Speaking With Your Money
By Lynn M. Acquafondata
In the landmark book The Soul of Money, author Lynne Twist powerfully inspires each of us to learn how to speak with our money. In this book, Lynne writes about an experience she had as a fund raiser for the Hunger Project.
One day she met a corporate executive in his high rise office in Chicago. All she knew about the huge food corporation for which he functioned as CEO was that it had recently suffered a major image problem due to inappropriate actions. The corporation apparently had decided upon the idea of contributing to a cause aimed at ending world hunger as a way to "clean up its image."
"I was ushered into the CEO's office. There he sat at his desk, and I sat facing him on the other side. The backlighting made it so that I could barely see his face. I only had fifteen minutes of his time, so I spoke quickly about the mission and work of our organization and the challenges of ending world hunger.
"I talked about the courage of the hungry people and the partnership that we all needed to provide them in their courageous commitment to feed themselves and their children and build the conditions for a healthy and productive life. When I was done and had made my request, he opened his desk drawer and pulled out a preprinted check for $50,000 and passed it across the desk to me.
"It was clear that he wanted me gone as quickly as possible. The perfunctory presentation and the tone of his voice told me that he had no genuine interest in our work, in connecting with resource-poor people or in making any kind of a difference in the work to end world hunger.
"This was purely a strategic move. He wanted to off-load the guilt and shame from public mistakes the company had made. And he wanted to have the company look good in the media.
"In financial terms, it was to be a simple transaction. Handing me this check for $50,000 bought his company an opportunity to mend its reputation. But as he slid the check over to me, I felt the guilt of the company coming right across that desk with the money. He gave me the money and the company's guilt" 
This was the largest check Lynne had ever received in her work as a fund raiser. Yet rather than feeling elated, it left her feeling empty and hollow.
Immediately after that unusual meeting, Lynne flew to New York City. Here is the unexpected awakening she experienced there in her own words:
"I arrived in New York in the middle of a rainstorm and made my way to Harlem, to an old church building. I walked down the steps to the basement room where about seventy-five people had gathered for the fund-raising event.
"The surroundings couldn't have been more different from the penthouse office that I had left only a few hours before. It was raining, and there were leaks all over the room where we were meeting. Buckets were strategically placed all around the outer walls catching the dripping water.
"I looked out at the audience, and I knew that the people sitting there did not have much money to give. I spoke to them about The Hunger Project's commitment to Africa, as I thought it would be the most relevant to their own lives and their heritage. When it came time to ask for donations, my palms were sweating. I began to wonder if it was the right thing to do. I went ahead and made the request.
"The room fell absolutely silent.
"After what seemed like a long silent pause, a woman stood up. She was sitting on the aisle in a row near the back. She was in her late sixties or early seventies. She had gray hair parted down the middle and swept up into a tidy bun. When she stood up, she was tall, slender, erect, and proud.
"Girl," she started, "my name is Gertrude, and I like what you've said, and I like you. Now, I ain't got no checkbook, and I ain't got no credit cards," she continued. "To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks, it rushes through their life like a raging river. For me, money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It's also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman's wash, and I want to give it to you."
"She walked up the aisle and handed me her fifty dollars. It was in one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills. Then she gave me a big hug. As she headed back to her seat, other people, inspired by Gertrude's words, started coming up and making their own contributions in singles, five, ten, and twenty-dollar bills. I was so moved that I found myself crying. I couldn't hold all the bills in my hands, so at one point, I opened my briefcase and put it on the table to act as a kind of basket for the money.
"These moments, with people streaming up to give their money, had the feeling of a sacred ceremony. There was a deep sense of integrity and heart. The amount of money that we received – maybe $500 at the most – was more precious to me than any gift I'd ever received before.
"As I packed up getting ready to leave, I realized that at the bottom of that same briefcase, underneath all these bills, was the $50,000 check I had been given earlier that same day. As I saw it, I also realized that Gertrude's fifty dollars felt more valuable to me and ultimately would do more to end hunger than the check for an amount one hundred times more.
