H&R Block filed its intentions Thursday to contribute $6.5 million over the next five years to support neighborhood revitalization and the success of small businesses nationally — with $3.5 million slated specifically for Kansas City.
“Make Every Block Better” teams the Kansas City-born tax preparation giant with five key partners in the local entrepreneur and development spaces, said Jeff Jones, H&R Block president and CEO, at the program’s announcement.
“We’re calling it a community impact platform because that’s what we wanted to do. We don’t just want to say something. We don’t just want to give something. We want to do something,” Jones said. “We think we have a chance — with partners — to really, really tackle some big topics that are happening in the world, and having an impact on local communities.”
Partners include the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, KCRise Fund II, the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, Habitat for Humanity and Nextdoor.
Click here to read more about the individual partnerships.
“We live in a world today where, despite how much more connected we are with technology, we are disconnected from each other. There is an epidemic in this country of social isolation and loneliness,” said Jones, recalling a strategy gathering in October of H&R Block’s leadership team and franchisees. “I told personal stories about what I’ve seen with my father when my mom died last year. I talked about having two teenage daughters who can’t separate from their phones.”
“I asked people to dream big because what does any of that have to do with taxes?” he continued. “Well, nothing. But when you look at the scale and the human advantage our company has, and the fact that every year our offices serve about 12 million people — and when we’re serving those 12 million people, they’re sitting across from a tax professional, usually for about an hour, and it’s one of the most personal, intimate financial conversations (maybe one of the most important conversations) that person has had with anybody in a long time.”
It amounts to millions of hours in human connections, Jones emphasized.
“But that’s just the office part,” he said.
Supporting organizations that can help draw people together to build a stronger, more vibrant business scene is the broader goal, Jones said.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s very lonely. You need resources and access and friendships and connections as you’re thinking about scaling and growing,” he said. “How can we bring together a group of partners that can reestablish connections to help the spaces where people convene?”
The first piece of the puzzle was a $2 million investment in KCRise Fund, which Jones announced in October at a Back2KC event, he said.
Click here to read more about the investment.
“This is a chance for us to literally put our money where our mouth is to help the portfolio of companies grow and thrive through capital,” Jones said. “But we think we can do more as mentors and through other resources to help those entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and vision as well.”
Another element of the strategy involves partnering with the hometown organization that bears the name of H&R Block founder Henry Bloch’s friend and contemporary, Ewing Marion Kauffman, he said.
“Having spent a little time in Silicon Valley, I knew about this organization — but I didn’t know it was here … one of the premier organizations in the world that thinks about this topic is in Kansas City,” Jones said. “I knew two years ago that we had to find a way to partner with them.”
H&R Block plans to work with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to study the needs of new and small business owners, as well as how to best impact their lives and communities.
“Our work at Kauffman is about asking ‘How do we build the most connected ecosystems for entrepreneurs? How do we strengthen entrepreneurs? And how do we strengthen the communities in which they work?’” said Philip Gaskin, executive entrepreneurship leader at the Kauffman Foundation.
Recognizing the importance and roles of ecosystem builders are vital steps, he continued.
“If there are three entrepreneurs starting a business a month, there’s 997 others who can support them. Those are the teachers, the entrepreneur support organizations, the corporate businesses,” Gaskin said. “You don’t need a fancy title to be in the ecosystem. You just have to have heart and want to support.”
Heart is at the center of H&R Block’s Make Every Block Better effort, Jones said, recalling his meeting with the late Henry Block when he joined the business two years ago.
“[Henry] hoped that I would help his company matter in the community again. And that is something that I held in my heart from that moment — my first week at H&R Block,” Jones said. “So I know what this new beginning would mean to him. And I know what it means to the company.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.