Generosity for Generations: Teaching Your Kids How to Live a More Generous Life with Brad and Drew Formsma

It’s not often that you have a conversation with someone who has such a winsome way that it instantly inspires you to be more generous. And it’s even more rare when that person is 16 years old. But that’s what often happens when people encounter Drew Formsma, a unique young man who has an ambitious vision to inspire his generation to go down in history as the “Generous Generation.”

Drew is the son of Brad Formsma, the man behind the “I Like Giving” films, a collection of inspiring stories of generosity that have been viewed more than 100 million times in over 170 countries. With the help of his dad, Drew has written a new book called Everyday Generosity to show kids and their parents what it looks like for a young person to be generous today.

Immediately, the boy shoved the phone in his pocket and the grandpa’s face broke out in the biggest smile.

So, what does everyday generosity look like in the Formsma family? Drew gives one example from a recent night out with his family at a restaurant: “I noticed a kid at a table nearby who was on his phone, and an older man staring off in the opposite direction. I saw that there was no connection between them and I felt a nudge from God to do something. So, I went over to the boy and said in a friendly way, ‘If you want to hear all the great stories your grandpa has to tell you, why don’t you put that phone away and talk to him?’ Immediately, the boy shoved the phone in his pocket and the grandpa’s face broke out in the biggest smile.”

Inspiring people to connect in our phone-obsessed “selfie world” is one way that Drew is challenging families to take a different approach to generosity. While most people think generosity is primarily about money, Drew and Brad take a more wholistic approach based on seven simple principles that everyone – no matter what their age, or how much money they have – can engage in every day to be more others-focused. These principles are sharing our thoughts, words, time, influence, attention, stuff, and money.

These everyday generosity principles have been passed down in the Formsma family for generations. Brad explains, “It all started one Saturday when I was 11. My grandpa, who owned a large commercial bakery, took me along to deliver some fresh bread that he had personally baked in his test kitchen. I thought that I was going to get to eat some fresh baked bread and jam but our mission that day was quite different.”

Over the course of that fateful Saturday morning, Brad saw his grandfather demonstrate the distinct principles of giving that shaped the course of his life, and in turn, the lives of his wife and his three children, including Drew. At the first stop, his grandpa shared bread and kind words with a widow. The second stop involved bread and a white envelope of money. The third included a letter of referral to help someone get a job. At the fourth place, he delivered bread and visited with someone who couldn’t leave her home. At the fifth stop, he gave his full attention to a retired employee whose wife was very sick. At the last stop, he shared bread and a tool with someone who needed to use it.

Brad saw his grandfather demonstrate the distinct principles of giving that shaped the course of his life, and in turn, the lives of his wife and his three children, including Drew.

Inspired by his great-grandpa’s example, Drew has created an acronym – M.E.E. – to help parents remember how to get their children on board with generosity, which stands for:

Model

Drew says to parents: “Making your annual donation is fine but if you really want your son or daughter to have the attitude of generosity, they need to see you putting these principles into action too. And we have more opportunities than we think.”

“If we just lift our heads up and look around,” says Drew, “there are people around us every day – the garbage men, the woman in the check-out line at the grocery store, doctors, policemen – every human being we encounter is an opportunity to engage in a life-changing act of generosity.”

Encourage

Pointing out opportunities to be generous and supporting children in their efforts are two important components in encouraging your children’s generosity. But Drew warns, “Be sure you aren’t forcing them; that will backfire. Help them notice people around them and point out how they might be able to make a difference.”

Engage

According to Drew, engaging with your kids and making generosity a family practice is the most important thing you can do. But he says it takes time, patience, and transparency. “You won’t get it right every time and your kids may resist initially. My parents don’t get it right every time and they have been doing this with us for many years.”

And what encouragement does Drew have for young people? “What if, instead of being known as tech necks or iGen, the self-absorbed generation that is too attached to their smartphones, we became known as the Generous Generation?” says Drew. “We can use our technology, our knowledge, and our potential to bring the world closer to us. We can change it for the better, not make it smaller, where we don’t see beyond our screens. By influencing our generation, and the next, and the next, we can reverse the effects of selfishness and hate.”

“What if, instead of being known as tech necks or iGen, the self-absorbed generation that is too attached to their smartphones, we became known as the Generous Generation?”

One way they are multiplying this message is by speaking at churches across America.

Brad and Drew have both witnessed the power of generosity within families. The Formsmas also help families talk about generosity so their stories and values live on. They take multiple generations through a daylong experience called “Generosity for Generations.”

And they say it’s needed now more than ever before.

In fact, the joy of giving just might be the antidote to the spiral of hopelessness that kids are facing today. “The biggest threat to teenagers right now is depression, suicide, and broken families,” says Drew. “Generosity brings great joy, and families that give together, stay together.” Brad adds, “Generosity is contagious, and just one small step you make in giving as a family today can have a ripple effect for generations.”

Bill Cassels, the 87-year-old chairman of Southeastern Freight Lines (South Carolina) remarked after experiencing a Generosity for Generations gathering with his family, “I wish I would have had this experience earlier because I learned some things about my children and grandchildren that I never knew. I think they learned some things about me as well. I can’t put a price on that!”

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