The Kingdom Investor

52 - $1.5 Billion Hope for 1 Million People | Jeff Rutt

February 28, 2023 Daniel White Episode 52
The Kingdom Investor
52 - $1.5 Billion Hope for 1 Million People | Jeff Rutt
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we hear from Jeff Rutt, the founder of HOPE International, a nonprofit that provides Christ-centered microfinance services to help alleviate poverty in 24 countries around the world. 

Listen now and come away with a deeper understanding of the power of faith, generosity, and service to transform lives. 

Key Points From This Episode: 

  • What are the keys to the growth and success of his business?
  • What is Jeff’s rule of thumb for debt to equity ratio?
  • What are the three core principles that guide Jeff in running the company? 
  • What strategies does Jeff’s company use to mitigate risks in the construction industry brought about by economic and market fluctuations? 
  • How does Jeff’s faith impact his leadership in the business?
  • Why did Jeff give away a significant portion of his company to a donor-advised fund as it is now 89% owned by charity?

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Jeff Rutt on LinkedIn

Keystone Custom Homes

HOPE International website

Peter Greer

Generous Business Owner Podcast

National Christian Foundation

Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

Mission Drift by Peter Greer

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Laws of Lifetime Growth by Dan Sullivan and Catherine Nomura 

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton 

The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni

The Kingdom Investor Podcast on LinkedIn



ANNOUNCER: Imagine taking your generosity to the next level, impacting more lives, and leaving a godly legacy for generations to come. Get ideas and strategies to do just that when you listen to these personal stories from high-level Kingdom champions.

The Kingdom Investor Podcast showcases business leaders who have moved from success to significance, sharing how they use worldly wealth for kingdom impact. Discover how they grew in generosity, impacted more lives, and built godly legacies. You'll find motivation, inspiration, and practical steps to grow as a Kingdom Investor.


Daniel White (DW):  Hello, and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. I'm your host Daniel White. Today we interview Jeff Rutt. Jeff is the CEO and steward of Keystone Custom Homes, as well as the founder of HOPE International, a Christ-centered microfinance organization helping over 1 million people in 24 countries all over the world. 

If you enjoy this show, please write us a review and follow us on social media. And now without further ado, let's jump right into the show. 


DW: Welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast, Jeff Rutt. How are you?


Jeff Rutt (JR):  Good. How are you, Daniel?


DW:  Doing well. Excited to be talking with you today. I just wanted to maybe have you share a little bit about yourself. And also give us kind of a sneak peek into your world to maybe something you're excited about, a project that you're really passionate about. Just give us a little bit of context.


JR:  Yeah. So a little bit about myself, grew up on a dairy farm here in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, learned to work really hard, get up at 4 am and learn the value of discipline at age 10, which I really appreciated. Not then, but years later. I definitely appreciated it. It turns out, I bought the farm before I knew what that meant when I was 20 and ended up milking about 150 cows and farm 200 acres. It turns out 300 bovines are very needy, and want to do some traveling, some short-term missions trips, and was interested in trying something besides dairy farming. And so, got into the building business about 30 years ago. And about 25 years ago started a Christ-centered microfinance organization called Hope International. So that's a little bit about me, something that's interesting that's happening later, or that we'll get into more later. Potentially is so much, we started our nonprofit in Ukraine, and so much more, you know, there's so much hurt and disillusionment and discouragement happening there. However, God is working, and it's exciting to see families, individuals, and kids coming to Christ through this crisis. Yeah, yeah. So a highlight in my week so far, is that about a week ago, our seventh grandchild was born, Amelia Hope Hooper. 

DW: Congratulations!

JR: A beautiful, I'm not prejudiced at all, but she is the most beautiful little girl in the world.


DW:  All right. So Jeff, would you mind praying for us and our listeners, then we'd love to jump into your story and everything.


JR:  Yeah, sure. Thanks. Yeah, Lord, we thank you for this time. Thank you for the audience of Kingdom Investors and this group, this tribe that Daniel was leading, thank you for each person and just pray a blessing over their family. Pray that what is shared today that's got her Dane would be heard, and anything else would be not heard. And we just pray that you will work through each listener, work in their lives with what you put in their hands. Thank you for your sovereignty, Your faithfulness, and pray for our time here today. In your name, we pray, amen. 


