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Making a difference important part of Mississippi business

As I See It

This week we have a dual editorial focus: the first, a look at Made in Mississippi, and the second on nonprofit organizations, both charitable and trade associations.
Though newspapers might not seem like manufacturers at first blush, nonetheless we are and we proudly display the Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s “Make Mine Mississippi” seal on every issue of the Mississippi Business Journal. Our policy is to spend as much of our money in the state as we can, and we encourage all Mississippi businesses to do the same.

Charitable nonprofits work to improve our communities in myriad ways. Some are devoted to health and education issues, some teach our kids ethical behavior and some work to improve the appearance of cities and the list goes on and on.

Charitable nonprofits offer nothing tangible in exchange for the donations they receive. Rather, they must depend on our generosity for their existence. Donors are rewarded with nothing more than the feeling of making things better for themselves and their neighbors.

Why it’s important

Why do we support nonprofits? These days, it seems that everything we do is calculated to provide some benefit in exchange for our time and effort. With that being a sign of the times, why do countless individuals donate millions of dollars and thousands of hours of time toward pursuits that offer no tangible benefit in return?

The answer would differ somewhat from person to person. Some are so supportive of the activity, whether education, the arts or finding a cure for some dreaded disease that they willingly give time and money to further the cause. Some believe that our communities are made better and stronger as the result of civic undertakings and their commitment is to work toward improving their hometowns. Others operate from a strong need to give back to society in appreciation for the opportunities that we have here in America. Whatever the reason, charitable nonprofits depend on people to give without expectation of benefit for their health and continued existence.

What about businesses? Do they have a social conscience that leads them to support nonprofits without any expectation of bottom line benefit? Is it just another form of advertising or is the commitment deeper than profit considerations?
Businesses are collections of individuals who pursue some commercial venture. The group consists of leaders, who make and implement policy decisions, and workers whose primary concern is doing whatever it is that the business does. Though businesses are cold, impersonal apparatuses, they are guided by real people who may, or may not, be sensitive to the needs of the community.

In my judgement, it’s all about leadership. If a business’ leaders are committed to the community and show that commitment through their actions, they will, in turn, encourage their employees to support charitable nonprofits. If the leaders snub their noses at civic involvement and, rather, strictly promote bottom line thinking, their employees are likely to share that attitude. Exceptions abound whereby employees are personally committed to charitable undertakings even though their employers don’t promote it. However, it’s much easier where the leaders support the efforts.

So, why do they do it? I think that business leaders know their success depends, in part, on keeping the community viable. It’s difficult to maintain a stellar business in a declining community and charitable nonprofits play an important role in keeping communities healthy. Employee morale is also important to business leaders and employees are glad to see their employers supporting community activities. So, I think leaders support charitable projects for both practical business reasons and because it’s a civic responsibility.

At the personal level

On an even more personal level, why do I do it? Most everyone who knows me, even casually, knows that I am deeply involved with the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, having served on the board since 1986 and as president of the board for almost half that time. I am also passionately committed to education, particularly economic education and workforce training. Within those venues, I serve as the current president of Junior Achievement of Mississippi and actively support the Mississippi Council for Economic Education. I was a member of the State Workforce Development Council until that organization was effectively dissembled by the Workforce Consolidation Act passed during the last session of the Legislature.

My involvement with charitable organizations dates back over 30 years to the days of running adding machine tapes tallying United Way contributions (it was called the United Givers Fund in those days). Gradually, my involvement increased until, though I no longer keep time records, I’m sure that well over 15% of my time is devoted to non-business pursuits. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though I was not raised in poverty, there were times when I didn’t have enough and, from those humble beginnings, I have risen to full middle-class participation through the miracle of education and the application of hard work. I am grateful for the successes I have enjoyed and I realize that without some help from others, such as the taxpayers in providing public education, I wouldn’t have been able to do whatever it is that I have done. I am deeply indebted to our community for the opportunities that have come my way and volunteering and donating money is my way of honoring that obligation. The Scripture tells us that to whom much is given, much is required.

What of others who feel no obligation to support civic projects? Well, they must answer for themselves. However, I have found over the years that my favorite people have a yearning to return to the community something to honor the life they have enjoyed. Look around at the companies who support charitable nonprofit activities and I think you’ll agree that the best of the bunch are the ones who give back the most.

Thought for the Moment— From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
— Luke 12:48

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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