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February 2014 - Generosity Gameplan™

Have you ever watched the TV show American Pickers? Two guys from Iowa travel the country scouting and buying (“picking”) antiques and collectibles. Mike and Frank make deals on these treasures and resell them for a living.

Most of the time another team member arranges meetings with sellers, but sometimes they free-style, driving the highways and stopping by homes, farms, and ranches that look like the owner has lots of stuff.

One of my neighbors at our farm is a free-style candidate. Sally, 75, lives in a double-wide on the same farm where she was born. Two generations of treasures clutter her place.

It’s a property only Sally or a picker could love, and at first blush it’s a turnoff to drive by, but not if you know Sally. Everything has a story and a past and is connected to a person in Sally’s life. Sally is the first to offer an engaging smile, a conversation, and her penetrating eye-to-eye presence.

I haven’t made up my mind about whether Sally has any money or not. She could be the millionaire next door. But never mind, she has taught me to slow down and do more than wave as I pass by. I stop, get out of my pickup, put my watch in my pocket, have a cup of tea, and visit.

I wonder, as we spend our relationship currency, if we are willing to take the time to be really present? And what treasures are waiting for us when we do?


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Mary is a not-so-ordinary childcare worker at YMCA who came to me for advice. We had no friends in common, no referral source – she just found me through Google. And she told me this story:

A girl named Sarah and I were reading a book together and I pulled out some lip gloss. As I applied it to my lips, Sarah looked up at me and said softly, “I wish I could wear lip gloss.”

I asked her if her parents allowed her to, and she said, “Yes, but I’d rather not, because my lips are ugly. I wish I had pretty lips like you.” Sarah said this because she has an unrepaired cleft lip.

I told Sarah that her lips were beautiful and that she too can wear lip gloss. When her mother walked in, I asked if it was okay for me to give her daughter lip gloss. As I applied it to her lips, I told her, “When people tell you that you’re not pretty, tell them with confidence that ‘I know I’m not pretty, I’m beautiful!’”

I pulled a compact mirror out to let her see how beautiful she is and how anybody can wear lip gloss, no matter the shape or size of their lips. She smiled, gave me a big hug, and said, “I LOVE YOU!”

The lip gloss that Mary gave to Sarah was no ordinary lip gloss. It was Mary’s own brand that she made at home, packaged, and marketed in a startup business called BU! (Beautiful You).

After telling me this story, Mary asked me an amazing question. “How do I start a foundation so that I can help children like Sarah get the medical help they need for cleft lip and palate?”

This question came out of Mary’s instinct for generosity. She is hard-wired to connect with God and others, and her heart naturally formed a desire to help kids like Sarah who have little means but are beautiful. Mary herself is not a woman of means – she is working two part-time jobs while she starts her lip gloss business.

“Forming a foundation is premature; helping Sarah is not,” I told Mary.

To begin, she will ask her trusted doctor to build a relational bridge with a surgeon at Children’s Hospital and propose a partnership to get Sarah’s surgery done. Mary will sell lip gloss and donate a portion of the proceeds to cover the surgery. She’ll relationally engage all of her customers in Sarah’s life through a grassroots marketing campaign. Now that’s an amazingly ordinary Generosity Gameplan.

By all worldly mile markers, Mary’s priorities are disordered, but her courage, boldness, and innocence are inspiring and a lesson for all of us who are stuck in Generosity Gaps.

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