Where Are They Now? Lynn Phillips-Gaines

Lynn Phillips-Gaines is a Certified Financial Planner and Principal of Phillips Financial, an independent firm affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services, in Starkville, Mississippi. Through her experience as a financial advisor, she became aware of the existing economic gap and began to wonder what she could do to help individuals rise from poverty. With incredible passion for helping those in need, she founded Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty, a charitable organization with the mission to eradicate poverty in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi by providing education and resources for people in poverty to transition into the middle-class. As a result of her leadership, dedication and community impact, Lynn was honored at the 2014 Invest in Others Community Leadership Awards as Volunteer of the Year. We recently talked to Lynn about Starkville Bridges’ growth since winning the award.

What impact did the $20,000 donation from Invest in Others have on Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty?

The donation from Invest in Others gave a fresh spotlight on our organization and in turn created synergy among our board, steering committee, volunteers, and our community. Thanks to Invest in Others, in January of 2015, Starkville Bridges began spearheading a new network of community groups now known as the Starkville Charity Collaborative, in which local non-profit and emergency aid organizations work together to avoid duplication of services and collectively serve as a community with a common goal rather than individual organizations. To accomplish this, we are using software known as Charity Tracker (a cloud based program dedicated to tracking and monitoring not only the use of charitable funds in an area but also the progress of each “case”- i.e. those who visit the organizations in the network needing assistance).  Thus far, eleven agents from local organizations have been trained, with a total of 102 people served.

How did winning the Invest in Others award increase awareness of Starkville Bridges and its cause?

Articles highlighting Starkville Bridges ran in media outlets such as InvestmentNews, Starkville Daily News, and the Mississippi Episcopalian Newspaper.

Following this recognition by Invest in Others, I was awarded the 2015 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence (GIVE) Award for Outstanding Achievement in Building Sustainable Community Solutions. Most recently, I was awarded REP Magazine’s 2015 Wealth Advisors with Heart Award (which honors advisors who put sweat equity into philanthropic and charitable causes). Both placed additional national awareness on not only my community service record but also the initiatives of Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty.

How did the community respond to the recognition?

In addition to the media spotlight, we received a significant increase in donations made by community members, as well as donations from clients of Phillips Financial. Many of our clients were so kind as to send generous portions of their Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) to be donated to Starkville Bridges.

As a result of the award, I was asked to speak on a panel at the 2015 Raymond James National Conference for Professional Development, titled “Making a Difference: Advisors’ Charitable Giving.” This panel discussed the importance of giving back without seeking any profit for your business. It was well attended and those in the audience learned from advisors taking philanthropic work seriously.

How has winning the award motivated you and the charity?

Following the Invest in Others award, our goal was to allocate the influx of funds towards a new project, rather than the initiatives and classes we’ve held in previous years. Having heard a little about Charity Tracker, I reached out to several community leaders to see if there was interest in organizing that type of initiative. Mike Clayborne, President of the CREATE Foundation (Northeast Mississippi’s Community Foundation) told me, “Of all the things you and Starkville Bridges have worked on in the past and are thinking of focusing on in the future, I think this is the most significant. In the philanthropic arena, intercommunications among various care providers/first responders is notoriously minimal or non-existence. If you can get all of your local non-profits working together, the impact will be profound.”

Seeing how great the need was, we began reaching out to the local chapters of the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Helping Hands Ministries, churches, Oktibbeha Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services, and many others. What became apparent in the first meeting was not only did many of them not know each other, but they were thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate.

Following this meeting, volunteers were trained by Charity Tracker to become Network Administrators for the SCC. Three short months later, 100% of the initial groups have been signed up and are actively using of the program. As the first phase of building the SCC has been successful, we have numerous organizations interested in becoming a part of the group. This progress is a direct result of the $20,000 donated by the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation.

How would you describe Invest in Others and our impact to other advisors?

Invest in Others is a breath of fresh air. There are so many advisors doing amazing work that intentionally goes unnoticed because they don’t do it in hopes of gaining publicity. By spotlighting these efforts, Invest in Others magnifies the generosity of those working in our industry.