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Opinion: Billy Graham's grandson on giving
Monday, May 20, 2013 3:34 AM
A segment of Springfield’s high-net worth population is stretching themselves by giving.
I’ve noticed a recent undercurrent of generosity organized by a trio of businessmen.
The latest was an invitation-only meeting this month at Community Foundation of the Ozarks to hear from Stephan Tchividjian, the oldest grandson of gospel evangelist Billy Graham. The event was structured under Generous Giving Inc. and put together by businessmen Tom Rankin, Sean McCurry and Michael Chatman.
A connection of Chatman’s before he returned to Springfield from south Florida, Tchividjian made his first visit to the Queen City. And how did the Ozarks welcome the Florida native? With snow – in May.
While spending the bulk of his time sharing personal stories of his 94-year-old grandfather, who he affectionately calls Daddy Bill, Tchividjian laid down some practical giving advice.
First, he talked of Graham as having a frail body but sharp mind and spending his days in a wheelchair at a 24/7 care facility. Tchividjian spoke with refreshing transparency, calling Graham “somewhat pessimistic,” talking about his parent’s divorce after 40 years of marriage and sharing the recent news about his son getting a girlfriend pregnant. “We all have a story,” he says, noting his family, like most, has high highs and low lows.
Then, he told the affluent group, and those who advise wealthy clients, where his giving journey began. Tchividjian, the president of consulting firm The Caleb Group and an associate pastor in Fort Lauderdale, committed to increasing his family’s giving by 1 percent each year. “We gave away last year what we previously made in a year,” he says, noting his journey with God connects to a generous life.
Fielding questions from the crowd of about 50, Tchividjian clarified that financial advisers and community foundations can help with how to give, churches and charities can help with where to give, but the why of giving is sometimes the key. Aside from the obvious tax advantages, he said find a motivating reason.
He likes to be fluid to needs, recommends a donor-advised fund and encourages family engagement in the decisions. One of my biggest takeaways, as a father of three, was in the part entire families can have in giving. Imagine what our families could do if we set out a specific amount for each person to give to the need of their choice. Now, that’s a journey.
“It doesn’t mean we solve all of the community’s issues,” says Tchividjian, who runs the National Christian Foundation of South Florida, though he does consider community impact significant when the givers experience their city’s underbelly.
As far as I can tell, the group is not pushing for applause. While I was invited to the private meeting, I was asked not to take pictures of attendees or disclose their names in writing.
The semiannual event – another is in the works for August – complements 24-hour retreats dubbed JOGs, for Journey of Giving, where roughly 10 guys share their giving stories, challenge one another and find a safe place to discuss their wealth and how to manage it well for the sake of others.
I got the feeling the group is trying to make personal the common practice of corporate giving.
A closing video told the story of a woman who worked at a bakery and was in need of transportation. She had been saving and amassed $5,000 in a car fund. But when she encountered a widow in need, she gave her the car savings.
“I cannot give what I don’t have, so I just give what I have,” the baker says on the video posted to ILikeGiving.com.
A bakery shop customer caught wind of the scenario and was compelled to help. They decided to buy her a car, and not just any car but a brand new SUV. The car salesman even pitched in for the purchase when he understood it was a gift. The customer and her husband delivered the worker a brand new car after work one day. No strings attached. It was hers.
“I knew God had many cars. I didn’t know he had a new one for me,” she says, now in tears.
There were a few tears among the professionals in the CFO meeting room after watching the video that morning. Speaking like a seasoned giver, organizer Rankin summed it up for the group: “God doesn’t want our money. He wants our hearts. Typically, our money involves our hearts.”
So the journey goes on. We all have a story. Give what we got. And that doesn’t mean just money. We can give our contacts, our time and our intellect. There’s enough to go around this business community.
Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at
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