In her insightful new article, Ashley May provides an inspiring, comprehensive look at today’s Christian generosity movement, with profiles of some of the most interesting and influential givers and organizations making a difference around the world.
By Ashley May, Philanthropy Roundtable
Graham Smith is still in his twenties. He majored in business at Wheaton, an evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, where he was influenced by a professor who repeatedly warned of embracing “golden handcuffs” that can trap workers in well-paying yet unfulfilling jobs. When British theologian N. T. Wright came to campus, Smith walked away from the talk with a haunting question: How can you do things in the world that cause others to “write a cheerful question mark” over your life?
After graduating in 2012, Smith got a lucrative job at Credit Suisse in New York City. But he made some unusual living decisions. He moved into a two-bedroom apartment shared with four other Christian men and slept in a bunk bed, reducing his Manhattan housing costs to $400 per month. He took advantage of the free meals provided at his office to trim his grocery bills. His other regular expense was a $100 monthly subway card.
His thrift and generous salary produced a significant monthly surplus. So, he says, “I started giving it away.” By the end of his first year he realized he had stumbled into “reverse tithing”—giving 90 percent of his annual income to charity, and living on the other 10 percent.“Once you do it, you get hooked on how you can use your resources to care for and love those around you,” Smith says. While some of his gifts went to established organizations, others were incredibly personal. He decided to pay for his dad, who has Parkinson’s Disease, to complete some of the items on his bucket list before he dies.
Eventually, Smith met another New Yorker interested in generosity: April Tam, who worked in finance and was sharing her apartment with Haitian refugees. The two hit it off and married in 2015. They started to scheme about how they could generate more money for the causes they care about.
In 2017, they took their combined assets, basically “everything we had,” says Graham, and opened a two-story restaurant in Times Square called P.S. Kitchen. They kept their day jobs and hired a general manager to run the restaurant while they worked on business strategy in their off hours. The restaurant hires workers from four partner organizations: Defy Ventures, which helps ex-offenders re-enter the workforce, Restore NYC, an anti-prostitution group that helps women rehabilitate and become economically independent, Yunus Social Business, and Bowery Mission.