Leonsis: Empathy is important for business owners and nonprofits


Washington sports mogul Ted Leonsis gave the keynote speech at the annual breakfast. (Evy Mages/For Capital Business)
October 23, 2011

If you’ve never cleaned a public bathroom, then you haven’t lived, according to Ted Leonsis, who owns the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and Washington Mystics teams.

Speaking before a group of 250 business and nonprofit leaders and policymakers, Leonsis explained that he cleaned the women’s restroom at the Verizon Center after a Mystics game because he wanted to experience camaraderie with all members of his staff — including the janitorial crew.

“Finding empathy in what you do is vital to your success,” said Leonsis, appearing recently at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s annual breakfast at the Columbus Club in Union Station.

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement acts as a resource hub for its 1,000 nonprofit members, providing education, training, networking and advocacy. The breakfast celebrated the center’s 32 years of service and encouraged partnerships across sectors.

“Since this recession, our theme has been more around connecting corporations and businesses and helping them to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships that can help build stronger communities,” said Glen O’Gilvie, the center’s chief executive. “We’ve turned the conversation to charitable investment and help nonprofits articulate what the return on investment is, from a social perspective, to the corporation.”


Bread for the City’s George Jones received a $5,000 professional development stipend and a $2,000 grant to use for staff development from the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. (Evy Mages/For Capital Business)

Karen Campbell, Verizon’s regional vice president, said he agrees that corporations want to be more invested.

“We don’t really like to just give a check,” Campbell said. “I like to understand the mission of the organization, work with them and we can grow together on initiatives and issues.”

Leaders in the public sector also won awards for their involvement with the nonprofit community.

The recipients were Prince George’s County Council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), Bruce Adams of the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships, the Fairfax County Office of Public Private Partnerships and District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The center also presented awards to nonprofit leaders it considered innovative, ethical, strategic and motivational.


Karen Campbell, a regional vice president at Verizon. (Evy Mages/For Capital Business)

Those winners were Wendy Gradison of PRS, George Jones of Bread for the City and Maya Enista Smith of Mobilize.org. Each received a $5,000 stipend and a $2,000 grant for staff development. The event’s corporate sponsors included M&T Bank, Kaiser Permanente, 125 Co., Pepco Holdings, PNC, UnitedHealthcare, Verizon, React Media and Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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