VOL. 124 | NO. 231 | Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Hope Foundation Sees Significant Donation Boost
By Tom Wilemon
The Hope Christian Community Foundation is celebrating Thanksgiving early with prayers of gratitude for the spirit of giving in Memphis, which has not faltered despite a prolonged recession.
The largest Christian community foundation in the United States, it has assets of about $55 million, but its strategy is to share that wealth rather than build endowments. It is on track to break records in 2009. For the first nine months of this year, the foundation has received $24 million, an increase of 18 percent from the same period a year ago.
“The Hope Foundation is just a conduit for people to give their money through,” said Mike Harris, president of the foundation.
The people who support the foundation – almost 400 of them – dined on turkey and dressing at the “Celebration of Generosity Luncheon” last week, but thanksgiving prayers occur throughout the year for those involved in the organization.
Wealth, health and wisdom
“This is what is remarkable about our donors. They have increased giving in 2008 and increased giving in 2009, in years that are obviously challenging. Most other nonprofits have seen a decrease in giving.”– Mike Harris
President, Hope Christian Community Foundation
Alan Barnhart gives thanks because he and his brother, Eric, are able to share the profits from Barnhart Crane & Rigging. They have given $1 million a month to Christian charities in the past two years.
“I didn’t want financial success in business to be spiritual failure in life,” Barnhart told the attendees at the luncheon.
Another personal testimony came in the form of a videotape. David Montague, who once worked as an investment broker and now serves as director of Memphis Teacher Residency, told how taking a one-year sabbatical from excess spending changed his life.
In a follow-up interview Monday with The Daily News, he said people with affluent lifestyles become enslaved to their incomes.
“The sabbatical year trains you or reminds you that the whole point is not to live to the absolute highest degree that your income can afford you,” Montague said. “That’s a great lesson to learn, how to live beneath your means. This is gospel. By definition, Christ lived beneath his means. He was downwardly mobile for the sake of other people.”
Practicing what they preach
Founded only 11 years ago, Hope Christian Community Foundation has experienced impressive growth in donations. It supports educational initiatives, youth programs, churches, families and international missions.
“We serve about 250 donors through managing what we call donor-advised funds, which is the functional equivalent of a personal foundation,” Harris said. “These are families, individuals and companies that have funds with us. Our founding Bible verse was ‘seeking the peace of the city,’ Jeremiah 29:7.
“We have broadened that to include the world, obviously. The idea is that our donors are investing in Christian ministries because they can transform lives, and that’s the bottom line to our foundation.”
Giving last year totaled $34 million, up from $19 million in 2007, he said, and donations this year are on track to surpass last year.
“This is what is remarkable about our donors,” Harris said. “They have increased giving in 2008 and increased giving in 2009, in years that are obviously challenging. Most other nonprofits have seen a decrease in giving.”
Barnhart Crane & Rigging is one of the biggest contributors. Alan Barnhart said he and his brother decided to enact safeguards when they bought the business from their parents to keep wealth from taking over their lives.
“The first year of our business we actually made a little money,” Barnhart said. “We were so excited to be able to give away up to $50,000.”
The business has grown at the rate of 25 percent a year for the past 23 years.
“We’re 100 times as big as we were when we started,” Barnhart said. “We’ve gone from being able to give away tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands, and a few years ago, we got to the point where we could give away $1 million a year.
“One of our guys said, ‘Why don’t we stretch the goal and give away $1 million a month?’ In 2008 and again in 2009, we were able to meet that goal.”
Giving has allowed the Barnhart family to live more simply than most successful businesspeople, but Alan Barnhart said they have enjoyed a greater degree of freedom and other blessings.
“It’s been much more fulfilling to be a giver than it would ever have been to be a consumer,” he said. “It has been much more freeing to be a steward than it would ever have been to be an owner.”