The Leadership Challenge

Leadership // June 20, 2010

In what is being called one of the biggest fund raising pitches in US history, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently launched a campaign to challenge the nation’s billionaires to give at least half of their fortunes to charity.

Starting with the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans, the initiative will challenge the group to pledge at least 50 percent of their net worth to charitable causes, either while still living, or at death. The combined net worth of the Forbes 400 in 2009 totaled an estimated $1.2 Trillion, meaning an additional $600 billion or more could flow to charity if all raised to the challenge. (For perspective, total charitable giving in the US has topped $300 billion in each of the last three years.)

Wow! Now that’s fun stuff. Lot’s of zeroes. Big names, internationally known. Huge headlines.

The idea behind this challenge comes from a meeting in May 2009 that was formed by Bill Gates, bringing together some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists. The group had a history of generous giving. They discussed their ideas about philanthropy, including how to encourage wealthy Americans to give more.

What do you need to take from this news? Could a wave of generosity begin in your church, starting with those who have been blessed financially by God?

  • Someone has to take the lead. It could be the pastor who has a vision that demands attention. It could be a giving champion within your ministry who has caught the vision and wants to help get it funded. Bottom line, someone MUST take ownership of the cause and work toward it’s fulfillment.
  • It all starts with a conversation. Bill Gates had an idea. He started a conversation, likely with individuals at first. Then a group was formed and invited to a meeting. That first meeting resulted in several additional gatherings of the group as ideas were shared and possibilities explored. The collective knowledge assembled resulted in cultivation of more ideas. People were getting involved in the conversation. The idea champion must begin conversations with others who can have an impact.
  • Involvement creates ownership. When you get involved in something, you begin to take ownership of that thing. When ownership is taken, you treat it differently. You won’t let it fail. I have traveled since 1990. As I fly to different cities around the country, I am always renting cars. I can truthfully say that in those 20 years of travel, I have never, not once, washed a rental car. I park it in the closest parking space in the lot, even if it means squeezing it in between two other vehicles where my doors might get dinged. Why? Because I don’t own it! I do wash my personal vehicles (not nearly enough, but hey, I’m busy!). I don’t park my personal car near the door. I’m one of those who parks forever away, just so I don’t get dinged by the knucklehead parked next to me. Ownership causes you to treat things differently. Beginning the conversation begets involvement, which begets ownership (sorry for going Old Testament on you there).
  • The group shares a common passion. The group Gates assembled has a history of charitable giving. My guess is that the initial meeting consisted of those individuals who already know the importance of charitable giving and who practice it regularly. The names involved (Gates, Buffet, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, Oprah Winfrey, to name a few) have well documented and long records of supporting charitable causes around the world. It is easier to rally people toward a common goal when they come to the table already exhibiting shared passions, in this case, giving back. Begin your conversations with those chosen few that you suspect already share your passion for the cause identified. Momentum will more easily build with that group.
  • The group expands it’s reach. What started out in meetings of like-minded people who share a common passion, has now been extended to reach a larger concentric circle. They are now working to “infect” others with the notion of charitable giving. They are challenging the Forbes 400 to join them in a specific challenge. Once your group is committed, organized, and a plan identified, it is time to take it to others – to make your case for their support.
  • The Leaders are already committed. The highest, holiest form of leadership is personal example. Gates and Buffet are not calling anyone to do something that they themselves have not already done. Do not expect great results from your people if they don’t see in you what you desire from them. This is huge! Please read Buffet’s personal philanthropic pledge here. (He is giving 99% of his wealth away, yet he measures it comparatively. You really need to read his pledge.)
  • There is organization and a plan. What started out as an idea has been talked about, a lot, by really intelligent people. They have brought the strongest business minds together and organized all of their initial brainstorming into a plan that makes sense. Don’t try to launch any initiative without having a well organized process in place. Detail the plan, assign ownership to each deliverable, and hold everyone accountable.
  • The plan must be actionable. You must make a strong case for support, with a specific ask. It must be well communicated and easy to understand. There needs to be a channel for people to ask question and learn answers. Only when people are fully informed will they get involved, take ownership and make a commitment.

I love this story. I appreciate the willingness of wealthy people to give back. Not only to give back, but more importantly, to challenge others to do the same. If I can help you ignite a leadership challenge in your ministry, please call on me.

Read more about The Giving Pledge.

About Rusty Lewis

As a church leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than not having the funding to do what God’s calling you to do. But when you think about trying to address that problem, you feel overwhelmed, you dread the potential pushback from your congregation, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. Over the last 18 years, I’ve helped more than 120 churches close the gap between their current financial reality and what they need to move forward in ministry.

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