December 20, 2013 10:06:33 AM
Early one morning this week, as I was preparing for the day, I heard a startling pronouncement from a television personality for a promotional piece on Christmas giving. The announcer stated flatly that Mississippi led the nation in giving. Being the skeptic I am about such unequivocal statements, it stayed with me. Considering what I knew about Mississippi I didn't doubt that we were high up on the list, but No. 1?
When I got to the office I did what any red-blooded curious individual with Internet access does: I googled it. She was close. We are actually No. 2 in terms of the percentage of our disposable income we give to charitable causes according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's most recent report. Utah is first with a fairly wide margin of 10.6 percent that they donate and Mississippi is second with 7.2 percent of our income we donate to charities. Close behind us is Alabama at 7.1 percent. What is also interesting is that of the 11 SEC states six are in the top 10 in charitable giving. Right after Alabama is Tennessee followed by South Carolina, then Arkansas and Georgia. Other than Utah and Idaho, the South appears to love football and giving more than our fellow 50 states.
The percent of income is a hugely important statistic since if you broke it down into dollars or actual money provided Mississippi would fall far short of No. 2. That is because of another statistic that makes our generosity even more significant. Mississippi is still the poorest state in the union. We rank 50th in per capita income. So basically 7.2% of the lowest income of $37,095 is much less than 5.7% of the $71,221 that comes from Maryland, the state with the highest per capita income. The bottom line is that we may have the least but we share more of what we do have than anyone else. That makes us pretty special.
You see this generosity reflected in any paper that you pick up and any news program that you watch. We Mississippians are holding out our collective hands to our neighbors and friends not to take, but to give. We do it all during the year, from disaster aid to Special Olympics, but at Christmas we really shine. The adopt-a-family programs, the clothing drives and turkey giveaways are a frequent part of the offerings to others. There are few ideas for donating to help others that haven't been tried in Mississippi.
One of the interesting things I found in doing the research on this topic was our tendency to volunteer. I would have thought that Mississippians would have scored off the charts on volunteerism before we did on monetary donations. Not so. Twenty-one percent of us volunteer, a number below the national average of 26 percent. Maybe we are watching SEC football instead or maybe that ties in to that other unpleasant statistic in which Mississippi leads: No. 1 in obesity. We don't get off the couch to volunteer. We happily open our relatively empty wallets, but we won't get off our collective rears to do the active, no-cost, and participatory work of charitable giving.
As I started this article, like so many I have written, I was headed in one direction and ended up taking a rather unexpected and uncomplimentary turn. In doing so I had to come face to face with my own reality of being very willing to give money to causes I favor, but much less willing to provide hands-on time for those causes.
I know why, based on my choice of charities, but that doesn't mean that I can't choose to volunteer somewhere I won't come home with all the animals at the shelter.
So, since this is also the time of year when we make resolutions about making personal changes and improvements, I am challenging myself to give at least one day a month (or 12 days a year) to some hands-on cause that needs an unskilled laborer. While I am not sure at this point what that will be, I feel certain that there will be a Habitat House or a theater set or some other cause that could use a willing hand. If I am going to be an advocate for change, I will follow Michael Jackson's advice and start with the woman in the mirror.
I'm just going to have to figure out how to get it done before football season.