For more than two years in a row, Mississippi has ranked number one in the nation in the “generosity index,” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the national
publication for philanthropic organizations.
That index shows money that private citizens donate to churches and charities of their choice.
“We’re proud of that and want to help in that direction in any way we can,” said David Blount, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office.
George Penick, president of the Foundation of the Mid South, said the reason Mississippi ranks so high on the list is because of the number of low income families in
“My understanding of the phenomena is that poor people give a higher percentage of their income to charity than do people with higher incomes – that’s a fact,”
Penick said. “If you’re making $1 million a year, you’re not giving a big percentage of your income to charity.”
The Foundation for the Mid South develops programs, makes grants, raises money and builds collaborative relationships to combat poverty in the urban and rural
communities of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Its program initiatives target families and children, economic development and education.
But regardless of whether or not one is making a high or low income, it is important that they ask the correct questions of charities that approach them for donations.
“A reputable group will always supply you with information in writing if you request it,” Blount said.
Those people who are thinking about giving to a specific charity ought to first call the Secretary of State’s Office to be sure the charity is registered. If they are not
registered, it is a red flag that they are not running a legitimate operation.
Aside from that information, the Secretary of State’s Office also has information about what charities do with their money.
“In most cases, charities spend their money to help people they want to help,” Blount said.
But some charities use only a small percentage of their contributions to actually help those in need. There is no set percentage of what must be given, according to
“I certainly don’t want to make people reluctant to give to charities,” Blount said. “We think that by weeding out the few scam artists that are out there we’re helping
to create a better environment for the legitimate charities that are out there trying to do good.”
Carol Burger, president and CEO of United Way, Capital Area, said one of the things people should look for when deciding which charity to donate to is what
outcomes are being achieved with their dollars, and what lives are being touched. And, of course, in what way are lives or communities being improved by a charity’s
“Because you exist, what difference are you making? One of the things businesses need to look at are those types of accountability issues,” Burger said.
It is important that businesses looking to sponsor a charity, or individuals wishing to give to one, request from any nonprofit how they are accountable to their donors,
and what impact they are making in their community.
“People expect their dollars and especially their charitable dollars to actually change the community,” Burger said.
United Way Capitol Area has 38 charities that provide more than 68 programs. The dollars that come in through United Way are invested in four different areas:
nurturing children and youth, strengthening families, increasing self-sufficiency and meeting basic needs.
“As a rule of thumb, no more than 25% of the income of your nonprofit should be overhead,” Burger said. “Again, when you start looking at measurable outcome
which all funds are looking at now, it has to be that donor dollars show investors a return on their dollars based on their specific outcomes.”
And although United Way’s role is not to monitor an agency’s overhead, their job does provide dollars to programs that change people’s lives in the areas in which
they focus. It is left up to the board of directors of a particular nonprofit to decide how much money goes toward overhead and other expenditures.
“(Businesses) have to be careful with how they channel their contributions,” Burger said. “If a business in our community receives a request for a donation they’re not
familiar with, I would encourage them to call us. If it’s a legitimate nonprofit, we will have heard about it, and if not, we’ll investigate it for them.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.