"The money I received from Gertrude carried the energy of her commitment to make a difference – the stamp of her soul. As I accepted the money from her, I felt inspired and renewed by her sincere expression of integrity and purpose. I felt my organization's principles and programs affirmed, not only by her fifty dollars, but also by her contributions of spirit." 
This moving encounter started shifting something in Lynne's mind and heart. It gave her a newfound courage and determination. The next day she sent a letter returning the $50,000 check to the Chicago CEO with a note thanking him for his consideration. In this unusual note, she suggested that he choose an organization to which the company felt truly committed.
Years later, Lynne had all but forgotten the returned check when she received a letter from that same executive. In this powerful letter, he shared how the single action of that returned check had made a huge difference in his life. Here's what Lynne says about it:
"Upon retiring, he had looked back on his long and fruitful career, and one thing that stood out for him was our interaction and the return of that $50,000 check, with the note explaining that we were looking for committed partners. It was for him as a seminal moment when all the rules of corporate America that he had so deeply learned – that you do anything and everything to increase profits – all those rules had been shattered by someone outside his world returning the company's money.
"Reflecting from retirement on meaningful moments, he realized that he did, in fact, want to make a difference in ending world hunger. He did want the money under his control to make a difference. And he could see now that it was possible to make a meaningful contribution to end world hunger. So from his own pocket, and in affirmation of his own commitment, he made a contribution to The Hunger Project many times in excess of the $50,000 that had been returned." 
So, if you are going to give a $50,000 donation, do it with gusto and conviction or, you never know, the recipient might just return it. And if like me, you don't have that kind of money, give what you can with enthusiasm and conviction. Know that how you give matters.
Another amazing human being inspired me deeply on transforming my perceptions around money. As I learned more about this man, Muhammad Yunus, a few words stood out that sum up his philosophy. He said, "We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, my first suspicion will fall on the intensity of our desire to achieve it." 
His words got me thinking. What do I want to achieve? Not in terms of personal gain, but in terms of what I would like to be a part of changing in this world. How would I like the world to be a better place?
There are so many worthy goals. It's easy to get overwhelmed with choices or to get torn in so many directions that one's efforts are totally diluted. What can I get energized around to the point that I have an intensity of commitment? Then how can I use my money to further that goal or goals? How might my deeper values inform those decisions?
Bangladesh in 1974. Thousands of people died. At the time Muhammad Yunus was a young professor teaching economics at Chittagong University. At the time, Yunus wrote, "People were dying on the street. We could see human bodies like skeletons, walking like zombies, lying on the street." 
"Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me. How could I go on telling my students make believe stories in the name of economics? I needed to run away from these theories and from my textbooks and discover the real-life economics of a poor person's existence." 
Yunus could no longer follow his original life plan. He stopped teaching economics and began to focus on the goal of finding an economic solution to poverty. He experimented with a variety of approaches, until in 1976 one unusual attempt succeeded.
In that year, Yunus met a 21-year-old woman, Sufia Begum, who had to borrow money to buy bamboo to make stools. She earned 25 cents a day, yet after paying off the high interest on her debt from borrowing fees, she ended up taking home only two cents a day. She could barely feed herself.
Yunus' solution focused on trust and community. He trusted Sufia and took a risk by lending $27 of his own money. He didn't lend the money just to her though, and that fact is a crucial part of his later success. He lent the money at low interest collectively to both Sufia and her neighbors, who shared her trade. He asked the group to pay it back over the course of the next year. His plan worked. He found that lending the money and dividing it among a small group made a difference in the success.
Next, he agreed to serve as a guarantor on a larger loan from a traditional bank. This worked for a while, but before long, he got fed up with the traditional banking system. He then developed the inspiring Grameen Bank. This unusual new bank was based on the principle of trust and focusing on small communities of people who share a commitment to help each other. The system includes a willingness to take risks and a commitment to human rights.
