Leadership, generosity and how a family is redefining generational wealth
David Green is founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby. Born in a pastor’s home, he began working at a local five-and-dime as a teen. After marrying his high school sweetheart, he and his wife, Barbara, began a small picture-frame shop, and in 1972 they opened their first retail store. Today Hobby Lobby has more than 475 stores in 40 states. David and Barbara have three grown children.
In 2007, his family made national headlines when they pledged $70 million to Oral Roberts University, which was $52 million in debt and facing unlawful termination lawsuits from three former professors. In the years since, ORU has experienced a dramatic turnaround in enrollment and financial stability. In the following interview,
Dr. Mark Rutland, who was appointed president of ORU in 2009, chats with Green about the roots of his family’s generosity.
Mark Rutland: Let’s talk about the concept of leadership and giving. You’ve set a fast pace in personal and family giving. Has that always been a part of your life and thinking?
David Green: I grew up a pastor’s son, and I watched my parents’ willingness to give. My father pastored churches under 100. With six children; you figure the math. We never went without. God always supplied our needs, but my parents were faithful in their giving. A lot of what we were given was out of people’s gardens—they called them “poundings.”
My mother would get vegetables and write everything down. Some might say she was legalistic, but she wasn’t. She knew she was saved by grace, but she also wanted to please God in everything that she did. She saw it as an increase—not just the dollars and cents that they got, but all those gifts. If someone gave her a dress, she wrote it down. My sister said: “Mom, it’s not worth that much. Put down a smaller number.” But she wanted to err on the side of being grateful to God.
Rutland: So if somebody gave her a quart of green beans, she estimated the value and tithed on it?
Green: Exactly. She wrote down everything that was brought into that house. She called that an increase. Tithes are 10 percent of your increase. We would pick cotton and tithe on that. Sometimes I’m asked, “Do you tithe on the gross or the net?” “Why are you asking the question?” I ask. “Are you trying to give as little or as much as you can?”
Rutland: I’ve heard about the doilies your mother made. Tell me about that.
Green: My mother would crochet doilies. She would do all sorts of things—whatever she could. One time my dad made 100 pies and we sold them in the neighborhood.
Rutland: Your dad made the pies?
Green: My dad was a great cook. He made pies, and we would sell them for missions. That’s what we were all about. It has carried over. Once you see that there are only two things in life that are eternal—God’s Word and a man’s soul—then everything else is secondary. We try to do things that are going to matter 500 years from now.
Rutland: This idea of giving and blessing is certainly part of the DNA of Oral Roberts University. Oral believed in seed faith. Sometimes in the Spirit-filled world that has become almost an arms-length business arrangement. I give God $1,000, and I expect my $100,000 by nightfall. But that’s not what you are talking about, is it?
Green: No. In fact, I had someone that I thought had it a little bit warped in their teachings ask me if I believed in prosperity. I said: “Oh, man, do I believe in it! Let me tell you about my mother. When she died, based on this world’s economy she had nothing. But in God’s economy she was so important to God that she saw angels coming to pick up her spirit. What billionaire wouldn’t give everything he had to be where my mom was?”
Prosperity is not just giving a dollar and getting a dollar. I don’t want a dollar for a dollar. What I want is God’s blessings on my life. What are those blessings? You give a $100 and you get a $1,000? Is that all? To me, the least that God can give me is money.
There are so many blessings that God has given us. He has given us money as well because that’s our ministry. If you are a missionary, he may return something much greater.
God gives us things far greater than cash for cash and stuff for stuff. I saw how God supported us and was always there for us. I also see it in my own family. My children are serving the Lord. How much would you give for that?
Rutland: The influence of your parents made you a lifetime giver. Are there ways with your own children and grandchildren that you intentionally taught them to give.
Green: Any gift that goes out of Hobby Lobby is done by what we call “Gen 1” and “Gen 2.” I’m Generation 1, and my children are Generation 2, and we make those decisions collectively.
Gen 3 has their own account, and they get together and decide where to give. The Bible tells us it’s greater to give than to receive. We want them to have that joy. They get nothing. There are no entitlements in this company. They have to earn everything they get, but we do allow them to help give.
Rutland: So this Generation 3 group—you give them a pool of resources, but they have to give it all away.
Green: That’s right. They have to give it all away.
Rutland: It’s delightful to hear you talk about the joy and fun of giving. Do you ever get tired of people who make appeals?
