stuck on the faith as usual Side Road of Monetizing (i.e., generous giving without heart-change):

• Missed Purpose for the Organization:  The bigger WHY for organizations that can come through an end of Biblical flourishing rather than Profit as Purpose will be missed if the organization forgoes “heart” transformation by getting stuck on the Side Road of Monetizing.  Heart-change requires putting profit in its proper place as a necessary means to be optimized rather than the end to be maximized.

• Missed Calling for Its Leaders:  We believe faithful leaders of organizations of humans are called to steward in a way that humanizes people, beautifies the world and, in the process, glorifies God.  Sadly, Monetizing often makes faithful leaders feel good about themselves (and can even lead to huge pats on the back and even notoriety from the church and the faith/work and generosity movements), so they don’t see the need to seek more. They will miss leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing and miss the best God has for them as leaders of faith.

• Missed Flourishing for Its People:  If an organization gets detoured onto the Side Road of Monetizing that leads it to just “give generously” while pursuing business as usual, it will miss the opportunity to glorify God by “living generously” through providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, providing opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that enable families and communities to flourish, and creating a culture of Shalom conducive to the flourishing of all people it touches.  It will miss business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. (Albus Dumbledore in ``Goblet of Fire``)

What Is “Living” Generously

We have talked a lot about generosity in our posts.  After all, it is one of the two key Biblical principles embedded in the word Integriosity®–integrity and generosity.

Righteousness: Generosity is an important aspect of the “first thing” of Righteousness (post #189 – First Things – Righteousness).  We believe the Righteousness element of faithful integrity requires a faithful leader to “do right” by God, and that means generously loving others and stewarding creation–as the driving purpose and not just a socially conscious add-on to Profit as Purpose.

Stewardship: An organization pursuing Biblical flourishing through the alignment of its culture with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities must recognize that the Creation Mandate requires faithful stewardship of God’s creation.  Generosity is one of the four principles of faithful stewardship of an organization, along with Respect, Sustainability and Mutuality.

We believe that faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires more than being generous with the profits of a business–it requires the “vertical integration” of generosity.  “Living” generously is about operating the organization (and, in the process, generating wealth) in a way that generously loves others and stewards creation.

Hopefully you recall from post #189 (First Things – Righteousness) Tim Keller’s definition of “righteous people”–it is people who “disadvantages themselves to advantage others“.  We think this is a lot like donating blood.  The donor gives their time and their very life blood in order to help someone in need–they don’t just donate money to the Red Cross.  “Living” generously is living sacrificiallychoosing to give something up or to forego a benefit because it benefits the common good–because it is faithfully “doing right” by God to maximize Biblical flourishing.

How To “Live Generously” in 2024

There is a quote we have used in the past from the Harry Potter film Goblet of Fire.  Albus Dumbledore says:

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.

Leading a business to “live” generously is the right path, but it is not the easy path.  It makes sense that “giving” generously would be much easier than “living” generously, because “living” generously includes “giving” generously.  “Living” generously requires changing the heart of the organization–its WHY.

Changing a WHY almost certainly leads to changing the HOW’s, and that starts with an honest assessment of the organization’s current purpose, values and culture.  Transforming an organization from whatever it is (which may or may not even be “giving” generously) to one that “lives” generously is much of what our last 204 posts have been about–RENEW, RE-IMAGINE, RE-ALIGN and RESTORE.

If you are ready to take up the challenge to “live” generously in 2024, here are just a dozen prior posts that offer some practical ideas for being “generous” (using capital or foregoing benefits) in HOW the organization operates.  It is about doing “what is right” by God in the faithful stewardship of the organization, even if the organization could get away with not doing it (or even make higher profits that could be “given” generously by not doing it).

#082 (Re-Imagined Implementation – Culture and Capital).  “Living” generously requires understanding, assessing, valuing, optimizing and allocating the various types of capital a business needs and uses.    We offered a few questions about re-thinking capital that are particularly relevant to thinking about “living” generously:

• Whether there are policies and practices designed to recognize the importance and unique contribution of every person.

• Whether less than a “fair” profit is given to vendors, less than “fair” compensation is paid to employees, or more than a “fair” price is charged to customers.

• How the organization invests in its communities.

#127 (Integrity Idea 001: Hire a Chaplain).  “Hire a Chaplain” is about hiring a chaplain to be available to provide pastoral care for employees.

#129 (Integrity Idea 003: Pay Today).  “Pay today” is about paying employees for their work, paying refunds to customer/clients, and paying suppliers/vendors promptly.  It is about foregoing leverage with customers and vendors and eschewing manipulative compensation practices with employees–living the Golden Rule consistent with good stewardship. It is about generously cultivating a “Should We” rather than a “Can We” culture in payments to those who serve the organization. In this respect, generosity is closely tied to mutuality–treating vendors, employees and customers more fairly than you might need to based on your bargaining leverage is living sacrificially–and it is faithful stewardship.

