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A fundraiser who inspires giving

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When Rui Garcia, founder and chief executive of management and technology consulting firm Acuity, wrote a $25,000 check to leasing agent Susan Sonley, he wasn’t sure how far the money would go.

Three point one miles around the National Mall, to be exact. Or at least that’s how far Sonley walked to raise money for breast cancer awareness just after she and her team won the top fundraising award at the recent Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure. The event drew 40,000 people to the National Mall to support breast cancer education, screening and treatment programs in the Washington region.

But the story goes back two years ago when Sonley, vice president at Grubb & Ellis, secured new office space in Herndon for Garcia’s growing company. She was 12 years cancer-free but when she heard Garcia’s colleague had breast cancer, she went to help.

“The two became very close,” said Garcia.

Since Garcia started the company nine years ago, he has focused the corporate philanthropy toward military troops and children with illnesses. The company recently funded the opening of a new lodging area at Jill’s House, a nonprofit that provides care for children with intellectual disabilities.

But his attention later turned to breast cancer.

“[We] had talked about ways to help,” Garcia said. “That’s when Susan went into detail about what she was doing.”

Sonley had been fundraising for the Susan G. Komen race since her fifth year of living cancer-free. Since then she and her teams have raised a total of $735,000. The first year she raised $5,000. Eventually she was number one in fundraising.

She annually solicits donors by sending out save-the-date e-mails to a list that now numbers 500 people, mostly in the real estate community. Her strategy? Tenacity.

“People give up too easily,” Sonley said. “They send one e-mail. I remind people to keep asking. If people never get asked, they can’t donate.”

Ironically, Sonley never asked Garcia.

At a Christmas party last year, Garcia invited all of the company’s nonprofit grantees. Sonley attended not knowing the gift — the $25,000 check — that awaited her.

“She was really surprised,” Garcia said.

This year, Sonley raised nearly $67,000 with donors including JBG, Boston Properties and Velsor. The race raised a total of $5 million.

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