Start a new family giving tradition (on Zoom!)

On a frigid January evening, deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, something special happened in our family. One grandmother, six children, and seven grandchildren turned on our selfie cams and made an impact for eternity.

It was an idea that had been percolating in my mind for years – to gather our entire family to talk about generosity and move money to ministries as a tangible outcome we could grow from and celebrate together. I wanted to use this occasion as an opportunity to share many of the lessons I’d learned from being part of a wonderful organization centered around biblical generosity.

As one of 300+ team members at the National Christian Foundation, I get to witness remarkable stories of generosity every day. We have a front row seat to the creativity of the givers we’re privileged to serve – women and men who are making the most of the resources God has entrusted to them and doing so in fascinating, innovative ways.

For example, years ago I learned about one couple who gathered their grown children and their spouses around the Thanksgiving dinner table and put a pile of pennies in the center. Each person was instructed to grab five pennies. Then, the couple revealed that each penny was worth $1,000 and that the children should decide which causes or ministries they would like to support financially. One by one, they slid their pennies to the middle of the table, announced the charities that would receive their $5,000, and explained why they made their selections.

This story stayed with me for years, and many times I wondered if I should organize the same type of giving experience with my family. In early January 2021, I finally decided to go for it.

Perfect timing

Just as this newfound motivation was ramping up for me, several other things made it clear the time was right.

First, my mom, Nancy, had just received an inheritance after one of her aunts passed away in 2019. She opened a Giving Fund (donor-advised fund) at NCF and contributed appreciated stock as a tax-smart way to begin, providing her with an opening balance in excess of $40,000. (See below for details about how we surfed our fund together.)

Second, her seven grandchildren were now old enough for meaningful discussion and reflection. The youngest of the bunch, my son Carter, was 13. The others ranged from 17 to 23. So my mom, her three grown children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren were ready to learn, grow, share, and give together.

Third, with COVID-19 in full swing, the whole world was conversing and meeting over video chat and Zoom, so it had never been easier to quickly pull together 14 people from multiple time zones and states.

The stage was set for a fun family event.

The plan of action

My mom and I started a group text thread, inviting everyone to attend and providing a high-level description of our plans:

  • We would hold a one-hour Zoom video call.
  • Each person would come prepared to talk about one or more ministries they wished to support.
  • I would share my laptop screen, log in to our Giving Fund on NCF’s website, search for the charities each person selected, and recommend grants from the fund’s balance.
  • Each person would get $200 to grant to one or two charities of their choice.

Though we could have upped that amount significantly, we thought it best to start small so we could make larger grants from the fund in the coming months and years. We wanted to hold more of these family giving events together later.

Yes, there was homework

To help everyone thoughtfully select the charities they would bring to the table, we felt it was important to assign a little homework.

Most importantly, we encouraged everyone to seek the Lord in prayer for direction and discernment. Even if a favorite charity or cause instantly came to mind for each person, my mom knew the wisdom in always being open to God’s leading in every aspect of her life, including money and giving.

So, one week before our Zoom call, I sent a PowerPoint presentation that introduced a number of questions designed to get the group thinking about which charities they might support:

  • Do I want to make an impact domestically or internationally? Here in my community or across the globe?
  • Do I want to support my local church or parachurch ministries? Or both?
  • Should I only support Christian ministries serving in the name of Jesus? Or should I support secular charities that don’t conflict with Christian values but are still doing good work?
  • Should I support charities that help people? Animals? The environment? A mix of all three?
  • Do I feel most called to help those addressing people’s spiritual needs (coming to faith in Christ and developing a growing relationship with him) or material needs (food, clean water, disaster relief, life-changing medical care, etc.)? An equal mix of both?
  • Do I want to meet short-term needs (such as providing immediate food, shelter, and safety after a natural disaster) or long-term needs (such as investing in ongoing infrastructure, rebuilding, and restoration)? Or both?

Here are screenshots of some of the slides I shared. The first one was a fun, inspiring cover slide:

The next slide was a summary and outline of what everyone could expect on the Zoom call:

The next slide was a simple list of options to guide each participant’s decision-making process:

Then, as an example for everyone, the next slide showed how my wife, Traci, and I answer these questions with our own personal giving. We feel called to support Christian ministries nearly exclusively, because we want everything to be done in the name of Jesus Christ. We have an equal mix of domestic and international (with our local church as the top recipient). By far, we feel called to support ministries that serve the needs of people, because human beings are the only ones made in the image of God. We feel drawn to ministries that share the good news of Jesus (such as Bible translation, evangelism, discipleship, apologetics, etc.), but we also want to meet people’s urgent physical needs (which is often a key way to earn an opportunity to present the gospel). And our giving typically has an equal mix of short- and long-term impact.

Next, I showed a high-level summary of those decisions for Traci and me. These are the big four causes we’re passionate about, all of which are addressed through Christian ministries doing everything in the name of Jesus.

And finally, this slide contained a set of questions meant to inspire everyone to pray, think, and prepare.

The night of the family generosity Zoom

When we launched the Zoom call, the thermometer dipped to the mid-30s in my Atlanta-area neighborhood, though several others dialing in from Florida had milder temperatures.

But snuggled in blankets or just a long-sleeve shirt, we were all together on screen for an evening of giving. Thanks to my aunt’s generous inheritance and my mom’s generous funding of her new Giving Fund, we were ready to talk generosity. We spent the first five minutes navigating typical video-chat connection and audio issues and then five more catching up on interesting family updates since our last group conversations at Christmastime. Then, we focused in and got started.

I shared my laptop screen and gave a quick tour of NCF’s website login area, where we could see the Chapman Family Fund in action, starting with the home page.

Next, we asked which child or grandchild was ready to go first and share their favorite cause(s), which charity(ies) they selected, and how and why they reached their decisions. One volunteered by choosing Scripture translation and evangelism, along with a corresponding ministry. So, with everyone watching my screen, I searched for the ministry by name, found it, and clicked the “Grant” button.

I typed $200 in the dollar amount box.

I hit the “Submit” button, and viola! Grant request #1 was complete!

Time flies when you’re giving

Forty-four minutes, $4,000, and 17 charities later, we had mobilized life-changing support for the causes our family cared about most.

But equally important, our entire family drew closer together to each other and to God through a creative, fun, and meaningful giving experience. The grandchildren got a tangible taste of generosity, which would help inspire them to give with their own money now or later in their life’s journey. The adult children were reminded of why we give and challenged to honor God with the resources he’s entrusted to us.

And the matriarch of the family, my mom, Nancy, not only participated herself, but also joyously watched as her heirs talked, laughed, and dreamed their way through an evening well spent.

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