DW:  Amen. All right, Jeff, take us back and kind of share an overview of your story. And then you know how you've gotten into or you know, how you have grown the company and the nonprofit?


JR:  Yeah, yeah. A little bit about my childhood I grew up in like I said, Southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania dairy farm. My parents were very hard-working. I didn't. We were probably classified in the poverty section but didn't know it. We, we did farm flipping when you could buy a farm for like $6,000 and then work really hard and change everything about the buildings, the contour strips, what they're called, tear out the concrete in the barn and rebuild the stanchions. repaint all the buildings and then we'd sell it two years later for $2,000 more for $8,000. So, different economy, but learned work ethic at a very young age, probably violated all the child labor laws that you could find. But I've benefited a lot from learning how to work hard at a young age and solve, you know, keeping schedules, meeting deadlines, being proactive. Those types of things.

Ended up kind of a dysfunctional childhood, with great things and some crazy things that weren't so good. Our parents went to Costa Rica, moved their family to the coast San Jose, Costa Rica, and served with Latin American missions for a year. So at age 11, I got to visit, at that time, Costa Rica would have been considered a third-world country. It is not today. But that was a great experience. Learning another culture, getting a real look at a real Christian worldview. We actually managed a dairy farm in San Jose, Costa Rica in a little town called Robialto that looks out over San Jose, a beautiful part of the world. However, about two years later, a year and a half later, we ended up coming back to Lancaster County, a lot of dysfunction in the family. My parents ended up getting divorced at that time. My mom picked up my three siblings at school, left me a note and said, hey, if you want to join us give me a call. I ended up staying, living with my dad the next six years. 

And still, to this day, I'm close to my mom. But that was a major, major dysfunction in my childhood. I actually ended up getting close to our pastor at our church and got deeply involved in our youth group at the time, which was a real, God really worked through him, Earl Ziggler at that time. I ended up getting really close to my dad, obviously working hard, shoulder to shoulder on a 200-acre dairy farm. 

So, that was a little bit about, you know, those formidable years. Some of the memories I have, in these early days. Prior to that, like in younger years, I would say my mom having that book, that big Bible storybook, reading those Bible stories. So getting those ingrained in my heart, soul, and mind early in my life was really important. Yeah, so yeah, like I said, we bought the dairy farm. I bought the dairy farm when I was 20. I married my beautiful bride when I was 22. We worked really hard the next several years, about eight or ten years, we're together. She fed the calves. I milked the cows. We had a couple of junior high boys that worked for us. I had a very weak understanding of why they didn't know how to work as hard as I did. But it was a good learning experience. 

So I learned a lot about perseverance, persistence. My dad taught me a lot about debt-to-equity ratios, business. At that time, he was starting to dabble a little bit in, like I said, we had bought and sold farms when he could do that for $6,000 or $8,000. And by this time, inflation had hit and so we learned a lot about real estate. Real estate always intrigued me. So when we got off the dairy farm, I asked my uncle who was a broker at the time if he thought I could sell real estate and he said I don't know, try it. 

And then that ended up working out really well. I sold real estate for about five years and then started Eastern Custom Homes almost by default. I was in real estate, was doing some developing, and had been working with some other small builders and I was doing all their customer service, their feasibility studies, land acquisition, decorating choices, and working closely with the financing. So, I felt like I was doing a lot of the hard stuff and just decided to hire a construction manager who ended up, we're very fortunate to hire really strong construction manager, Perry Sisley, who had his own small business and was looking to join someone else. And we started Keystone Custom Homes. 

We had zero cash. So, we did, you know, what builders do when they don't have cash. We did everything by pre-sale. We sold everything, we pre-sell it and then get loans to build it. And built about 12 homes our first year. If you fast forward through the last 30 years, we've been honored to win the Americans Best Builder Award three times through the National Association of Homebuilders and Builder Magazine. We were the first builder to do that three times. Matter of fact, after we won it the third time, the National Association of Homebuilders changed the rules that said you cannot win it more than one time in any five-year period. So that's the thing we're most proud of that.


DW:  So how many homes have you built to date?


JR:  Yeah, so, we are close to 9,000 homes that we've built over the last 30 years. This past year, we closed about 520 homes, the average sale price is about $700,000. And we build in South Central PA, northern Maryland and then we just started a new division in Charlotte, North Carolina.


DW:  So how did that all develop? You said it's been about 30 years since you started it. Can you give us a little bit more coloration of you know, how the company grew? How you grew the business? And what are some of the key keys to the success of the business and things like that? 


