3 Timeless Lessons John Rockefeller Could Teach Modern Day Givers

3 Timeless Lessons John Rockefeller Could Teach Modern Day Givers March 2, 2015

According to Forbes John D. Rockefeller heads the list of the wealthiest Americans in history.

His life was a bit of a mystery. He was the head of Standard Oil, the largest oil refiner in the world. He was vilified as a monopolist because he integrated the entire oil industry under his leadership.

Yet at the same time he helped define the structure of modern philanthropy.

What most people don’t know is that he was a deeply religious man devoted to God, the church, and his family. He was also HUGE giver. He gave away more than “required” in response to the needs of society and his love for God.

So what can John D Rockefeller teach tithers? Glad you asked…

1) He saw himself ONLY as a steward

In his seventies Rockefeller said,

“It has seemed that as if I was favored and got increase because the Lord knew that I was going to turn around and give it back.”

Rockefeller minced no words when naming the reason for his business success and affluence,

“God gave me my money.”

Even when Rockefeller was a teenager he took pleasure in distributing money for charitable purposes. Per him he discovered the intimate link between earning money and distributing it:

“I remember clearly when the financial plan–if I may call it so–of my life was formed. It was out in Ohio, under the ministration of a dear old minister, who preached, ‘Get money; get it honestly and then give it wisely.’ I wrote that down in a little book.”

This is why I believe tithing is so vital: it teaches stewardship. We own nothing. We are just simply borrowing it for a time.

2) He gave to charities that produced results

Before he started giving on a worldwide scale towards schools, medical research, and patriotic causes (he gave $70 million to aid the Allied cause in World War I), he gave to small ministries and charities:

  • During the Civil War he contributed to several charities that aided blacks and other war time charities.
  • During the temperance movement ( a social movement urging moderation in the alcohol) he was a large benefactor and gave a significant amount to that cause.

But…it was only when that charity or ministry could prove fruit (or positive results with invested capital) that they saw the seed of Rockefeller money. According to Ron Chernow,

Personal charity had long been his pleasure, his pride, his recreation, not something delegated to underlings, and he found it hard to break these honorable habits, especially in the midst of so much controversy about his business methods…For such a perfectionist, giving away money was fraught with far more nervous tension than making it. He valued money too highly to dispense it lightly and wanted to investigate all requests before acting upon them. As the Lord fiduciary, he was responsible for seeing the money well invested. As he said in 1886, ‘I haven’t a farthing to give to this or any other interest unless I am perfectly satisfied it is the very best I can do with the money.’

Giving is wonderful, but it also must be done purposefully. The truth is there are charities and/or ministries that fruitful and those that are black holes. It’s up to you the giver to discover which is which.

3. He hated waste

We said before that Rockefeller saw himself as steward. But this stewardship also included how he managed money. Rockefeller had a love of numbers and accounting, so early on he decided to apply the same accounting to his own life. He paid a dime a small red book, called it Ledger A, and recorded all receipts and expenditures. He tracked and was careful not to waste a dime.

This habit of tracking every penny aided him well in his business career.

One particular instance is when he inspected a Standard  plant in  NY that filled and sealed five-gallon tin cans of kerosene for export. After watching a machine solder caps to the cans, he asked the resident expert how many drops of solder was used.

The expert replied, “Forty.”

Rockefeller replied, “Would you mind having some sealed with thirty-eight and let me know?”

When they used thirty-eight drops there was a leak, but not at thirty-nine. So thirty-nine became the standard. It had a tremendous impact. According to Rockefeller,

“That one drop of solder saved $2,500 the first year, but the export business kept on increasing after that and doubled, quadrupled–became immensely greater than it was then; and the saving has gone steadily along, one drop on each can,  and has amounted since to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Another benefit of tithing is that it teaches discipline. Giving away 10% of your income forces you to properly manage the remaining 90%. This is why there is a strong correlation between tithing and prosperity.

Question: Are these viable lessons we can learn from John D Rockefeller? Is there anything else you think can be added?

Headshot Picture 002Mike Holmes is founder of Tithehacker.org, a site dedicated to stirring up a revolution of giving. He is also the author of I Shall Raise Thee Up: Ancient Principles for Lasting Greatness. It’s a book teaching how people are raised up as they learn and apply certain time-tested and timeless principles. He is also the husband of 1 lady and the father of 2 small people.

Browse Our Archives