The Transforming Power of a Generous Legacy

By Bill High


I see it often in my consulting work with families. The parents have seen a remarkable degree of financial success, but their kids are all over the map—some are an integral part of the family business, while others are struggling with addictions. Some share their parents’ beliefs, but others have walked away from the faith.


We’re aiming to transfer our faith and worldview to our kids and grandkids. We’re all trying to figure it out, and the results aren’t guaranteed!


You might think it would be easier to pass down something concrete like financial wealth, but even there the numbers aren’t reassuring. Family fortunes usually are spent and gone by the second or third generation. Similarly, for family-owned businesses, the failure rate is 70% in the second generation and 85% in the third.


Passing down financial wealth can be a curse instead of a blessing if it’s not accompanied by values that give it meaning and purpose.


What’s Generosity Got to Do With It?

One of the most transformative values I know of is generosity. True generosity—the kind that spurs sacrificial giving for others’ good—is one of the best gifts a family can pass on to the next generation.


When we practice generosity, we live out the fact that everything we have is a gift from God, our Provider. We are learning to love through giving, just as we have been incredibly loved.


When we are generous, we grow in being others-focused, compassionate, and involved rather than narcissistic, contemptuous, and apathetic.


While the effects of generosity are absolutely vital in learning to handle financial wealth properly, I believe that a generous spirit is also what’s needed in those entrusted with a wealth of biblical truth. Having a biblical worldview while being inwardly focused and self-seeking is not only contradictory to the heart of the gospel but also a huge turnoff to our kids and outside observers.


Raising a Generation of Givers

If we’re convinced that instilling generosity into the next generation is good and necessary work, how do we raise our children to be givers?


First, let them experience you being generous to them. Why is that important? Think about it this way. God is incredibly generous to us. He gives countless gifts to us every day, let alone the gift of life forever with Him through Jesus Christ. It’s because we experience God’s lavish generosity to us that we know what generosity to others looks like.


Our children and grandchildren need to experience our generosity to them—lots of freely given time, treasure, attention, and affection. That’s the ideal context for teaching our children to be generous to others.


Learn to Give as a Family

Within that context, here are some ways to practice generosity as a family:

  1. Create a family giving fund. A family giving fund becomes the family foundation, a platform to discuss your values as a family. It’s easy to set up—like setting up a bank account, only charitable.

  2. Define your family values. Gather your family and discuss your top five family values and how those values will influence your giving—where you’ll give and where you won’t.

  3. Take a family field trip. Take a day and visit three or four ministries in your local community. These may include an urban ministry, an after-school education program, and a homeless shelter. Expose your children to a variety of causes. Select one to support.

  4. Make a gift to a needy family or individual. Do you know of a family or individual in need? Cancer? Medical disability? Single mom in need of reliable transportation?

  5. Look for a leverage gift. This may be a gift where you make a “matching grant” (someone matches your gift). Or it may be a gift that funds technology, grant writing, or even the creation of a business to fund a ministry.

  6. Consider giving stuff. It may be as simple as cleaning out closets. It may be more elaborate such as giving a vehicle, giving artwork, or giving part of your ownership interest in a business or real estate.

  7. Meet with other families on the journey. Find out how others approach generosity training and practical giving considerations.

A few more generosity pointers:

  1. Whatever you do, make it fun! Giving should not be a chore. Change it up. Maybe you can make a theme for the year or the month. Perhaps support summer missions by meeting with every student going on a trip.

  2. It’s not just about the money. Volunteer together. Serve somewhere. Clean up a local school property or a neighborhood. Give time. Give talent; do you have a special skill to offer?

  3. Go on a missions trip together. It may be domestically, or it may be internationally. Get out of your comfort zone, and see a part of the world you’ve never seen.

  4. Obey the nudge. If you feel a nudge from God, go ahead and make the gift. Don’t rationalize it away. Let your kids feel the nudge as well.

  5. Don’t think your kids are too young! We’ve found that children as young as five years old can participate in the giving process, albeit with smaller amounts.

Practicing generosity together as a family is an excellent opportunity to train the next generation to have compassion and take action to meet others’ needs. Raising children to be generous with all the resources entrusted to them—including truth—is good for our children, our families, our communities, and our nation.

Bill High practiced law for 12 years before becoming the CEO of The Signatry. As CEO, he has spent over 18 years helping families live simply and give generously. He specializes in coaching families, individual givers, and financial advisers regarding biblical generosity and family legacy. He and his wife, Brooke, have four children and three grandchildren. He can be found at billhigh.com.