JR:  Yeah. So, I would say, yeah, we started very small, and had no equity going into the company. So we kind of were very nimble, built everything from scratch, developed good relationships with banks. One of the things that helped us through the years, was getting involved in what used to be called are still called today, the Builder 20 Club groups. And then today, I belong to a benchmark group, which is basically the same thing, but builders from other parts of the country that built that are similar-sized as you and you know, other industries have other affinity groups, but it's that was very helpful for me, because I didn't grow up in the building business. It was all I was learning, we kind of learned as we went. So, we learned a lot from others. And we failed a lot. We learned a lot from our failures, tried to learn as much as we could from others' failures, failures and successes. But that was a huge part of learning, learning the business.

I would say some of the things that were really important were focusing on the people, developing the team, when it was very small, developing it as we grow to really care about our leaders, care about not only their professional lives but also caring for them, where it was appropriate in their, in their personal lives to really, truly love them well. And I believe that goes a long way.


DW: Do you have any stories to exemplify that?


JR:  Yeah. So, there were a couple of times I'm not going to go into all the details. But there's a couple of times where team leaders, or some of our employees that were key that ended up being key leaders through the years, definitely should have been fired. And yet, we saw potential and had a lot of, I feel like we gave a lot of grace. We work really hard and we lean into. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. But we do take our work seriously. And we really lean into our work. But there were some times where, yeah, other owners or CEOs would have said sorry, that's, you know, we're gonna have to terminate. But, we tried to, as much as possible, when appropriate, to give grace and to come alongside and say, okay, here's what happened. If you're interested in improving or you know, course correcting, we're ready to stand beside you and, and walk, walk along the path in this journey with you and that's how isn't always worked out. But, there have been some good times that it has, and it's built a lot of loyalty and I really believe through, there's a lot of true rewards in, in seeing, you know, a person really grow through an experience like that.

DW:  What is your retention rate on different people? And have you had the same core group of people the whole time? Or has that changed a lot? Can you talk about that? Because I know that construction and industry is extremely high turnover and, and it is hard to keep, keep good people and, and all of that.


JR: Yeah, yeah. So our model is a little bit different in that we started, our company started in 1992. And it was around the time. Fortunately, providentially, for us, I believe it was around the time, there was a shift going on in the industry, away from employees, to trade contractors or subcontractors who actually do the work in the field building the homes. So we started with that model right from the beginning and said, We're we are just going to hire our management, our, you know, the leaders, the construction managers, the accounting folks, the land development, folks, so all of the things that go into building a home, outside of actually, you know, the nails and the befores that builAmen.d the home. So those are the employees, so we have about 160 employees now, you know. When we started, it was like, three of us. And I feel like compared to industry standards we are, we have a great retention rate. I feel like coding for our employees, and also for our subcontractors. Some of our subcontractors have been with us since the beginning. And that's kind of that's almost unheard of. In our area, something that's unique in Lancaster County is we have a lot of Amish contractors. So framers, concrete contractors especially, and you know, roofing, siding, there are those contractors. I couldn't say enough good about the work ethic they trust, the honest, hardworking nature of the trade countries, not just the Amish, but all the trade country contractors that we work with.


DW:  Yeah, that's really neat. So what would you say is, is maybe one of the keys to the success of the growth of the business?


JR:  So there's a couple of core things I think, like I said, focusing on the people, our team first, but then our customers, the customer experience. What does it look like to really serve the customer well? I do think from a pure business standpoint, keeping your debt, and you know, we started with no money, so we needed debt. However, I saw in 2007 through 2009, I watched a lot of my peers around the country who had over-leveraged, go out of business, they just didn't survive. And so it's fine to over-leverage when things are going up into the right. But when you have you know, an economic major, great recession, like we did it started in '07 especially in the building industry. It exposes some fundamental problems. And you know, keeping a low debt to equity ratio is, is it takes discipline, and it's hard and you don't grow quite as fast as you would but I believe that's a key fundamental.


DW:  What is your rule of thumb for that? 


