“A generous life is a life worth living.”
Brad Formsma has made it his life’s mission to spread the message of living generously. Brad is the Founder & President of I Like Giving, and author of the best-selling books I Like Giving: The Transforming Power of a Generous Life and Everyday Generosity: Becoming a Generous Family in a Selfie World. He inspires people to live a life of generosity through storytelling. I Like Giving has reached and inspired more than 120 million people in 170 countries. Brad has inspired major corporations to change their culture to one that cultivates kindness. Brad spoke to SoulVision Magazine about his humble beginnings in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the inspiration behind I Like Giving, and how he thinks people should practice the “seven ways of generosity” in their lives.
Where are you from and what was it like growing up there? Did you have any inspirations growing up?
I was brought up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a conservative Midwest town. It was a nice place to grow up.
I really looked up to my grandpa, Don. My grandpa was a large contract baker. He made croutons and stuffing, the food you would often have at Thanksgiving. He had a test kitchen where he would make 16 loaves of bread every Saturday morning. I would tag along with him and he would teach me a lot about life, including his modeling of the seven ways to live generously.
At first, I thought it would just be Brad and Grandpa enjoying the fresh loaves of bread on a Saturday morning. But they cooled off and we put them in the trunk of the car and off we went to deliver the bread to people around town. He would model the generosity of words by giving them a kind word. He would model the generosity of money by giving them money with the fresh loaves of bread.
He would show me the generosity of thoughts, of words, of money, of influence, of time, of attention, and the way you should share your stuff. It just stuck with me. I looked up to him and followed in his footsteps. I started a business in high school. I ran that business for twenty years and used those seven ways of generosity in the formation of the business and the way I operated the business.
I still do this today by helping companies understand how to have a culture of generosity and how to bring the seven ways of living generously to work. The impact and the culture of the business not only affects the daily temperature of your venture, but it also affects the bottom line positively. I’m just an entrepreneur who loves God and people.
What was the most important lesson you learned in the early phases of your career?
In 2005, I was on a good run. My business was doing great, but I had a series of thoughts. How can we inspire people to live generously? How as a business person and a giver, do I like to be communicated with? What motivates me? I kept coming back to the fact that stories are great motivators and such phenomenal teachers. The average TED talk has 65 percent story content if they’re good. So stories, in my opinion, are the best communication tools. I was moved by the vision to start I Like Giving to inspire people to live generously and show generosity in a multitude of ways. We started using short films as one delivery vehicle. Our short stories will make you laugh, make you cry, and most importantly motivate you. We have great data that says when people watch these films, they get excited about finding new ways to be generous.
At what point in your career did you begin to feel you had made it?
I’m not a typical “I made it, so I’m going to do something good” guy. I sold a service business in Michigan. It wasn’t a big liquidity event that compelled me to go do something good. I had put some practice into my business with these seven ways and thought I could take it further and positively influence the world.
Today we have over 120 million people who have watched our short films and we continue to tell these short stories of just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I feel like I’m still trying to make it. I believe a generous world is a better world for all of us.
What I need is help from people that agree with us. Together we can multiply the giving message. Sharing stories broadly gets that thinking out there.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I think that for me—I don’t want to be overly religious—by God’s grace, I have been faithful to my wife and my family in terms of positioning them before the excitement of career, being a known author and having a best-selling book. I think my greatest accomplishment is that I just haven’t screwed that up.
How has your faith influenced and/or guided your work?
Well, there is this idea that says, “It’s better to give than to receive . . .” and I have found that to be true. However, I do have an interesting cut on it. I also like to receive. I like nice things. I like to go to a nice restaurant, play golf and yet, I have found it to be true that when I give in the seven ways [of generosity], it is always better than me getting. When I find truths I pick up in the Bible, I apply them. It’s kind of fun to validate things and way better to give than to get.
How would you describe a “lifestyle of generosity?”
I think about it in terms of what I do daily, weekly, monthly. It is so important for people to see that they can be generous multiple times, every single day because now they know they are not limited to just giving away money. When you know you have something to offer every day, you can develop a lifestyle of generosity. I don’t think you ever simply arise, it’s a process—and it’s an exciting process. I always say I just want to do better, not out of performance, I just want to try to be a little better every day.
How should the next generation of leaders apply generosity to their personal brand of leadership?
Be encouraged that you want to be known as generous. Think about this, we have better relationships when we are generous. The way to apply it is to just start. I find it to be contagious. You know, there is a proverb that says, “the world of the generous gets larger and larger” and, drum roll please “… the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.” And so I believe it is encouraging to know your world is going to get bigger, you’re going to go places, and do things you didn’t think were possible when you begin to live a lifestyle of generosity.
How do you relax when you are not working?
I really like to go on 3-5 mile walks. I like to listen to podcasts, golf, and clean my garage. I don’t get a P&L every month saying “Oh, more people are generous. Great, let’s keep going.” We only get the anecdotal feedback that comes to our I Like Giving website. So sometimes you just want to see progress, even if it means in your personal space.
What’s up next?
We are doing more “Lunch and Learn” workshops in companies. Employers want to give good-hearted inspiration and hope to their employees. There is something powerful about giving employees the experience of an outside voice of inspiration. We’re finding this is super powerful because parents are looking for ways to talk to their kids about their values. This comes through loud and clear at our “Lunch and Learn” events at many great companies across America and beyond.
If you want to learn more about Brad Formsma, visit his website bradformsma.com. To join the I Like Giving movement, visit ilikegiving.com. You can also check out I Live Giving stories on SoulVision.TV