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To Give, or Not to Give, That Was My Question

December 2013

When I arrived at BYU every penny mattered to me. My budget had no room for extras. One day I was walking across campus and was bombarded by requests from volunteers to participate in BYU’s Choose to Give campaign for students.

I said to myself, “Are they serious? I don’t have money to give. I’m here barely on my last pennies. I can’t be a philanthropist; that’s for rich people and retirees.” I kept wishing they’d bother someone else. But they didn’t. It happened year after year.

At the end of my undergraduate program I got married, and we decided to stay at BYU to get my master’s and doctoral degrees. At the same time I was invited to participate in the President’s Leadership Council mentoring program. I thought, “This is great; maybe I can convince these rich people to give just a little bit more so the BYU fundraisers will stop asking me.”

Going in I had preconceived notions of what rich people would be like. The donors I met broke all my stereotypes. They were really happy people. They cared about me and about BYU. They were even optimistic throughout the recession.

Mother playing on playground with daughter

My wife could always tell when I had met with my mentors because I would come home happy. I thought that they were happy because they had money. My wife would say, “I don’t think that’s why,” but I didn’t know what else it could be. I was determined to discover their “secret sauce.”

Maybe I’m a slow learner, but it took a couple of years before it dawned on me: it’s not the money that makes them so happy; it’s that they’re giving it away.

I shared my epiphany with my wife. By then we had two kids, we’d been at BYU for 10 years, and we were just as broke as ever. So we pondered, we prayed, and we concluded that the only way we could give was to enter a campus essay contest and donate anything that we won. We promised ourselves to do just that. The Lord blessed us, and I won $675.

We knew we could use this money, but we had promised to give it to BYU. So we did. We gave to the same scholarship fund that helped me as an undergraduate. I’m grateful people asked me as a freshman to give to BYU, and looking back I wish I had given—even if it had just been a dollar.

Giving is right for our family. We’ve had a greater sense of purpose in our lives since we made that gift. And we’re happier because we chose to give away something of value, knowing that others needed it too.

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This essay was written for President’s Report based on interviews with Brian Ricks. Watch more short videos of students telling their stories at

Brian Ricks and his family learned a lot at BYU, including the joy of giving. He is now doing postdoctoral work at Rutgers. Photo by Nick Romananko, university photographer, Rutgers.