JR:  For us, it's one-to-one. Yeah, that debt to equity of a one-to-one. So, and it could be different for different industries. And you'll have different consultants say, well, that's limiting your growth. Because if you had a higher debt-to-equity ratio, you could get better return on your assets. And that's true, but it also keeps the risk a little bit lower. Yeah. So, I'd say the other fundamental thing through the years comes back a little bit to what I said with the relationship with the team members. We have always since the very beginning focused on leadership development and employee development through reading and growing the competency level of each of our employees. So, we have a library of Audible books. We have about 200 Audible books in our library, on everything that you can possibly think of, not just in the building industry, a lot of personal growth. We have, you know, some history, we have a lot of different things that we believe that the employees, if they're not growing, they're going to become stagnant. And that's, we want that that growth to be happening, whether they're going to be at Keystone long term or not, we believe it's the right thing to do to help that person grow. 

DW: Yeah, that's good. That's really good. So core keys to success for you were putting people first and loving people, caring for them well, debt to equity, keeping that at a safe level, and then leadership development slash personal development, are those maybe the three core would you say? 


JR:  Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.


DW:  I did have another question specifically about the construction industry. So, I know that homebuilding and construction in general are very, fluctuate greatly. What do you guys do to kind of mitigate the economic cycles?


JR:  Yeah, so one of the things is, like I mentioned the debt to equity, keeping your debt equity as low as possible, we do try to still pre-sell as much as we can and keep a healthy backlog. So right now, the sales that, you know, you don't have to look very far in the headlines to see, you know, home sales since June 15th when Jerome Powell started raising interest rates, sales slowed down significantly, in some markets more than others. Our market hasn't been affected quite as much as some of the crazy swings, you know, in California, and Phoenix and some of the other places around the world, or around the country. However, we had a really healthy backlog. So we had, at one point, I think we're up to 800 homes in backlog that had been sold but not closed. And we try to mitigate the risks of the cycles going up and down by staying as lean as possible. And keeping a strong backlog as possible. So there are a couple of things that we tried to do. 

Again, we probably leave some profit on the table, some revenue. For example, during COVID, we could have made more revenue and more profit if we would have had more spec homes in inventory. However, right now, I would not want to have those spec homes in inventory. So it's a balance. So it is definitely by building, we don't build spec homes. So you know, speculative homes. So that is one of the things that helps mitigate the cycles. The other thing is, I feel like being disciplined on when you do see things slowing down to be living in reality, and understanding, okay, we need to believe that it's, you know, expect the best, but be prepared for the worst, that things are going to slow down, it's not going to just us imagining that things are going to continue to go like they have been is not going to let a good thing.


DW:  Jeff, would you share how your faith has impacted your leadership in the business?


JR:  Yeah, so during a lot of the ups and downs through the years, and, I'm assuming we'll talk about Hope International here. But as far as just directly impacting Keystone, I would say, through the ups and downs of the years, you know, some of the hardships and the trials and the tribulations that we've gone through, not just economically, but other, you know, stuff happens over 30 years, when you have a business this size. That I would say, you know, thinking of the words of Joshua, you know, be strong and courageous. I can remember leaning on those passages, and reading those passages to our team. And you know, being having that resolve to hang in there. I also believe, one of my favorite verses is in James 1:2-5, consider all joy when you face trials of many kinds, you know, goes on to talk about building character and you know.

There are good things that can come out of hard times. I think that is a principle where our faith, my faith has held helped our business. I do think that in hard times, and when people's world gets rocked, for some reason, they want to turn to something that's bigger than themselves. We pray a lot in our meetings. I've been told by several people that that's gonna be a problem someday, and you know, you're going to, you're going to somehow get in trouble for that. And I, you know, at this point, I figure it's worth the risk. So I think it's very important to be able to, I think having a regular time and devoting our company meetings, our leadership meetings, committing them to prayer and to really, you know, invite God into every facet of our lives is important. 


DW:  Yeah, that's good. All right. Would you share the genesis story behind Hope International?


JR:  Yeah. So in the mid-90s, our church sent containers of food, medical supplies to Ukraine, Zephyros, Ukraine through a sister church relationship we had through Slavic Gospel Mission. And actually, my daughter, who was eight at the time went along on one of those trips, I got really excited about looking for ways to truly help those families beyond sending them stuff. And I read this book years later, but the principle was very applicable. There's a book by Robert Lupton called Toxic Charity, and he talks about the five levels of toxic charity that we in the west, and to think that we can solve everything by just throwing more money at it. 

