TMF Blog

My First Lesson in Generosity

Email This Share This Tweet This

December 16, 2016

by Tom Locke, TMF President

My First Lesson in Generosity

I recently read an insightful piece by my friend David P. King, Director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and an Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies within the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. His essay “Know Thyself – Writing Your Philanthropic Autobiography” reminded me of my own giving journey and how a good question can cause us to reflect on how our generosity is nurtured over time. 

In meeting with different people around the country, I often ask them how they learned to give, and to share an early family memory when they witnessed giving. The answers I hear are so often fascinating. But more to the point, I also see that they frequently help the person learn some important things about themselves, and see that they come from a legacy of giving. 

When I think about sharing my earliest family memory of generosity, I recall one Christmas morning nearly 60 years ago. My dad and I were driving from our home in Sherman, Texas, to the family farm near Honey Grove to join the rest of our family. Along the way, we happened upon a mother and her preschool-aged son on the side of the road hitchhiking to join their family in the next town. 

My dad stopped to pick them up. The little boy sat between Dad and me in the front seat while his mother sat in the back. As we traveled down the road, the boy and I sat quietly as Dad and the boy’s mother engaged in light conversation. As I recall, it didn’t take long for Dad and me to both realize that this family didn’t have much. 

I then noticed my dad had reached into his pocket, and had taken out a dollar bill. He then quietly placed it in the little boy’s pocket. Nothing was said by either of them.

At the time, my allowance might have been 10 cents a week – a whole dollar seemed like a fortune to me and in fact, a dollar was not an amount freely given away within our family. Understanding that my dad grew up on a farm during the Depression, I know that he knew hard economic times very well. He knew what it was to be poor. And, maybe he saw a bit of himself in the little boy.

My family also didn’t have a lot, but my father was willing to share what he had with this mother and her young boy on that Christmas morning. We never spoke about his generosity that day, but I’ll never forget it. I saw a part of my dad that I hadn’t noticed before. I didn’t realize the compassionate and generous person he was.

Moments like this help define who we are and shape our relationships with others. They define our understanding of all the relationships in our lives and create a culture of spiritual giving. I’m grateful for my father’s gift to the little boy that Christmas morning, and I’m grateful for his gift to me that day in witnessing his generosity. I’ve thought about that story often since that morning, and on the occasion of Dad’s death, this was the story I shared with our pastor as a story that defined my Dad’s life.

As I reflect on the six questions posed by David King, I am struck by how we all could use these questions to center our own philanthropy as part of our faith journey. 

  • What is your earliest family memory of giving?
  • What are some of the practices of faith and giving that you remember from your childhood? 
  • Who have been some of your philanthropic role models in life? 
  • To what people and places do you feel a sense of gratitude? 
  • What are the one or two life experiences that have shaped who you are today? 
  • What is precious to you? What values do you want to pass on to your family and friends? 

At TMF, we welcome conversations around powerful questions that call us to reflect and strengthen our values and beliefs. If you feel so called to share a part of your philanthropic autobiography with us, we would love to hear it. Please send an email to

Editor’s note:  Our TMF blog shares stories and essays inspired by our purpose: to help individuals, families, congregations and like-minded organizations achieve their God-inspired potential. In this post, Tom Locke shares his reflections on generosity and our philanthropic journey.


Back to Blog Main Page