We are delighted that Chris Gillies has taken over as Stewardship’s new Chair of Trustees. He tells us about the turning point with his own giving and the experiences he’s had since that moment of revelation.
A bit of background: what did you know about generosity and giving as a child?
I am not sure I was taught very much about generosity growing up. My school days were competitive which meant little collaboration, and I grew up with a kind of cultural Christianity. When I was 16, I discovered the true Gospel message through friends and started attending a local Baptist church. My whole world view changed, I had a new set of friends who I didn’t have to be competitive with, I discovered a life changing faith and the beginning of a greater generosity of heart and spirit.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your giving?
My wife and I moved to Bristol early on in our careers and before then our giving had been spontaneous and irregular. My wife hadn’t found a job yet, we were renting but also paying a mortgage on our new home which required considerable renovation so more financial outlay than normal, and it felt really tight. I was challenged by our church leader about our giving, as I wasn’t feeling very spontaneous or generous at the time. I reluctantly set up a standing order wondering how we would get by for the rest of the month. This became a milestone moment in our lives which set me on a different course, as quite miraculously a few days later I was informed that I would be getting an unexpected pay rise, and the following month a completely surprise bonus landed in my bank account.
It was a basic lesson but it has always stuck with me. Ever since then we have pushed ourselves to be generous and discovered the joy of sacrificial generosity, and God has often responded to that by giving us more to steward.
What’s the best example you’ve seen of generosity in action?
I’m not sure I like the word best – it provokes in me the emotional reaction to competition again. One of my favourite recent examples is how Stewardship absolutely practices what it preaches. I got invited to a trustee retreat as part of the mutual discernment and appointment process. Krish Kandiah was the after-dinner speaker, who spoke about his project for refugees. It was an information and education session, not a fundraiser, yet the trustees gave spontaneously that evening to Krish’s project from their own personal resources, and they gave sacrificially. For me, thinking about whether to join the Stewardship team, this was an incredible witness to see trustees model generosity and live out Stewardship’s core values.
Another example in my career was at Zurich Insurance. We initially set up a scheme in the UK where the company would match employees’ personal giving. This caught on and we had amazing responses to emergency appeals, and staff members would also volunteer for local charities. It was great to see how companies and employees can mobilise together to become really powerful givers. Over the years, the UK Community Trust gave away about £60 million and we then set up a global charity foundation under Zurich Insurance that now involves staff all over the world and gives away hundreds of millions. It was incredibly inspiring to be part of a for-profit insurance business that can really get behind generosity, as well as encouraging employees to act out generosity with their time.
What biblical passages inspire generosity in you the most?
Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah are Old Testament role models of mine and Joseph in particular has inspired me. He came from very humble beginnings, spent time in slavery and prison, but was given the opportunity to administer other people’s affairs; eventually he had a decent income and large household, though still small compared to the wealth of the nation that he was asked to administer. Similarly with Daniel, he had real influence in what he did. These stories of godly men who get spiritual insight and are entrusted with the administration of other people’s money is also the story of my life’s career. I have never been super wealthy, but have often found myself in positions of leverage working in financial services to administer billions of pounds on behalf of others. Stewardship is probably going to be another example of that.
What’s the hardest thing about giving?
I think the hardest thing is figuring out how much to retain. On a couple of occasions Jesus does say to sell all you have and give it to the poor. I’ve grappled with this but also looked at the context. The specific call to the rich young ruler was not only to give everything away but to follow the Son of God. The young ruler could not see that becoming one of Jesus’ disciples was more important than his wealth. God’s forgiveness is so generous towards us that it encourages a generous response, yet maybe it’s better to retain enough to sustain our generosity, talents and ability to help others over a much longer period of time. Over the last 40 years, my wife and I have been able to give away a lot, far more than if we had given up absolutely everything when we were in our twenties.
And the easiest thing?
When you’re confronted with something or someone where you know you can make a difference quickly and easily, it’s a gut instinct to give to that. A heart response is easy, whilst being strategic is more difficult.
Do you have an example of where generosity can be really transformational?
Ten years ago, a couple in our church bought a flat with some inherited money, but rather than collecting a safe rental income, they asked a charity I’m involved with called ACT! to manage the accommodation to provide for ex-offenders or people who are homeless. That donation began a movement of generosity towards marginalised people, and now the charity has a dozen flats and people who volunteer to provide mentoring, life skills training and help with job opportunities. This has been transformational generosity – and has enabled an ex-offender or homeless person to have the start of a new life, with a supportive community behind them.
What causes are you particularly passionate about?
The causes that I particularly support are Children and Youth, UK Poverty and Debt and the Local Church. Since 2013, I gave up full-time employment and have instead donated my time and talents to different charities. The causes I support financially are ones with which I’ve been intimately involved. At the moment, as well as taking on my new role at Stewardship, I’m treasurer of the Children’s Society, chair of the charity ACT! that supports ex-offenders and homeless people, and trustee of two churches.