Mississippians are generous people, and this is the season when we unselfishly demonstrate our generosity. The Salvation Army bell ringers are at work and charities of every description are soliciting our support for their causes. Most of the causes are worthwhile, some are not.
Middle-income folks are faced with an array of choices when considering which charities to choose for donations. Some, like our churches, are familiar to us, and we can give with confidence that our money will be used wisely. Sometimes we are involved as volunteers in charitable organizations and are therefore familiar with the operations of the charity. In these cases, we do not need anyone to help us make our charitable decisions.
It is when we wish to venture beyond those familiar charities that prudent giving becomes more difficult. There are a number of options available to help in deciding how best to benefit the causes in which we have a personal interest but lack a comfortable feel for how the organization is managed.
The most obvious is giving through the United Way. An army of United Way community volunteers spend all year studying the operations of a host of charitable organizations to determine which ones are accomplishing their goals and operating in a prudent manner. I worked as one of those volunteers for almost a decade and can attest to the sincerity and effectiveness with which United Way runs its business. You can’t go wrong by giving to United Way.
In many United Way organizations, the donor can choose the charity to receive his contribution. Alternatively, you can usually choose a cause, such as teen pregnancy, aids prevention or housing for the poor, and designate your contribution to that cause. In this way you can be confident that someone, United Way, is looking over the shoulder of the charity to be certain that your donations are being used effectively.
Another option for consideration is establishing an endowment fund through a community foundation, such as the Greater Jackson Foundation. A community foundation accepts tax-deductible donations from businesses and individuals, invests the principle and distributes the income as directed by the donor. In this way, the fund establishes a permanent source of income for the designated charity.
The Greater Jackson Foundation is a community foundation established about five years ago to benefit the central Mississippi area. It is one of more than 540 community foundations throughout the United States. The foundation has accumulated over $3 million in assets and made grants in excess of $1 million. Nationwide, community foundations are one of the faster growing forms of philanthropy in the country and now hold more than $21 billion in assets.
To my knowledge, Jackson is the only city in Mississippi with a community foundation. Perhaps this is a concept worthy for consideration in other major cities in our state. For more information, contact Linda Montgomery, executive director of the Greater Jackson Foundation, at (601) 981-4572.
Those of us who have tried it know that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. I recommend that you give first to your church and charities in which you are an active participant and then consider letting others help insure the effectiveness of your contribution dollars by supporting your local United Way. Further, look into creating an endowment at the Greater Jackson Foundation or starting a community foundation in your area outside of central Mississippi.
Thought for the Moment
All of us at the Mississippi Business Journal wish for you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons. Remember to tell the truth, pay your bills and treat your fellow man as you wish to be treated.
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.