Green: One thing I remember is when my wife went out for City Rescue Mission and asked all the businessmen for money. She raised $4.5 million for the homeless. Every time it gets a little bit heavy I think of that. She was doing the same thing other people are doing for their ministry.
Rutland: How did you come to give to Oral Roberts University? As I observe your history of giving, ORU is different from other things you gave to.
Green: The first time God spoke to me to give $30,000, I didn’t have it. I said: “I can’t do this. I know it can’t come from me because I don’t have $30,000.” But I said, “God has asked me to do it.” So then I said, “Maybe I need to give $7,500 a month for four months and sign four different checks.” That was to print the gospel, and a huge percentage of our giving is to spread the gospel of Christ.
You are right—ORU is totally different, but when God speaks, what do you do? Higher education is not in our family’s DNA. So when God started dealing with us, I just basically told God, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” But we knew without any question that it was God.
Rutland: How did He start dealing with you?
Green: There were daily newspaper articles about ORU. We were hearing things like the possibility that the banks were going to take it, that it was going to become just a big warehousing area, that it was going to fold. Those may have been rumors, but that’s what we had been hearing. God put a grieving on me. I literally grieved for the kids. I’m not interested in the buildings, but God gave us a grieving for the kids. That’s when I went to the family and said, “Guys, we have to pray about this.”
Rutland: Talk about your influence on other business people. Suppose every chief executive officer, president or chairman of the board in America would listen to what David Green has to say about giving. What would you say to them?
Green: I would talk about giving of yourself. Serve your people. One of the things we do here is that we want to make sure before we give 10 cents to world missions we take care of our people, the ones who got us there. In fact, I feel without question God has let me know for sure what I have to do. We have a minimum wage of $12 an hour for full-time help.
Rutland: You don’t care what the law’s minimum wage is.
Green: The law’s is $7.25.
Rutland: So Hobby Lobby sets its own minimum wage?
Green: We have our own minimum wage because we want to serve them first. There’s a lot of different ways to give. We can’t all give like Hobby Lobby, but we can give of ourselves. I see giving as taking care of your people who are out here making $8 an hour and need to make $12. The last three years, we’ve gone from $10 to $11 to $12 on April 15. Serve your people first; then if you have the ability, give. Of course, we’ve always at least given tithes, but I don’t like to talk too much about that. God blesses giving.
Rutland: Tell me about the Bill Gates pledge. [Editor’s note: The Giving Pledge, started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.]
Green: I was called by one of the individuals who had made a giving pledge and asked if I would. I asked, “Does it tell you where to give?” No. “Does it tell how much to give?” They want you to give a half over your lifetime. I didn’t have a problem with that.
Rutland: I went online and read the pledge that you made. You pulled no punches in that.
Green: It didn’t change a thing for us. We thought maybe there’s someone in that group I can influence in a different direction. That was my motivation. Some of those individuals may be Christians; some may not. Maybe there’s some way that I can be a witness in that crowd.
Rutland: In that pledge, you said you give to the gospel, for winning people to Jesus Christ. It was straight-out. I was so proud.
Green: We are not very politically correct.
Rutland: Hobby Lobby is family owned. I asked you one time why you don’t you go public, and I’ll never forget your answer. Do you remember what it was?
Green: I know what it was because it’s always the same. We don’t need the money. We have no debt, and we’re growing as fast as we want. If we go public, we give up the ability to give all of the money we want. We want to make sure that we continue to guide our profits into the kingdom for as long as we are here.
Giving the Green Way
David Green made giving to God and others a principle of his corporate philosophy when he founded Hobby Lobby in 1972 with 300 square feet of retail space. Today he’s seen God give back way more. He’s now blessed with a 3.4 million square-foot complex in Oklahoma City and three affiliates: Hemispheres, Mardel and Mart Green. Here are just a few of the things he’s learned along the way about being a giver:
“Once you see that there are only two things in life that are eternal—God’s Word and a man’s soul—then everything else is secondary. We try to do things that are going to matter 500 years from now.”
“What is prosperity? It is not just giving a dollar and getting a dollar. I don’t want a dollar for a dollar. What I want is God’s blessings on my life.”
“God gives us things far greater than cash for cash and stuff for stuff. I see it in my own family. My children are serving the Lord. How much would you give for that?”
“Sometimes I’m asked, ‘Do you tithe on the gross or the net?’ ‘Why are you asking the question?’ I ask.
‘Are you trying to give as little or as much as you can?’”
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