Perspective

Video: Building a generous community in the Pacific Northwest

It was a community that founded NCF’s Seattle office. It was a community who put in the hard work to build it, and it is a community that keeps it growing today. 2018 marked the 10th year of full operation for the office now called “NCF Northwest,” and a joyous giving community gathered to celebrate.

“We aren’t just a provider of donor-advised funds. We are investing in our local community,” Kendra says.

Kendra VanderMeulen, the former telecom executive who became the first president of NCF Seattle, says she absolutely cannot take the credit for the success and growth of their local office. The dream of opening the Seattle office didn’t originate with her. The seed for the idea was planted when NCF’s national office founder, Terry Parker, met with a local Seattle estate planning attorney, Andy Toles.

Terry told Andy he should start a local office, so Andy did. In 2005, he and friends Joe Helms (a wealth advisor) and Rick Battershell, a CPA who was already giving through NCF’s national office, incorporated and affiliated with NCF, but still it was just an “empty vessel.”

Then they went about the task of hiring someone to run it, but they didn’t have any money. The three men formed an advisory board to get some seed capital and to network to find someone who could take on the job of running their new entity.

Catching a vision

About the same time, Kendra says she was waiting for God to give her a new mission. “I had agreed with the Lord that I was done with my career. We did not have a clear agreement about what was next.” She made a pact with God not to make any crazy decisions, just because she was bored. She would wait.

“I had agreed with the Lord that I was done with my career. We did not have a clear agreement about what was next.”

Ed McCahill, a former Microsoft marketing executive who had joined the Advisory Board, knew Kendra and knew she was waiting on the Lord for a new mission. The board had asked Ed if he was interested in taking the job of running the foundation, but as he prayed about it, he felt the Lord might be calling his friend Kendra. Early in 2006, Ed suggested to Kendra that she meet with Andy, Joe, and Rick. She did, but at first, she wasn’t really convinced that this was the assignment God had for her.

A few months later, Kendra says, she had the “appointment with God” that gave her the vision she would need. While attending a Generous Giving conference, she learned about generosity as a movement and was intrigued. It was another year before the Lord confirmed his invitation to Kendra. She joined NCF Seattle in August of 2007.

“I didn’t really know where to start,” she says. “I just started getting to know people.” Kendra met board members, who, in turn, introduced her to other people they thought she should know.

Then she started asking her questions of NCF’s national office. “I’d ask 1,000 questions, because I had to learn from scratch. The first year was really hard,” Kendra says. And that’s an important point. No deep-pocketed funders founded this local office. It was an attorney, an accountant, and a wealth manager who hired a former telecom executive and worked together, in faith, to get people behind them. Fortunately, Kendra and her husband, Bill, were comfortable moving forward without compensation, and using their home as the “headquarters” of the startup organization.

Kendra couldn’t stop thinking about John 15:16, where Jesus says, “You did not call me, but I called you to go and bear fruit.”

Kendra couldn’t stop thinking about John 15:16, where Jesus says, “You did not call me, but I called you to go and bear fruit.”

Forming a team

Initially, Kendra was able to raise just enough money to contemplate hiring help, as long as she didn’t need to pay herself or for office space. She asked for prayers during a Bible study with friends, and it turned out the right person was sitting right there with her. Bev Beppler, a former colleague from AT&T Wireless, was bold enough to join. She took the job immediately, seeing it as a call to a mission. She mentions Matthew 4:20, when, at Jesus’ call, Simon Peter and Andrew dropped their fishing nets to follow Jesus.

By 2008, NCF Seattle was in full operation. It was at this time that a very well-respected man named George Duff, who had recently retired as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce helped to make the Advisory Board stronger by adding industry leaders who were potential donors. This group he brought together, which still exists 10 years later, call themselves NCF’s “Generosity Council.”

Kendra met with this council two or three times a year to get their advice and rely on their influence to get NCF off the ground. Early on, she also met Craig and April Chapman, givers who had made a commitment early in their marriage to be generous, even when it was tough. Kendra had been on the board of a company Craig founded, and she knew he was trying to be a good philanthropist. The Chapmans joined the Board too.

