The Business of Being Generous

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The business world is often described as a battle ground. Competitors are to be crushed and customers are to be won over. The bottom-line rules. Companies may strategically give away products and skills. Yet, the root goal is brand awareness or making useful relationships. Is this what generosity looks like in the business world? Doug Wagner says, “No Way.”

Generosity in Business?

Doug is the first to admit selfless generosity didn’t really factor into his early career plan. However, a trip to the bookstore soon changed his view.

On the recommendation of a friend, Doug read Mover of Men and Mountains by R.G. LeTourneau. This book inspired Doug to commit to running a successful enterprise, while staying true to his Christian faith. His follow-up read, God Owns My Business by Stanley Tam, confirmed his resolve.

“I started thinking along the lines that it [the business] isn’t mine. God’s given me certain gifts and talents, and because of that I’ve been able to use them.”

Doug went on to build several successful companies, but he always chose to put giving front and centre.

The Business of Giving Money

From early on in his career, Doug’s faith has had a deep impact on his business decisions. Following the Biblical practice of tithing, Doug strives to give away 10% of his company’s profits to charity. “We tend to want more, even though we already have more than the majority of the world,” says Doug. “But people need to understand that there’s joy in giving and not being selfish.”

Ever a businessman with a keen eye for numbers, Doug carefully selects the charities he wishes to support. “I make a practice of picking a limited number of charities instead of giving a little bit here or a little bit there,” he says. In this way, he’s been able to make a big impact choosing causes he’s passionate about and really committing himself to them.

The Business of Giving Time

“I usually volunteer at least a week a year working with Habitat for Humanity, as well as supporting them financially,” he explains. “One year, I got to work alongside the family we were serving. They were putting in their sweat equity, and as we worked, I got to hear their stories about the kind of conditions they had lived in before. And just what this meant to them to get a decent home of their own.”

Over the years, Doug has heard the stories of many families, and each time it reignites his desire to give more generously. He has also served on the board of the Mennonite Economic Development Agency (MEDA), and has visited their development projects in Haiti, Paraguay, and Tajikistan.

Generosity is a Family Business

Now facing semi-retirement, Doug’s focus has shifted to helping develop the next generation of generous business leaders. Last June, he and his 13-year old grandson travelled to Tanzania where they volunteered with a development project they have been sponsoring. “He’s getting some experience in being generous and seeing that not everybody is as fortunate as we are having been born in Canada.”

Doug is already planning more trips with each of his grandchildren when they become teenagers.

He hopes that modelling his values and giving them a chance to experience the joy of generosity firsthand will shape their future.

“Generosity begins with motivation,” says Doug, looking back at his career. After decades bucking the business trend of selfish motivation, he knows what he’s talking about. “I’m coming nearer the end of my journey,” he says wryly, “but I think I still have some years ahead of me.” In that time, he will continue to champion his unconventional way of doing business and work within his family to help the next generation grow up to give and live more generously. Now that’s a family business well worth passing on.

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