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Modern-day Tentmaker

by Caitlin Gipson

Matt Holguin ’02, MBA ’04, knew there had to be a better way. The APU business administration major found himself constantly fundraising for his next mission trip, to the point where it became a joke among his extended family. “They’d see me coming and say, ‘Uh-oh, where are you traveling now, and how much money do you need?’” he said, laughing. “I had a heart for international ministry, but I didn’t like the sense of dependence.” However, as he studied the Bible, he noticed that ministry didn’t necessarily involve fundraising. “Jesus was a carpenter. Paul was a tentmaker. They didn’t go hat-in-hand for donations. I started wondering if I could function in the same way.” His APU master’s thesis provided an opportunity to explore this idea further, and gave rise to the groundbreaking business and ministry model that Holguin employs today.

Holguin’s assignment (completed with two classmates as part of his MBA capstone class) required the creation of a comprehensive business plan that incorporated all aspects of previous coursework: accounting, human resources, marketing, operations, economics, and international business. Holguin’s idea has since turned into reality. He started multiple businesses in the marketplace with the sole purpose of funneling funds into overseas ministry efforts.

Upon graduation, Holguin started Working to Give, Inc., and the Working to Give Foundation. The for-profit Working to Give, Inc., operates Colossal Gelato and Legendairy Gelato, two portable gelato booths that frequent state fairs in California and Arizona, and Popular, a gourmet popsicle kiosk located in Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Holguin invests 50 percent of the profits back into growing the businesses, and funnels the other half into the not-for-profit foundation that invests in missions work, microloans, orphanages, documentary videos, and other difference-making efforts overseas in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. “The whole point of Working to Give, Inc., is to make lots of money,” Holguin admitted. “The more money the for-profit arm makes, the more resources the Working to Give Foundation will have to invest overseas!”

Holguin encountered a compelling example of this business model’s potential for changing lives during a recent trip to Uganda. A wood carver who cares for 16 orphans came to him requesting a $12 microloan. He needed the money to buy blocks of wood he would use to teach the orphans to carve animal figurines that they could sell at the market. Thus, that investment forms the foundation for a useful trade for the orphans to support themselves in the future. “In business, we like to talk about return on investment,” explained Holguin. “Twelve dollars to change 16 lives? To lift 16 orphans out of poverty? Talk about return on investment!”

Holguin also discovered an unintended consequence of this business model—it motivates people to give more freely. “Often when folks give to churches or causes, they question how much of their money really goes to helping people, and how much pays salaries or builds bigger buildings,” he said. This model removes that hurdle, because the for-profit company covers the salaries and overhead, allowing all of the money channeled to the foundation to go directly to those in need. Holguin asserts that this act of removing barriers follows a biblical example. “If we are to follow Paul’s example, we need to remove any obstacle stopping us from communicating the Gospel’s message of hope. And for us in the United States, what greater barrier is there than money? So the question is: What if we remove that hurdle completely? What if we say, ‘You can give as you are led, but I don’t need your money?’”

Holguin saw this dynamic at work on the plane ride home from Istanbul. He sat next to an American woman and ended up telling her about the foundation’s work. She responded, “I will never be able to do that, but I have money and want to help.” She donated $1,000 on the spot. “I think there are many more people like her,” Holguin said. “Generally, Americans are generous and willing to help if they feel their dollars will really make a difference and have a personal connection to what is going on.”

To current and future APU business students, Holguin offers encouragement and a warning. “Poverty-stricken people around the globe depend on us to be faithful with the resources God has given us. Someday, you’re going to be held accountable for what you do with your gifts. Someday, God is going to say, ‘I provided you with every resource and opportunity. I placed you in the richest country, sent you to a top-notch school. What did you do with it?’ We live in a country that is the most fertile environment for success in the world. Take your education and start something new. Go for it!”

To learn more about Working to Give, visit www.workingtogive.com.

Caitlin Gipson ’01 is a freelance writer, marketing consultant, and search engine optimization specialist living in Reedley, California. caitlinsplace@hotmail.com

Originally published in the Spring '12 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).