“Phil had a gift for giving,” recounts Susan Patton of her high school sweetheart and husband of 30 years. Susan had what she calls “traditional roles” in the family, and Phil handled all the finances, including the family giving.
Phil had started practicing generosity from a young age, and he loved the opportunity to show God’s love through blessing others. “He would often ask my opinion about supporting one organization or another, but I would usually just agree with him because my heart was not yet drawn towards generosity the way Phil’s was,” Susan explains. To better orchestrate the family’s giving, Phil set up a private family foundation.
Phil, an executive for a large hospital chain, and Susan, a nurse by trade, lived with their three children in Nashville, TN. In late 2003, Susan’s world was flipped upside down. Phil, a hobbyist pilot, took his single-engine plane for a brief flight one October morning, and when he failed to show up for an appointment, that afternoon, red flags quickly began to go up. The next morning search crews discovered the wreckage of Phil’s plane in the Tennessee woods.
The following days were an overwhelming fog Susan recounts. Coping with the sudden loss, Susan explains at the time she questioned God and was overwhelmed by the responsibility now placed on her shoulders, including that of giving. Shortly after Phil’s death, Susan began receiving phone calls and letters from organizations Phil had supported, all starting their year-end giving requests. Since Phil had set up a private family foundation from which to carry out the family’s giving, Susan was required to grant out a certain amount of money each year. For this reason, Susan participated in what she calls “grudge giving,” a term coined by Father Robert Rodemeyer. She gave because she felt she had to give.
She recalls often she felt, “I wish this was not my responsibility.” In her grief, Susan’s heart was not yet open to what God was teaching her. Charitable giving was very mechanical for Susan. She would write the same checks, for the same amounts, for the same charities as Phil had the year before. Intellectually, Susan understood God owned it all, and she was called to steward His money faithfully, but her heart was not yet fully committed to generosity.
Susan was encouraged to attend a generosity conference by her financial advisor, where she learned about giving circles for the first time. After returning home from the conference, Susan met with a close friend to discuss the idea of forming a giving circle in their city. Her friend was immediately on board. They recruited two more friends to join them and invited one hundred other women to an introductory gathering. “Forty women showed up for that first meeting, and that’s how The Giving Circle came together,” recounts Susan.
Now The Giving Circle has over eighty women who come together each year and nominate local, national, and international ministries to bless as a group. The only requirements are that the ministry must have the 501c3 nonprofit designation and have a Christian gospel element and be actively working towards advancing the Kingdom of Christ. The Giving Circle usually is able to support anywhere from four to seven ministries based on the amount of funding needed.
Susan and Phil’s story is an excellent reminder of God’s promise, written by Paul to the church in Philippi.
And I am certain that God, Who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
God’s promise does not end with us. He promises to carry on the work He started until the day Jesus returns. The work that God began in Phil’s heart, to show His love to others through generosity continues today through Susan and The Giving Circle. Because of Phil’s gift for giving and Susan’s obedience, The Giving Circle is inspiring others to discover their passion for generosity and create eternal impact.
“What thrills me about The Giving Circle is the women learning about the different ministries and needs around us,” says Susan. “They feel a part of doing something about it. We hear a lot of women say they feel empowered to give and think and study their hearts towards giving. And as a group, we are making a bigger impact than we might make on our own.”