And you know, he talks about that first gift. So, giving people gifts, there's appreciation, and anticipation, then expectation, then entitlement, and then full on dependency. And I was looking for something that we could turn that on its head and look for ways to restore dignity in families and have them find solutions in their own context with what God put in their hands to work their way out of not just material poverty, but the brokenness around them. So we had, we spent a lot of time on a journey looking for something besides these containers of food and medical supplies that we were sending, and our pastor connection in Zephyros, Ukraine, Leonid Petrenko, had sat me down at dinner one night when we were there in Ukraine and said, your helping is hurting.

And he said, is there some way that you can help us help ourselves? So he was far ahead of his time on the whole toxic charity movement, you know, getting away from toxic charity. So we went on a journey to find and I saw some glimpses of Christ-centered microfinance, working in other parts of the world, where tiny loans given to entrepreneurs with the right amount of training and group support on a holistic level could really change not only families lives, but communities. And so got excited about that, I called my attorney and said, we need to set up a, you know, a nonprofit. I need to lead you to put the paperwork together and he spent about 45 minutes trying to talk me out of it. I can remember exactly where I was sitting alongside of the road I pulled over because the cell coverage was getting bad. And at that time, you know, it was '96-'97, cellphones were like, as big as the briefcase, you know, and I remember him thinking that I had eaten some bad pizza, or was having a midlife crisis or something. 

He said, why? What are you doing? And so I was starting to have doubts about it but went home, talked to my wife, prayed about it, called him back the next day, and said, I'm pretty sure you work for me. So, here's what we're gonna do. Set it up. And so we started really small, started with a very small board. And, I didn't know what I didn't know, you know, just this kind of I knew the people we were helping in Ukraine. We love them. We wanted to try to figure out a way to help them help themselves. 

I remember our very first board meeting. So, when you start a nonprofit like that, you start, you know, you gotta get board members. So, you call your accountant, your attorney, a friend, your pastor, and your mom. So, we had our first board vote and was to send $10,000 to Ukraine to lend out in small loans. And so we discussed it a little bit. And then we went to vote and everybody voted no. Even my mom voted no. And I said, Mom, wait, wait, wait, wait, this is why I invited you on the board. You're supposed to vote for the resolution. Anyway, it was, there were a lot of concerns about the risks. And yeah, so we had to discuss it for a while and determine if there is going to be risk. But this is what we do. We raise money, we send money to Ukraine, we work with our local leaders. 

And so we turned that motion, we re-voted, and got the process started back there in 1997. So through the years, God has been faithful and so good. And it's so amazing to see him work through the team, through the people at Hope International. We grew very slowly during those first seven years. In 2004, we were privileged to meet a gentleman by the name of Peter Greer, who's our current president. He had just, he had spent time in the field working in the microfinance space, and was recruited by Harvard to get his graduate degree and did a lot of work related to Christ-centered microfinance. And he had actually been offered a job at the World Bank. 

Somehow, we convinced them that Lancaster Pennsylvania was the place to be. And he says that we took a risk on him. I think he took a bigger risk on us. And it's been just an amazing journey to see him grow the organization. He's definitely, you know, Patrick Lencioni talks in his book, The Ideal Team Player, about being hungry, humble, smart. And Peter Greer has definitely got all three of those qualities in spades. So it's been fun to watch Hope grow. We've now loaned out over $1.5 billion in tiny loans in 24 countries started in Ukraine, like I said, and it's amazing to see how God is working in a lot of places that are, where there's a lot of hurt, there's a lot of pain. There's a lot of need, in in a different way, poverty is relative, right?

I mean, we can see poverty within 20 miles of our house. There was a study actually, Peter has written about 14 books now. I can't keep I can't read them as fast as he writes them. But he wanted in one of his books created to flourish. He talks about a study that was done comparing a truck driver, and it was unemployed, actually, in Appalachia. Kentucky. I think it was compared to a neurosurgeon in Kinshasa, Congo. And, they compared 25 areas of quality of life, all the way from, do you have air conditioning? Do you have clean drinking water? Do you have a vehicle? What kind of schools do you have to go to? In every single area, the unemployed truck driver in Appalachia scored higher than the neurosurgeon in Kinshasa Congo. So and most people kind of know that, you know, from order of magnitude from a high level, but really seeing it and understanding and getting to know those families and their children,  it does make a difference. So a typical loan, for those of you who aren't familiar with Christ-centered microfinance. 


