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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Giving away control

Charity | Some business owners are turning their companies over to Christian charity

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Willie Sutton, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, "Because that is where the money is." Fundraisers for Christian ministries have learned that successful Christian businesspeople represent one of the easiest ways to raise significant sums for their cause, because that is where the biggest gifts are. It is not that Christian businesspeople are more generous than other Christians; they just have a greater capacity to give.

While many entrepreneurs give cheerfully and generously from their sizable income, some have tried a different approach. They have used a foundation or donor-advised fund structure to maintain management control while transferring ownership from the controlling shareholder to a legal entity with a stated purpose of funding Christian ministry. Some who have taken this step speak about spiritual benefits that they have received.

Stanley Tam, the founder of US Plastics, says he felt led to make the Lord the "Senior Partner" in his business nearly 60 years ago. He and his wife first arranged to have a foundation own 51 percent of his company but later gave the entire company after seeing the great needs many people in poor countries had. Tam, who has written a book titled God Owns My Business and has travelled to 35 countries to tell others of the spiritual benefits of this decision, has seen his business generate over $100 million in donations to Christian ministries over the years.

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Alan and Catherine Barnhart, of Barnhart Crane, not only made the decision to donate their business, worth several hundred million dollars at the time, but also agreed to pay themselves only a middle-class salary, no matter how successful their business might become. Barnhart Crane has been able to donate $1 million per month to Christian ministry in the last two years due to its remarkable growth.

Other Christian business leaders pursue different approaches. Some have large salaries but contribute generously and create an environment in their businesses that helps employees use all of their God-given talents. Others pour profits back into the business to create as many jobs and opportunities as they can.

"Giving has been great fun," says Alan Barnhart. "I am convinced that it is much more fun to be a giver than a consumer." There are many ways to give.

Money hungry

Buried in the Obama administration's budget proposal was yet another attempt to tax the charitable contributions of the wealthy. Eliminating the deduction for charitable gifts was a proposal that had been floated during the Bush administration. Criticism from all corners quickly defeated the idea.

Undeterred, Obama's budgeteers, hungry for tax revenues to limit their massive deficits, have included the elimination of the deduction for charitable gifts for those couples earning more than $250,000. If implemented, it is estimated this would raise $291 billion in revenue over the next decade.

This initiative, even more poorly timed than the earlier attempt-given the greater need for charitable services during the recession-is likely doomed to failure as well. With charities struggling more than ever to find donors, a popular outcry from the charitable community as well as wealthy donors seems certain to send the idea to a quick defeat.

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