The now world-renowned Grameen Bank uses methods that are pretty much the opposite of conventional banking. For example:
- Conventional banking operates on the principle that the more you have, the more we will lend you. The poor are rarely given loans at all. Grameen Bank believes credit should be a human right. It lends money to those who posses nothing, but have potential to earn.
- Conventional banks are owned by rich people, mostly men. Poor women own Grameen Bank.
- Conventional banking is based on collateral. Grameen is based on trust.
- Grameen does not lend to individuals, but to groups of people who are then responsible to each other. New loans are available only after previous loans have been paid off.
- Conventional banks punish people who can't pay loans. Grameen bank helps borrowers with legitimate problems to reschedule loans.
- Conventional banks require lots of paperwork. Grameen lends money to illiterate people.
Muhammad Yunus once set out to end poverty. He came up with an inspired idea and created a vast possibility where once there was none. The Grameen Bank now has 6.6 million borrowers from around the globe who are pulling themselves out of poverty. Many can now afford to feed their families three good meals a day and pay the small government fees required to send their children to schools.
The Nobel Committee acknowledged the pioneering efforts of Yunus for working toward world peace, because they believe that we can't have peace until we find ways to get people out of poverty. Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Yunus used basic, loving human values and creativity to speak with his money. His message carried far beyond his original dreams, opening a world of possibility. He once wrote:
"Grameen has taught me two things: first our knowledge base about people and their interactions is still very inadequate; second, each individual person is very important. Each person has tremendous potential. She alone can influence the lives of others within communities [and] nations – within and beyond her own time.
"Each of us has much more hidden inside of us than what we have had a chance to explore so far. Unless we create [an] enabling environment to discover the limits of our potential, we will never know what we have inside of us. Grameen has given me a faith, an unshakable faith in the creativity of human beings. That leads me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty. They suffer now and did in the past because we turn our mind away from the issue." 
Reading this I thought, how could Yunus' approach to speaking with his money apply to us? When he said, "We achieve what we want to achieve," he used a communal "we." Ultimately it took a community of poor people working together to help each other.
In our individualistic society we tend to ask the question, "How can I make a difference? How would I like the world to change? What can I do?" I suggest we look for a community perspective. The fact that you are [reading this] now indicates that you have at least a sense of the importance of community, maybe a deep commitment to it.
We speak about our belief in the worth and value of every human being. We don't exclude people who we don't understand or who might seem very different from us. We stand for human rights and for peace and for the freedom to speak our conscience, even when others disagree. We celebrate many paths along the journey of life, and we learn from the diversity. We treasure the natural world, and we grapple with the responsibility of interdependence.
It takes money to do this. I know that. I want to do my part. When I'm generous in my giving and my attitude, it opens my heart. There are definitely people who struggle, but the majority of us, myself included, have plenty of money in comparison to the majority of people around the world.
We all make choices. Sometimes we made important decisions involving money so many years ago that we've forgotten they were choices: decisions about vehicles, homes, vacations, entertainment, pets, activities for the children, computers, television and other technological life enhancements.
To make sure that I am doing some good with my money, I set aside a certain percentage of my income every year to give away before I spend money on other things. For me that percentage is six. Other percentages might make sense for families in different circumstances. This method helps me to be disciplined in giving and make more generous choices. What about you? Are you up to the challenge? How will you speak with your money in a way that transforms our world?
 The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, pp. 98-99
 The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, p. 100
 The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. p. 118
 "Overcoming Poverty through Entrepreneurial Empowerment" by Muhammad Yunus, 1995 Max Schmidheiny Foundation at the University of St. Gallen.
Source: 2007 Stewardship Sermon Award Winner (edited for clarity):
Note: Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author. For inspiring information on getting involved with the microlending movement founded by Muhammad Yunus, click here.
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