Make It Your Mission To Give


What is your life mission? Have you ever thought about defining one? It might sound like a daunting task, but deciding how your life will make an impact on the world around you is an exercise you will never regret doing.

In preparation for 4word Giving Day on Thursday, September 17, we caught up with Bob Buford of The Halftime Institute to ask him for his thoughts on giving and how having a life mission that includes giving back is just as beneficial to you as it is to the people or organizations you support.


4word: How do you measure significance?

Bob: The difficulty of measuring significance keeps many people frozen in life. I received a long letter from Peter Drucker fifteen years ago that clarified my mission and pretty much set the DNA for the fifteen years since – and my life’s work. In the letter, Peter wrote, “Your first role is the personal one … This is something only you can do. It is not something that can be measured or can be easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”

As addicted as I always have been to measuring performance and contribution, I struggled for years to find a way to add it all up, especially as I became less and less involved in running up the score in business (achievement) and more and more involved in what I speak of when I say, “The fruit of my work grows up on other people’s trees” (contribution).

photo2403In the second stage of my life, it’s all about relationships. All that will remain when I’m gone will be those parts of me that I have invested in the lives of others. But how do I make that concrete enough to satisfy my compulsive need to measure results? What’s the human side of this enterprise?

Our relationships and encounters are the fragments of our lives. They come at us from all directions – an e-mail, a cell phone call, a planned meeting, an utterly random hallway encounter. Clarity about calling and mission is what fits them together to make a picture.

The New Testament describes forty-seven encounters of Jesus with individual people. Each one is highly personal. No two are treated alike (think of Mary, Martha, Judas, Pilate). Most of my life now is spent in encounters with individuals. Some lead to big outcomes, others not. Some are long projects – writing books, convening meetings, speaking to large groups, but quite a few are “just conversations.”

People ask all the time, “How do I discover my mission in life?” I always say, “It’s right there in your life and it has been there a long, long time. You just need to back up and see the pattern.”

The mission is in the mosaic. And the mosaic is made up of the fragmentary encounters of your life. It takes some thought, but it is right there, waiting to be discovered. The pattern is there. Try it. You will see.


4word: As we approach North Texas Giving Day, how should people maximize their giving?

Bob: Focus on results – not just on the process. The objective is not to feel good personally and to relieve guilt by giving away money. Bill and Melinda Gates want to use their vision, compassion, and entrepreneurial ability to solve a problem, to achieve a highly specific outcome. I have observed that people with excess capacity tend to ask one of two questions when someone is across the desk asking for their money:

Question #1: What’s the least I can give this person and still feel OK in the morning?

Question #2: How much will it take to accomplish the outcome we’re after?


4word: How can people see the results of their investments?

Bob: The best way to see results is through personal engagement. Time noted that Bill and Melinda Gates each spend fifteen hours a week in their philanthropic activities. Bill’s father is involved in a virtually full-time leadership role. The whole family is hands-on staff. They travel. They see. They imagine what might be, just as Gates did when he imagined Microsoft. It’s up close and personal, not distant and dispassionate.


4word: How do you decide when to give?

Bob: Do It Now! There’s an old expression I’ve heard several times recently. “I want to be givin’ while I’m livin’ so I’m knowin’ where it’s goin’.” That’s my approach and it seems to be that of the Gateses as well. Do it now and do it yourself. Don’t dump it in the laps of the next generation.

Passion is difficult to hire or to pass on to someone else years from now in a legal document setting up an “in perpetuity” foundation. Passion is personal. Passion is for now. Passion lapses i8424xf not put to work in a cause that ignites deep emotional engagement. The foundation I set up when I sold my company will be spent down in the next seven years to finance my passion. Peter Drucker was passionate about preserving our civilization through the medium of management. He told me once that the work he did to extend his legacy of ideas to the nonprofit world through The Drucker Foundation had added ten years to his life. Passion kept him alive!

In his book Halftime, Bob offers these words of wisdom…

“Jesus taught primarily by telling stories or parables, and the parable of the sower gets to the center of my dreams and to the kernel of my experiences…My passion is to multiply all that God has given me and, in the process, give it back.  And I would like to incite you to do the same.”


As Bob stated in the interview, you should focus on the results of giving more than the process. While your gift may not seem to make that much of a splash when plopping into the donation bucket, know that the ripple effect from your gift will reach parts of an organization or person’s life that you might never have imagined you’d impact.

On Thursday, September 17, we at 4word would be honored to help support your life mission to give by accepting your donation during North Texas Giving Day. This national fundraising event for non-profits across the country is an easy yet effective way for you to make a splash in the 4word bucket. All donations received during this one-day event will benefit 4word programs. Save the date for September 17 and on the day visit 4word’s profile page to give!



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Bob Buford is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and of the Owner Managed Program at the Harvard Business School. He has played active roles in Young Presidents’ Organization and World Presidents’ Organization and served on the board of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard. Buford was the 2000 recipient of The Samaritan Institute Award and the 2005 Christian Management Association Award. Lead Like Jesus presented Buford the Leadership Award in 2008 and Roaring Lambs Ministry honored him in 2009. He was the 2010 recipient of the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award from SMU Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.

Bob and his wife, Linda, live in Dallas.