“I want the last check I write to bounce.”
These are the words of billionaire philanthropist Charles F. Feeney, who made his fortune in the duty-free shopping industry and began secretly giving his money away in 1984. Feeney’s goal was to make a difference in the world while he was alive. And he did. By 2016, he’d given more than $8 billion to charitable organizations around the world.
Feeney’s “giving while you’re living” philosophy did more than impact recipients; it also helped inspire Bill and Melinda Gates’s charitable foundation. The other inspiration behind the Gates’s philanthropy, according to Bill Gates, was his mother, Mary.
Gates often credits his journey toward generosity to a letter his mother sent his then-fiancée, Melinda, on the day before they were married. Mary reminded her son’s bride that “from those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Six months after writing that letter, Mary Gates died of breast cancer. After her death, Bill Gates, with his father’s help, dedicated $100 million to what would become the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. From its inception, the foundation has given away more than $36 billion!
These are remarkable examples, of course. Not everyone has that kind of money to give. In fact, many of us view philanthropy as the work of the wealthy. After all, it’s easy for them, right? They have plenty.
And that’s where we’ve got it wrong. Extraordinary generosity is not a virtue reserved for the wealthy. In fact, it may be easier for those who have less to give more.
Take Albert Lexie, for example. In 1981, Albert started working at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, cleaning and polishing shoes for $5 a pair. Satisfied customers often tipped him, usually a dollar or two. One Christmas, a customer gave Albert $50 for shining one pair of shoes! Big tips like that were rare, of course, and over the years, as styles changed, Albert saw his business dwindle.
In 2013, Albert retired after thirty-two years on the job. There was a farewell party. Hospital staff and administrators spoke of how much he’d be missed. But when he walked out the door on his last day, his influence at that hospital continued.
Why? Because during all those years of shining shoes, Albert Lexie donated more than 30 percent of his earnings to the hospital’s Free Care Fund, which helps cash-strapped parents pay for their children’s medical care. And those tips? He gave every single one to the hospital, more than $200,000 dollars in all.
David Jeremiah, A Life beyond Amazing: 9 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life Today (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).
I have just completed a series of lessons based on David Jeremiah’s book, A Life Beyond Amazing. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.