JR: So one of our clients in Burundi, his name is Anastasia and my daughter Leah and I had a chance to meet her on a trip and she had two little girls at the time, and they were not going to be able to go to school because her husband's meager income couldn't reach that far. So schools are expensive. So she was trying to figure out a creative way to generate more income, more revenue for the family. And she had this idea of buying 20 chairs and leasing them out to couples getting married, and starting this little kind of like wedding business. Now personally, I don't know if I would have approved that loan. Fortunately for her and all of our clients, all of our loan officers, and we call her, we say our loan officers have the head of a banker, the heart of a pastor, and the soul of a missionary. All of our loan officers are indigenous, not just to the country that they work in, but the region, so they understand the culture, who to trust, what the needs are, and what will work and what won't work. 

So, Anastasia talked to her loan officer. And she approved the loan. It was $20 to buy 20 chairs, they were $1 apiece, so four cups of Starbucks. And fast forward to today. She did really well, she fast forward today, she has 200 chairs, 200 baskets, to underplay settings, and three wedding dresses, small, medium, and large, that she leases out to these couples getting married, and she's just thriving. So it's really cool to see how that small amount of capital $20 can make a difference, compared to if we would have given her that $20 which would have squashed her dignity instead of restoring dignity in her life and using the idea that she had. 

DW:  Wow, that's really neat. That's cool to hear that story. So can you give us maybe a high level of what you guys have done through Hope International? I know that's a really personal story. That's really helpful, but maybe on a broad level. And then I want to talk a little bit about your generosity in the business and what that looks like and, and how you've given the business, or at least a portion of it away.


JR:  Yeah, I mean, I would encourage you to go to our website, And check it out. We work in Fortune 24 countries. We've loaned out over $1.5 billion, about 50% of our work is in savings groups. So, another quick story, the best way for me to describe what we do.

Jane in Zimbabwe was a very poor widow, cleaning floors and weeding gardens, but had dreams of being successful in life and being able to give back and she got involved in a savings group. And our savings groups are for that really that fragile fringe. She got involved in a savings group. Their group is called the Famous Club. They're in Harare, just outside of Harare in a little town called Epworth, Zimbabwe. She started saving 15 cents a week, saving for a long time until she had $20. And then she borrowed from the group. They're called trust groups. 

So, she borrowed from the Famous club, the other $60 that she needed to buy 100 little chicks, little peeps, and started chicken business. So she became very successful in that partly because of the group supporting her. She learned from them. She was growing spiritually from them. She was selling chickens to some of the, you know, some of the group members and they were her best advocates for selling chickens in the community. 

So, she just went through cycles of you know, growing, buying peeps, selling chickens buying peeps, selling chickens, she was raising broilers when we were there. We were there in January of that year. She had just finished a cycle and she had just decided to give back to her community by giving 13 widows in her community, a bar of soap, which is a huge luxury item for them, their net worth. 

So, Jane went from survival to success to significance in giving back and I thought that was just a great model of our savings groups and how they work. So about 50% of Hope clients are in savings groups. We have about a million clients right now, about 50% are in the savings groups and 50% are in the pure microfinance. All of them, the goal is to not just help them improve their lives monetarily, but to improve their lives, spiritually, personally, socially, very, very holistically.


DW:  Wow. That's amazing. So you said a million clients that you guys serve right now?


JR:  Yes. 


DW:  Wow. That's incredible. So can you talk a little bit about your personal generosity journey? And kind of overview that and what kind of steps that you've made in that? Yeah.


JR:  So I mean, that started very young. You know, it's true what they say. If you're faithful and generous when you're making $20. And you're tithing or giving back generously, you're going to be, you know, when you become more successful, you're going to be faithful. It doesn't happen in the reverse. It's that you don't all of a sudden become generous. I mean, a guy can work in our lives, so don't get me wrong there but I would encourage the listeners if you're, yeah, start small and just be faithful. But one of the things that we've always believed that God owned our company, that we're stewards were managers, managers of our company. And we've been blessed through the years to watch examples, and I was introduced to Alan Barnhart, who I know, you know. 