#131 (Integrity Idea 005: Fund an Employee Fund).  “Fund an Employee Fund” is about creating and funding a “rainy day” fund to assist employees with unexpected expenses.

#132 (Integrity Idea 006: Provide Humanity Resources).  “Provide Humanity Resources” is about providing employees with faith-centered resources for their humanity–resources to help them flourish by living more fully at work and at home.

#137 (Integrity Idea 010: Culture Coordinator). “Culture Coordinator” is about a leader hiring a coordinator specifically tasked and empowered with cultivation, curation and protection of the organization’s desired culture.

#142 (Integrity Idea 012: Hire the Unhirable).  “Hire the Unhirable” is about a leader being intentional about hiring people who have a difficult time getting hired because of an employment challenge, such as the formerly incarcerated, recovering addicts, the homeless, the under-educated, and the developmentally disabled.

#156 (Integrity Idea 019): Banish Bribery).  “Banish Bribery” is about prohibiting the receipt or payment of “bribes”, whether or not “legal”, which goes way beyond envelopes of cash passed under the table.

#162 (Integrity Idea 020: Buy Tickets).  “Buy Tickets” is about purchasing tickets for various stakeholders to attend local events, such as films, plays, concerts and other performances, which may or may not be faith-inspired or more overtly faith-themed.

#166 (Integrity Idea 022: Adopt Adoption).  “Adopt Adoption” is about adopting practices and benefits that are specifically designed to support employees who adopt a child.

#174 (Integrity Idea 024: Optimize Compensation).  “Optimize Compensation” is about (1) reviewing the compensation of all levels of employees (including the ratios between the most highly compensated employees and the median compensation of employees) and (2) prayerfully considering whether the maximization of flourishing and good stewardship of the organization require adjustments.  It is not just about reallocating compensation–it is about optimizing the deployment of capital throughout the activities of the organization.

#175 (Integrity Idea 025: Reward Rest).  “Reward Rest” is about instituting policies that (1) provide employees with meaningful periods of rest and (2) help cultivate a culture in which taking periods of rest is honored and encouraged (and in which failing to take them is actively discouraged).

Before implementing steps to lead your organization to “live” generously in 2024, please go back and reread (or read) post #203 (Don’t Just Sprinkle Reindeer Dust).   Implementing any of these ideas without doing the hard work of changing the heart of the organization is not leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  It is sprinkling Godly “reindeer dust” to look good and feel good.

While any of these ideas without heart change is still wonderful, we believe the leaders are at risk of settling for the comfort of “good” and missing the “best” for themselves, the organization and its people.

2024 is precisely the right time to start, because in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The time is always right to do the right thing.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):   In writing this post, I was reminded of a talk given to NCS New Canaan, the founding chapter of the New Canaan Society, on February 26, 2010, by Dr. Scott Harrison.  Harrison is the founder of CURE International.  There was a huge snowstorm and only the most committed men showed up, but it was worth the effort. He talked about the difference between being a “dabbler” and being “all-in”.  Harrison asked a question, “Have you ever given a major sacrificial gift in your lifetime?”  He then told the story of a wealthy and generous friend who had given millions to charity only to realize he had never given a “major sacrificial gift”.  His gifts had changed the recipients but had never changed him–he still lived in the same big home, drove the same cars and drank the same fine wines.

“Giving” generously by a person or business may or may not be “sacrificial”.  It is sacrificial if the giver changes.  However, an organization is only truly “living” generously if it is doing so from a changed heart–a bigger WHY–and the giving is reflective of that WHY.

You can listen to Dr. Scott Harrison’s talk at this link.

ESSENCE: Giving generously from wealth is a very good thing both for faithful leaders personally and for the businesses they lead, but faithful integrity and business a better way demand more.  Many organizations do important and excellent work helping faithful leaders understand the importance of being generous with their wealth.  However, by itself, the message of “give generously” can draw a faithful leader into, or at least positively reinforce, a faith as usual Side Road we call Monetizing that misses the ancient path of God’s best purpose for work and business. The problem is that monetary generosity can peacefully co-exist with a WHY of Profit as Purpose (and all its problems).  That ancient path–leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing–requires much more.  It requires an organization to “live generously”.  “Living” generously is the “vertical integration” of generosity that flows from, and is reflective of, a bigger WHY that naturally leads to a different HOW. “Living” generously is about operating the organization (and, in the process, generating wealth) in a way that generously loves others and stewards creation.  If you are ready to take up the challenge to “live” generously in 2024, we offer a dozen prior posts that offer some practical ideas for being “generous” (using capital or foregoing benefits) in HOW the organization operates.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash
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