Law firm forges new model for corporate giving, makes cash commitment upfront


Russell Bruemmer, a partner at Wilmer Hale, along with colleagues Michelle Leonard and Danielle Lymore, gives donations to a Bread for the City representative. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)
December 23, 2012

In an emerging model for corporate giving, WilmerHale — one of the District’s largest law firms — signed a contract this month with D.C. nonprofit Bread for the City that locks the firm in to donate a set amount of money to the group over the next three years.

Government grants and foundations have long made charitable contributions this way, but the idea of private companies making a multi-year financial pledge is relatively new, said Kristin Valentine, chief development officer for Bread for the City, which provides food, clothing, medical care and legal and social services to District residents in need.

Valentine said WilmerHale’s pledge gives the nonprofit the ability to budget, knowing it can rely on a certain amount of cash to come from the law firm.

“Having this commitment helps us with our strategic planning when it comes to feeling comfortable about our cash flow,” Valentine said. “It’s a big stabilizing factor for us. In many ways, it saves us money because it takes time and resources to find resources.”

WilmerHale declined to specify how much it is giving annually, but Bread for the City said it will use the donation over the next three years to fund 29,762 meals, 244 medical visits, 1,323 hours of legal work and 718 meetings between the group’s staffers and people who come in for help finding jobs, housing or information about where to take classes.

The law firm first entered into a formal contract with Bread for the City in 2008, and has renewed it every few years since. This most recent contract runs from 2013 to 2015.

“Before, our giving was smaller amounts here and there, or a single [volunteer] event to which we contributed,” said WilmerHale partner Russ Bruemmer, liaison for the firm’s partnership with Bread for the City. “This way, we have a sense of being in a relationship with one of the most impactful charities in our community.”

As part of the partnership, WilmerHale employees also donate clothing and food during the holidays, and participate in volunteer events throughout the year. Past donations from WilmerHale to Bread for the City have helped fund a new food delivery truck, a dental clinic and a rooftop garden, Bruemmer said.

WilmerHale has cemented seven other contractual partnerships with nonprofits across its 11 offices worldwide, including one with the See Forever Foundation, the D.C. nonprofit that founded and supports the Maya Angelou Public Charter School.

At least one other D.C. company has followed WilmerHale’s model. In 2010, Avalere Health, a Washington strategic advisory firm that focuses on health care, began structuring its charitable giving to Bread for the City after WilmerHale’s, pledging to contribute a set amount of money over three years. Avalere declined to specify the amount, but the company’s senior vice president Tanisha Carino said the three-year agreement goes beyond financial support.

When new associates join Avalere, they learn about Bread as part of new employee orientation. And employees work with Bread staffers on health policy issues — Avalere’s area of professional expertise — such as whether the nonprofit, in light of health care reform, should make changes in its reimbursement designation to qualify for federal grants.

“For us, the financial contribution is the base. It helps us channel our volunteer activities and giving to an organization that our staff feels a connection to,” said Carino, who serves on Bread for the City’s board of directors.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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