In a Generosity Council meeting, someone asked a key question: What would success really look like?

From the beginning, Kendra’s passion was about teaching biblical generosity, while offering opportunities for people to give more efficiently using NCF’s giving solutions, but it was difficult to get other people to attend a Generous Giving conference. They kept asking why they should spend all that money going to a fancy conference rather than just giving it away. So instead, Kendra worked to get people interested in what Generous Giving calls Journeys of Generosity (JOGs) – small, group retreats to discuss living a generous life. But even this was not easy.

“Nobody could figure out why they would want to spend 24 hours doing that” – talking about what the Bible says about generosity, she says. But, in 2010, she convinced her Generosity Council to go to a JOG.

By 2011, the JOGs caught on. The Chapmans became champions of them. They challenged everyone on NCF’s Generosity Council to hold at least one JOG. “The more we all got involved, the more we got a vision for how transformative it could be,” Kendra says.

So they started holding three JOGs a year, then five. Eventually it was far more.

*Numbers represent unique people who have attended a Journey of Generosity organized in the Northwest.

From “hard slogging” to growth

Don’t get her wrong. It was still hard work. It was growing, but slowly, and through everyone’s persistence in asking and working, and asking and waiting. “God just kept taking me back to that verse in John 15, where Jesus says, ‘You did not call me. I called you to go and bear fruit,’ and I kept saying, ‘Okay, yes sir.’” And he didn’t really give me an option to quit. So it got better, gradually, very gradually.” But there was never any really big breakthrough.

Kendra calls 2009-2012 “hard slogging.” But toward the end of this time, in a 2011 Generosity Council meeting, someone asked a key question: What would success really look like? Someone suggested they consider setting a “big, hairy, audacious goal.” The group asked themselves, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if God allowed us to grant $100 million by 2017?”

That was early 2012. They had only granted $11 million so far. “We said, ‘haha, isn’t that fun,’” Kendra says. “But we felt it was the kind of God-sized goal we were being invited to set.” She built a chart to show what would have to happen if they were going to make it. They’d have to get to 2016 sitting on a grant total of $61 million.

In 2016, things started to “go viral,” and take off.  Word was getting around, and they were starting to develop a very positive reputation.  The work of NCF became more viable … fruitful.

Developing lifestyles of generosity

The team started to notice that everyone who had attended a JOG wanted to have follow-up conversations, so they created their own extension of Generous Giving’s plan they called a “LOG,” a lifestyle of generosity.

Givers who had already attended a JOG formed groups to meet together, eat dinner, and explore some topic related to generosity. One dinner discussion centered around how to connect generations through giving; another time it was how much is enough to leave your kids. There were about 10 topics, and they were just discussions. No request for money was made. No action steps were given. It was a simple opportunity to talk about being generous in a really relaxed environment with other people who were thinking along the same lines, to share stories and acquire input.

The community was forming, and things were changing. By 2017, Kendra was able to say to those trying to understand what she was doing, “We aren’t just a provider of donor-advised funds. We are investing in our local community, helping people grow in their journey of generosity. You can see the fruit of that effort in the rate at which money is being deployed in our region.” This generosity within the local community makes a difference, “and that is why people would give to be a part of this thing,” she says.

One shining example of this community is their work with SAFE in Seattle. Generosity Council member, Heather Tuininga, worked with several business owners in the area to form this initiative, a giving circle, which brings together the Christian and non-Christian organizations who work against sex trafficking in their city, involving pastors and prosecutors, breaking down barriers, and saving lives.

Growth and a goal met

The Seattle office had a surge in 2017, and their grants that year reached $94 million, just $6 million short of the audacious goal they had set. Simultaneously, discussions were taking place that would lead to the formation of a Northwest regional presence, combining the Seattle and Portland offices. The two offices merged and became NCF Northwest, with grants totaling $137 million! By the end of 2018, it was $169 million.

“God built the community, and then the community invested in itself and the larger community,” Kendra says.

And what a community it is, filled with joy and generosity, powered by God to be light in the world. This is why they’re celebrating in this video. This is the power of community.

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