I was ten years old when I made my first dollar from mowing a yard. My mother was proud of my work and gently suggested that I should consider giving a tithe of my earnings to our church. For as long as I could remember, I had seen my parents contribute to the church offering plate when it was passed around during the offertory. They regularly gave us kids change to put in the plate, but this was the first time that I had the opportunity to give something from my own earnings. Her suggestion immediately felt like the right thing to do. I was proud and pleased to place a dime of my own earnings into the Sunday School offering.
With four children to feed and clothe, my parents never had a lot of money. As children of the Great Depression, they knew the value of a dollar and lived frugally. We were taught to save and to tithe and to spend our money wisely.
As adults my siblings and I witnessed and experienced the generosity of our parents both in time and money. They donated the land upon which was built a new church. There were also smaller acts of kindness and generosity.
For example, one day a bicyclist came into my dad’s business located just off the main highway. The front wheel of his bike had hit a pothole and wobbled badly. The cyclist was weary and wanted to sell his road bike for a bus ticket home. Dad had no need for the bicycle, but he gave the young man $50 and put the road bike with its bent front rim in the shed. Many years later, my children had the wheel fixed and gave the bicycle to me as a birthday present. Each time I ride my Italian-made road bike, I think of that young man so many years ago and remember the compassion and generosity of my dad. Charity was a value my parents lived out every day.
My first full-time job after college was with a national youth ministry. I was required to raise my own salary, and for 13 years, I would write a monthly prayer letter to a list of individuals who I trusted would pray and support my ministry financially. My mailing list was weighted with people who knew me or my parents; my parents were my largest and most consistent donors.
I later became executive director of the ministry’s local chapter. A large part of this role involved raising the budget through donor communication and special fundraising events. The largest and most consistent donors were those who had a personal connection with the ministry: often they themselves had once been beneficiaries of the ministry, or they were parents or family members of those whom the ministry had served. They gave out of thankfulness for our work.
The national office of the youth ministry sponsored television specials featuring well-known performers such as Johnny Cash. To participate, local chapters were required to raise $25,000. Aside from what my board contributed, we raised this money through sponsorships, as the program did not allow for advertisements (as such donations were considered charitable contributions).
The taped program gave room for live segments with local leaders, such as the mayor, police chief, and a juvenile court judge. I found securing the help of these local celebrities relatively easy, and their participation was a selling point in securing business sponsorships. The strongest argument for sponsor participation was the anticipation that their donation would be multiplied by many smaller contributions. The newly pledged matching funds generated by the program would allow the ministry to expand its work and influence in our community. The sponsored TV special highlighting the needs of youth and family was successful and also added hundreds of new names to our mailing list.
Since 1995 I have served as a representative of William Penn University on the board of trustees of the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment for Quaker Leadership. Both Clarence and Lilly Pickett graduated from what was then Penn College, in 1910 and 1909 respectively. As a young pastor of College Avenue Friends Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Clarence counseled young men considering conscientious objection to participation in World War I. He served as secretary of the board of Young Friends Activities of the Five Years Meeting from 1919 to 1922. In the fall of 1923, he joined Earlham College as its professor of biblical literature and church history and also served as the campus pastor until 1929. He then began his long tenure as executive secretary of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), retiring in 1950.
The vision for the Pickett Endowment arose from friends of the Picketts and members of the Pickett family who desired to honor the contribution of Clarence and Lilly to Quaker activism. Two members of the founding board were crucial in raising the bulk of the original funds of the Pickett Endowment: Wilmer Tjossem and Steve Cary both knew Clarence and both were well known in the Quaker world, having served on as AFSC staff. Most of the initial donors gave because of their personal connection, either to the Picketts or to Wilmer Tjossem or Steve Cary.
Contributions to the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment have slowed down considerably in the last 15 years. Those who once had the personal connection with the Picketts have passed on. The present board of trustees faces the challenge of finding a new generation of supporters. Since 1994 the endowment has awarded grants totaling over $297,000 to more than 150 grantees, and it is this group of grantees that we feel is crucial to the continued support of the endowment.
My family receives a half-dozen or more financial appeals a week from organizations of all types; among them are a good number of Quaker organizations. I give to the American Heart Association because several years ago I had surgery to replace a defective heart valve. I give to the Prostate Cancer Foundation because my father died from that illness. For years we gave support to Wycliffe Bible Translators because a relative of my wife served on its staff. We give to our local Quaker church, the yearly meeting, and Friends United Meeting programs because we are personally involved in their work. We give smaller amounts to several other Quaker organizations because we believe in their mission.
I enjoy writing charitable contribution checks. Giving was taught as a biblical principle and modeled by my parents over their lifetime. Their attitude of simplicity resulted in a conscious limitation of expenditures: living within their means. A tithe of their income was built into these expenditures. Giving, as I understand it, is a response of gratefulness to God for life and its blessings: God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). I have discovered that one fruit of simplicity is having more disposable income to give! When I support our church, a staff worker in a Christian organization, or another nonprofit organization, I am participating in the mission and extending my influence for good in the world. That is why I give.