Generous Giving

  • Religion
  • 2000

The Maclellans of Chattanooga, Tennessee, have long been sacrificial givers to Christian causes, with family members having years ago increased their charitable “tithes” to as high as 70 percent of their annual income. The Maclellan Family Foundations make grants to more than 200 ministries and charities every year, with a special focus on faith-based solutions to serious social problems, in the U.S. and around the world. They methodically support Christian education within a 500-mile radius of their headquarters in Chattanooga. They have been generous funders of national and international groups, like Campus Crusade for Christ, that bring the evangelical message to young people and other seekers. Their grants have trained Christian and nonprofit leaders in China to grapple with local concerns in an effective way. And the Maclellans were crucial early backers of a pathbreaking program called First Things First, which strengthens marriage and parental bonds with children.

In 2000, the Maclellan Foundation launched a parallel organization called Generous Giving specifically to educate and inspire wealthy Christians to share more of their bounty. Noting that the fraction of household income donated to charity has not risen since the 1930s, despite the large jump in living standards since then, Generous Giving aims to help more people “experience the joy of generosity and excel in the grace of giving.” The group sponsors an annual two-day “Celebration of Generosity” attended by about 400 living religious donors who participate in teaching, storytelling, worship, and interaction with peers. Smaller “Journey of Generosity” retreats are intimate 24-hour gatherings hosted by a couple or individual or organization, where the small group explores how generosity can change one’s life. Generous Giving held more than 150 of these meetings in 2014.

There is no soliciting or agenda at GG meetings; the emphasis is on conversation with Christian peers about the satisfactions of sharing resources effectively. President Todd Harper reports that uncertain donors often come in with a mindset of “I ought to give,” and leave with the view that “I get to give!” The gatherings are credited with having a transformative effect on many wealthy participants.