On giving with abandonment and gratitude

January 13th, 2015

Charlotte and Henry Rosenberger reflect at EMU's annual donor appreciation banquet on Oct. 10, 2014

Charlotte and Henry Rosenberger reflect at EMU’s annual donor appreciation banquet on Oct. 10, 2014

These are slightly edited excerpts from reflections offered by leading donors Charlotte and Henry Rosenberger to about 375 people at EMU’s annual donor appreciation banquet on Oct. 10, 2014. 

Parental models of giving

Charlotte: My Graber family participated in building the community of faith and justice for the common good in the rural Mennonite farming community in Wayland, Iowa, where I grew up. As a young child, I remember my mother handing me a coin tied carefully in the corner of a handkerchief for me to put in the offering; she had experienced very hard times growing up during the Great Depression of 1930 in the dustbowl of Nebraska before there was any public assistance for anyone.

Henry: I learned early to save my money in dividend earning investments. My Pop would say, “I’ll buy you 100 shares of PP&L and you can pay me back as you earn it!” I never had any money to spend because I was always paying back my Pop for all the stock he bought me! A friend in my adult years called that “contrived poverty.”

Charlotte: When Henry and I married and we began to live in his community in Pennsylvania, I discovered that his family lived in a closely observed “fish bowl.” The Rosenberger family was considered to be wealthy – no matter the generation – in contrast to the community where I had grown up where everyone was more or less in the same class.

Henry: Actually, I inherited a lot from my Pop, but it wasn’t money. In the first years of our marriage a development officer from EMC suggested we might give 10K to the annual fund. That is probably what my Pop gave. At the time our combined yearly salaries were less than 20K.  Clearly EMC had high hopes for us!

Lessons along the way

Charlotte: Henry and I always agreed we should give in priority to our church, but in addition, Henry thought we should give to all the Mennonite endeavors and community organizations that solicited us. We gave what we could. We were often stretched.

Henry: When the company I founded, Rosenberger Cold Storage & Transport, reached a point, we started a foundation with a tithe of the company’s gross income: Henry & Charlotte Rosenberger Family Foundation. Our children were involved. We received grant requests from many organizations and we tried to please them all. Our giving was broad and mostly unfocused. We experienced the joy of giving as well as being overwhelmed and weary of more requests than we could honor. We learned later that this is called “checkbook philanthropy.” We still do some of this because we live in community, but our major gifts follow the mission we have chosen for our philanthropy.

When the company was sold in 1998, the advisor for our foundation suggested we get involved with The Rockefeller Philanthropy Workshop. We learned how to develop a mission statement for our giving and ways to focus our giving for the greatest impact and multiplier effect. We learned it was important to care about the health of the organization we were giving to. We learned that if we focus our giving on places where our convictions and passions are and if we get deeply involved, energy and joy replaces the weariness. This approach has brought us together in our philanthropy; we each have different skills that broaden our discerning process.

The mission that we developed has three legs: (1) Anabaptist education; (2) land stewardship and local food production; (3) peace and justice.

Charlotte: We need to underscore that we have never in our entire lives reached a point at which giving is easy. And, making a commitment is often easier than writing the check. In response to the question “How much is enough?” even John D. Rockefeller replied, “A little more.”

On giving even when it hurts

Henry: While Charlotte was on EMU’s board from 1991 to 2002, we made two major commitments to the University Commons building fund. We sold a soft pretzel company in 1996 and decided to give the total profit from that sale to EMU, because they said they really needed that new building. Several years later, after we sold Rosenberger Cold Storage in 1998, we made a second major commitment.

We kept this money invested until EMU’s construction would begin. We didn’t agree on this strategy. This was our dialogue:

Char: “Henry, we’ve sold the company now. Let’s pay off our pledges.”

Henry: “But why now?  It’s all invested: Cisco, Enron, Microsoft, World Com, Global Crossing – our advisor projects we could be worth $60 million in a few years. It will be easier to give it then.”

Char: “The investments have already increased amazingly! I think we should give it now! Let’s pay it and get it finished.”

Henry: “We’ll be giving this fixed sum out of a growing portfolio; it’ll be a smaller percentage in two years compared to 20% of our capital now.

Henry: Charlotte was right. The tech bubble crashed and our genius investment advisors looked stunned – as we all were in 2000 and 2008. We have worked for the past 12 years to fulfill those two major pledges out of a much smaller pot, and we are happy to report that we are almost there. We have never regretted what we have given or pledged to EMU. We often wish we had given it sooner, when we had more to give.

Why we strongly support EMU

Charlotte: EMU combines so strongly all of our philanthropic passions: peace and justice, Anabaptist education, and land stewardship. Our largest, longest, and earliest gifts have gone to EMU. And this will continue. EMU was, after all, where we met, at a 1965 square dance, held off campus at Oakwood cabin. We received our education here and we still do: In May 2013 we were part of Dorothy Jean Weaver’s study tour to Israel/Palestine and it changed us profoundly, just as cross-cultural study changes EMU students.

Henry: Giving to EMU offers the greatest leverage, promise and impact, where the investment has a multiplier effect. We experienced that leverage helping Ted Swartz earn his Arts and Seminary education from EMU and seeing him launch his career in drama ministry to the Mennonite church and beyond.

We cannot take along our money, or need any, in the life to come. My Pop used to say to his friends, “Do some good while you’re living!” We support EMU’s vision for the next century, believing we must teach and share the love and mercy of the Jesus way – and no longer partition the church and ourselves into safe zones.

Charlotte: We believe that generous giving to EMU represents investing into cutting edge world change, developing moral conscience in the world, training “movers and shakers” who live as disciples of Jesus Christ incarnate.

We anticipate each issue of Crossroads, witnessing to the impact of our EMU alumni careers – outcomes of the long historic vision of EMU leadership. We are very proud of our EMU alumni throughout the world, as beacons of faith and hope, as living examples of God’s love and mercy.

At this age in our lives, we believe that our giving needs to include reducing our net worth, downsizing, investing for future generations, like others did before us. At the end of life, the only wealth we have is what we have given forward to what we believe in.