When I first heard his story, I thought, this is a little crazy. But a lot of things happened in our life. My dad, my dad died, suddenly in an accident. My wife, Sue was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer and was given a 4% probability of surviving two years. Fortunately, she's now cancer-free, praise God. But we went through a lot. And it just was a good reminder of our mortality. And I went back, talked to Alan Barnhart. I remember going back and talking to him and saying, tell me more about what you did with your company. And I talked to our family, our son is Vice President of Sales and Marketing, our son Ben, who's just turned 34, I think and talked to him and the whole family. And we decided to donate 89% of the non-voting stock in Keystone Custom Homes and all of our affiliates to the National Christian Foundation Charitable Trust. We still remain, we still retain control, we still run the company. But as the equity builds in the company, it builds for the Kingdom. And there are a lot of charitable uses that will be able to be accomplished, not just through Hope International, but many other charitable causes that we believe in because our building company is 89% owned by charity.


DW:  So how does that work when you give away a portion of your company, to you know, this donor-advised fund? 


JR:  Yeah, it's actually, it took me a while to wrap my head around it and even longer for banks to wrap their head around it. But once they did, and once they got up off the floor, and said, okay, that sounds a little crazy. Well, once they realized, okay, the equity is still there. And the company is actually stronger than ever. There are some tax advantages that make it stronger than ever, you can continue to roll some of these tax advantages back into the equity of the company, and the company becomes stronger. I can't pull that equity out personally to go buy a jet or a yacht. I was probably never going to buy a jet or a yacht, anyway. I'm still driving my 2007 Camry with was just turned over 318,000, by the way. Still going strong. The air conditioning doesn't work very well, but it's okay. 

DW: Windows still do? 

JR: Yeah, so that's a little bit about the, we could spend another hour on how that donor-advised fund works. The key thing that we asked a lot about is do we retain control of what we want to do in our business? And the answer was yes. And it's been very true. We made that gift about three years ago. And it's been a wonderful experience with NCF. And we would do it again today. We were doing all over again today. It's been fun. It's been fun to see God working through it. It's been very clarifying that, yeah, we build a home, 89% of those profits are going into building equity into the business. It's 89% owned by charity.


DW:  Yeah, that's really cool. Wow, Jeff, that's so cool. So before we jump into the mentor-minute to wrap up this episode, what is the number one piece of advice that you have personally gotten, that you can share with our audience?

JR:  Yeah, so I would say that, and I'm not sure if I can attribute this to one person. But, I think the awareness that God owns it all, whether it's our resources, our talents, or our time, I think that, you know, just understanding that and just having that awareness, I think is probably the one nugget I would encourage listeners to just really take to heart and share with your families. As you know, as you're sharing with your kids, your grandkids, your friends around you and just that posture of humility and that doesn't mean that we just prop our feet up and don't like lean into aggressively, you know, building the kingdom. But it does come with that understanding and humility that God owns it all. And we are tasked with being good managers and good stewards, not owners.


DW:  All right, so the first mentor minute question is who is the most influential person that you know, and how have they impacted you? 


JR:  Yeah, so I have a little bit different answer to this question. I get a whole list here. But the first person that I have on my list is Nico, who is one of Hope Internationals clients who lives in the on the island of Tacloban in the Philippines, I had a chance to meet him a couple years ago. He's a rice farmer and he's in part of our savings. He's part of a savings group there and his advice, and I asked him what advice he had for other rice farmers in his you know, rice is rice farmers savings group was, “trust God, work hard, and save”. I thought that was pretty profound for a guy who probably didn't spend too much time at the university. He was out there seven o'clock one morning, I met him in his rice paddy. 

But some of the other folks that have had a big influence on my life, Earl Ziggler, the pastor I've mentioned earlier that really mentored me in my teens. My brother Doug who's just incredible an brother and very perceptive. Peter Greer, who's the hungry, humble, smart leader of Hope International. If you haven't read his books, please do. My wife, Sue, has been an incredible soulmate, and just her laughter, her warrior spirit of battling through cancer two times in her life, but most significantly, here about five years ago. 

In some ways, this is a little bit different one but the Muslim women that have gotten involved in the group in Kigali, Rwanda. There were two Muslim women that came to one of our groups. And they were excited about their little shoe business. They wanted to get a loan to expand it, and they would sit outside during the walk. So, we have the welcome worship word work and wrap-up times in our group meetings and our savings groups. And they would sit outside during the worship and the word portion, but through that year, first year of their involvement, they got loved and they came to Christ through that experience. So, in some ways, kind of in a very interesting way, I just look up to them and see them as just a model. 

