Businesses 'give back' in 2010

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.

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 Back on My Feet's N Street Village.

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.

When the Washington Regional Alcohol Program faced a 60 percent increase in demand for its SoberRide program, and a 35 percent drop in corporate support, MillerCoors, Geico, the Century Council and the Restaurant Association opened the tap and made substantial contributions.

And when Our Place DC found itself facing eviction, CREW DC, real estate brokerage run by women, not only came through with some much-needed cash, it provided the real estate and legal expertise necessary to arrange a new lease.

When the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra faced the prospect of having to cut its outreach programs to the county's public schools, Wachovia Bank came forward with a $25,000 grant. In similar fashion, law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, alerted of funding problems at DC SCORES, provided an emergency grant of $30,000.

The Edmonston Urban Farm reports it would not have been able to launch a program to train urban farmers in the Port Towns area of Prince George's County without the $175,000 donation from Kaiser Permanente.

Capital One also gets a shout-out this year for its $150,000 donation that allowed Goodwill to open a new retail store in Falls Church.

Among the many company-sponsored volunteer programs that came to my attention in 2010:

*The 6,000 person-hours donated to Habitat for Humanity by employees of Freddie Mac;

*The annual potluck dinner put on by the employees of government contractor LMI in McLean, which has raised more than $170,000 for Children's Hospital over the years;

*The help given by the lawyers of Mintz Levin for the Thanksgiving food drive at the Central Union Mission;

* The new state-of-the-art playground at the Wheeler Terrace housing complex in Southeast Washington created in one day by 120 volunteers from PNC Bank;

*The 150 volunteers from the Corporate Executive Board who brought their expertise to municipal functions in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina;

*The eight-person team from Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital that flew to Haiti after the January earthquake.

The annual holiday giving strategy at TMG Strategies in Arlington sounds like everyone's childhood fantasy: Employees head out to Toys-R-Us, grab shopping carts and cruise the aisles, filling them to the brim. Chief executive Dan McGinn waits at a special checkout line with the company credit card (this year's tab: $21,000), and the purchases are loaded into a truck for delivery to local charities.

Did you know that food shop Pret A Manger, with just two local stores, provides 100 sandwiches and salads each day to Thrive DC? That works out to more than 30,000 a year.

This is the time of year when many of us remember the sacrifices of those serving in the military overseas, but some companies make it a year-long focus. Boeing, for example, made a $700,000 grant this year to the USO for the construction and operation of a mobile canteen, while IBM consultants helped Our Military Kids to develop a strategy for using social networking to get in touch with more kids and raise more money.

There's a special place in heaven for those who care day after day for loved ones who are severely handicapped. To give them some respite, Marriott International has teamed with the National Children's Center in providing "pampered weekends" at a nearby hotel.

Three big-time law firms - DLA Piper, Mayer Brown and Akin Gump - donated the equivalent of $1.6 million in billable hours to Appleseed this year to aid the 15,000 unaccompanied Mexican children who end up in federal custody every year. And those clever tax lawyers at Bryan Cave helped the YWCA of the National Capital Area come up with a new status that not only freed the organization from paying future taxes but also generated three years of tax rebates.

Building contractors and designers are always getting asked to donate materials and in-kind services to nonprofits. Last year, Balfour Beatty Construction and Greenebaum & Rose Associates were instrumental in the construction of a new Ronald McDonald House in the District. Woodbridge Plumbing donated generously to Project Mend-a-House in Manassas. And the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association and Brookfield Homes Washington teamed up on a condo makeover that Novaco now uses as a shelter for homeless survivors of domestic abuse.

Downriver Canoe Co. in Bentonville, Va., committed itself to donating $1 to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper Conservation Fund for every customer who was taken canoeing, kayaking or tubing on the South Fork this year. That came to more than $14,000, a pretty splashy contribution from a small, seasonal business. Cheers, too, to REI, which made a $20,000 gift to the Friends of Rock Creek's Environment to care for that most urban of waterways on the advice of employees at its Rockville store.

The most effective way for any business to help a nonprofit, of course, is by developing an enduring partnership such as the one that exists between Excella Consulting of Arlington and Homestretch, a social service agency serving the homeless in Northern Virginia. In addition to a donation of $40,000, Excella employees volunteered more than 500 hours this year beautifying homes and finding donated furniture, while the company helped to rebuild Homestretch's information systems. The Excella corporate holiday card features a drawing by a child at Homestretch, and the company holiday party includes a gift-giving program for Homestretch families.

Among other such deep partnerships are the ones between TerpSys and For Love of Children; insurance broker Statland & Katz and Community Bridges; Modern Technology Solutions and New Hope Housing; KPMG and Project GiveBack; and the law firm of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday and the National Center for Children and Families.

I would remiss if I failed to mention the help BB&T provided this year to PHILLIPS Programs; Deloitte and Everybody Wins! DC Power Lunch program; RBC Wealth Management and Super Leaders; AOL and the American Cancer Society; the Inter-American Development Bank and Food & Friends; Goodman & Co. and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Cardinal Bank and Inova's Kellar Center; CPS Professional Services and Easter Seals; Downtown Locker Room and Metro TeenAIDS; and FedEx and Food and Friends.

Also Fieldstone Properties and Camp Fire USA; and the Evans Group Home in Winchester; 3M and the National Park Trust; Noblis and Higher Achievement; EG&G Group and the District Alliance for Safe Housing; Amphora Bakery and the Lamb Center Shelter in Fairfax; LM&O Advertising and ThanksUSA; Equinox Restaurant and the Fair Fund; and Overhead Door Co. and Nick's Place.

I would never have heard about any of these good works had it not been for the help of the United Way, the Meyer Foundation, the Catalogue of Philanthropy and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. In fact, there were many more than I could list. If I overlooked yours, mark your calendar for early December, and try again next year.

The column returns in the new year. Have a wonderful holiday.

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