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Correction to This Article
Steven Pearlstein's column on the Dec. 22, 2010, Economy & Business pages incorrectly referred to the nonprofit N Street Village as being a part of the Back on My Feet program. N Street Village is an independent organization.

Businesses 'give back' in 2010

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By Steven Pearlstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 3:14 PM

Companies have different ways of "giving back." Some divert a share of profits to fund foundations or charitable giving offices. Others set aside days for their employees to volunteer their time at company expense to a favorite nonprofit. Many develop long-standing partnerships with a cause or a nonprofit.

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I doubt there's any business, however, that more thoroughly hard-wires its charitable work into its everyday operations than Bob's BMW, a motorcycle sales and parts dealership in Jessup, Md. Bob Henig and his crew have made it their business never to let a customer or supplier slip out the door, or complete a transaction, without hitting them up on behalf of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

Maybe it's by participating in the foundation's annual Ride for Kids. Or buying a raffle ticket for a hot, new BMW motorcycle, the proceeds of which are donated for tumor research. Maybe it's buying a ticket to one of Bob's weekend "brunch rides" to an out-of-the-way restaurant he's discovered with good food and a good-hearted owner, or to one of his "garage tours" to see some amazing private collections of vintage cars and motorcycles. Maybe it's donating a used cycle, or bidding on a donated titanium muffler, at one of Bob's Oktoberfest auctions.

However they do it, this small business with 30 employees and less than $10 million in sales now raises more than $100,000 annually to help find a cure for pediatric tumors.

"I do it because it needs to be done, because it makes me feel good and because it brings out the best in so many other people," Henig told me.

Henig got hooked 18 years ago by a beautiful 9-year-old with a wig, Christina Higgs, who rode in his sidecar during his first Ride for Kids. And even now he still chokes up when he tells how Christina survived her tumor, graduated from college and is living with her husband in Massachusetts.

This same philanthropic hard-wiring can be found at Acumen Solutions, the Vienna-based technology and management consulting firm. Each year, Acumen sponsors an 8K Race for a Cause that this year raised $81,000 for a dozen nonprofits the company has adopted. Acumen's involvement goes beyond the money, however, to include service by executives on the nonprofits' boards, strategic management advice and donations of technology and technology services.

In 2010, JBG Companies, the venerable real estate developer, celebrated its 50th anniversary with a 50 Days of Giving program. Over the summer, more than 400 employees organized into 25 teams fanned out across the region to volunteer their time at nonprofits. JBG also weighed in with a $50,000 contribution to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Under the category of big numbers: Accenture, the national technology and management consulting firm, committed $100 million over the next three years to teach 250,000 people around the world the skills necessary to get a job or build a business. Among the local organizations Accenture is working with are N Street Village, an independent organization.

Aronson & Co. might not be in Accenture's league, but the Rockville accounting firm is a big philanthropic player in Montgomery County. The Aronson Foundation provides $100,000 in grants and contributions most years to four or five selected charities, in addition to 10,000 hours of donated services and volunteer work.

Toronto-based TD Bank has certainly put down some deep local roots since coming to Washington, contributing nearly $500,000 to local organizations this year. The bank focuses on financial literacy and affordable housing. TD has developed WOW!Zone, an interactive financial literacy program that is offered free to local schools.

In hard times, some worthy nonprofits inevitably get into a financial bind, which is why we should be thankful for last-minute reprieves. That happened to Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE) in late 2009 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stepped in with a $20,000 check that proved to be the catalyst for raising $140,000 more. The chamber followed up with another $15,000 this year.


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