Okay, so a couple of other ones, Ellen Barnhart, David Weekley, amazing, generous builders. He's not only shared his wealth but his wisdom with us through the years that Kevin is a board member. Andy Stanley, I love Andy Stanley's podcast and our team at Keystone has grown so much in the life study that we do. Matt Young is a farmer that I looked up to a lot when I was in the dairy farm. Durwood Sneed, another board member, Mick McGraw, Jonathan Belcher are two benchmark group members that that I look up to a lot. And then last, I would say Allan Mullaly, who was the, I guess his title was president of Ford Motor Company. He wrote a book, American Icon, and I just loved his posture of humility, and his attitude as he turned that company around. When they were, when he walked in the door, they were losing $17 billion dollars a year. And he turned it around and did it with a smile on his face. 


DW:  Wow, that's incredible. Yeah, that's a long list. It just really shows me, you know, the importance of mentor mentorship and just like having people in your life that you can go to and seek advice and wisdom from. That's really cool. And then the next question is what book or podcast has changed the course of your life?


JR:  Okay, similar theme. I got a bunch of them here. Sorry. I'm just gonna rattle them off real quick. Treasure Principle, Mission Drift, Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch, Atomic Habits, Laws of Lifetime Growth, Raising Grateful Kids In An Entitled World, Toxic Charity, Mindset and The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. 

DW: Awesome. That's an incredible list. 

JR: So, number one should be the Bible. Leaning into Jesus. 

DW: Yes, thank you.

JR: Yeah. I feel like actually, one other book I wanted to mention is called Peace Talks. If you haven't read Peace Talks, I would encourage you to read it. And he talks about, so much of our life gets caught up in all these conflicts. Can we just focus on Jesus? And we just focus on the word, focus on Jesus and be a better place.


DW:  And then do you want to share about the podcast that you co-host? 


JR:  Yeah, so real briefly, go to the Generous Business Owners Podcast. Alan Barnhart, Jeff Thomas, and I host the podcast. And we just love hearing stories of generous folks from around the country and around the world.


DW:  Yeah, it's incredible. Yeah, go listen to that. So last one is what is the greatest lesson that you've learned about leadership?


JR:  I would say the greatest lesson I've learned about leadership is understanding that we can learn a lot from failure, and to not need to be the smartest guy in the room. So to really be open to listening. I believe God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, to be open to listening and always have that posture of leaning into learning.


DW:  All right, Jeff, that was an incredible episode, and really appreciate you coming on. Is there anything that we can be praying for you and your family and ministry?


JR:  Yep. So many things. Yeah, pray for all the team members of Hope International, my seven grandkids that I don't smother too much with all my ideas. I pray specifically for Oleg who's a prisoner of war right now in Russia. He's the son of one of our loan officers in Ukraine. His name is spelled O-L-E-G. And then also Artem, who we just found out is missing in action, who is the son of one of our accountants in Ukraine. All of our leaders in Ukraine are indigenous. And then, of course, their boys, you know, both of them are 22. Both of them got conscripted into the army. So, yeah, pray for them, their families, and just pray for peace and pray for a change of heart in some of the leaders they're in from the invaders.


DW:  All right, well, can we pray really quick for you? 


JR:  Yes. Thank you. 


DW:  All right, let's pray. God, I thank you and praise you for Jeff and for his ministry, how he understands that everything that he has is yours, and that he is just the steward. But that he's being a good steward and, advancing your kingdom, investing in your kingdom through business and the nonprofit work that he does. I pray for his team and all the people overseas that are working with him, working with the organization. I pray that you would watch over them, protect them, help them to continue to advance your kingdom, here and around the world. And God, I pray that you would bless Jeff’s family. In Christ's name, I pray, amen. 

JR: Thank you, Daniel. 

DW: Absolutely. Thank you guys for listening to this episode. And we'll catch you next time for another episode of The Kingdom Investor Podcast.





ANNNOUNCER: What if you could take your generosity to the next level, impacting more lives in your community and around the world, creating a godly legacy for generations to come?

Now you can. Your first step is crafting your kingdom investing thesis. Reserve your spot in our next online workshop where we guide you through the process of discovering your passions, create a strategic plan and connect you to opportunities that will help you fulfill your God-given calling as a kingdom investor. Register today by clicking the link in the show notes. 

Thanks for listening. Don't forget to subscribe and we'll see you next time for another episode of The Kingdom Investor Podcast.