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Commentary and Opinion Dec 17, 2014 - 5:18:36 PM

OPINION: Taking the Entrepreneurial Approach to Philanthropy

By Mitzi Perdue

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Individuals and corporations in Connecticut are among the most generous in the country when it comes to supporting non-profit organizations.

What interests me most is that, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in 2012, individuals in Connecticut who made $25,000 or less gave 5.5 percent of their income to charity, the largest share donated by any income group in the state of the more than 3.6 billion donated by individuals.

My late husband, Frank Perdue, had an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy long before it was in vogue. He donated in ways that would create more donations, whether it was in the 1970s being an example of company-wide support for the United Way, or creating matching funds for permanent endowments for 19 local charities.

I recalled in my recent book “Tough Man, Tender Chicken,” how thrilled I was to find out that he had made what I considered a major gift to the Girl Scouts. As a former Girl Scout myself, I was bursting with pride and thinking about what a wonderful thing he had done that helps girls “build courage, confidence, and character.” I thought what wonderful publicity this would be for the Perdue Company. However, Frank’s director of public relations told me that this wasn’t going to happen. Frank preferred to keep quiet about all his donations.

Too many times, we don’t do something because it is the right thing; we do it because we want attention. I doubt if those low income families in Connecticut expected any recognition for their charitable contributions. They gave money because it helped their neighbors, strengthened their church or supported their children’s school.

I believe that companies like Perdue have a moral obligation to contribute to the communities where they do business. This is one reason why Frank Perdue endowed the Perdue School of business school at Salisbury University. He was convinced to lend his name to the school not because of self-aggrandizement, but as a signal to potential donors that investing in education in the region was a good thing to do. His money was an imprimatur that the University deserved support

The $10 million that Frank donated to make the Perdue School of Business possible had a multiplier effect. The gift enabled three other endowments to follow for the University’s Schools of Science, Liberal Arts, and Education. The school credits Frank’s gift with enabling the subsequent gifts to happen. It was the anchor that eventually resulted in $100 million in gifts to the local university.

Another lesson Frank taught me is that it just not enough to write a check. You need to bring your expertise to an organization to ensure that the money is well spent and the group’s mission is achieved.

This is the time of year that many people are deciding what organizations they will support. Philanthropy is an important part of what it means to be Americans, a tradition that goes back to the 19th century when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in “Democracy in America “ of the American desire to form association and share wealth for the greater good.

I encourage you to not only be generous with your charitable giving, but also get involved. There are wonderful organizations in Connecticut that desire a commitment of both your money and time.

Mitzi Perdue is the author of Tough Man Tender Chicken: Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue

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