The Socially Responsible Realtor

Posted by — April 3, 2005

By John Brian Losh

Rob Thomson, co-owner of Waterfront Properties in Southeastern Florida, began vacationing on Walker's Cay, a private island in the Bahamas, as a small boy. Today, he continues to visit the island with his wife and six children. But the tradition was put on hold in September 2004, when Walker's Cay was devastated by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, and the owners decided to sell the island. Instead of choosing a new favorite vacation spot, Rob used his real estate experience and resources to help. He volunteered to work with the owners, to find a buyer for the island, and set up a charity to provide relief to the residents in the meantime. "Walker's Cay is in tough shape, there's no doubt about that. The island needs all the help it can get," he says. Like Rob, thousands of real estate professionals across the country are choosing to donate their time, and money, to a wide variety of charitable causes. This sense of social responsibility was driven home recently with the massive earthquake and tsunamis that struck in the Indian Ocean. Hundreds of real estate and related service companies responded to recovery and relief efforts with financial, and other donations. What's In It for You? The biggest benefit of associating your business with a charity is twofold: the opportunity to help people coupled, with the potential for a tax write-off. According to the nonprofit organization Business for Social Responsibility, your company will benefit in many other ways as well. These include an improved financial performance, and access to capital, an enhanced brand image and sales, a better chance of attracting and retaining a quality workforce, improved decision-making on critical issues, more efficient risk management, and a reduction in long-term costs. Talk about a win-win situation. Another valuable benefit is marketing. Today's savvy buyers and sellers, highly value service and image. By involving your business with a charity doing important work, you will raise your profile and generate valuable goodwill. For example, many realtors choose to support local charities to reinforce their community involvement. Sponsor a fun run with your logo on the T-shirt, and a story on the event could find its way on the local TV news, or the front page of the local newspaper. As an added bonus, you'll be in a position to meet valuable contacts. Many business, political, and community leaders are heavily involved with charities. How to Give Wisely When supporting a charitable organization, the Council of Better Business Bureaus recommends following this advice: * Create a charitable budget Determine how much money or, how many resources your company can afford to give to worthy causes each year. Planning ahead will help you keep track of your total contributions, give you the opportunity to alert the local media to your donation, and potentially receive some community-relations coverage. * Request information A legitimate charity will give you written information outlining its mission and how your donation will be distributed. Before you give, have a clear idea of what kinds of programs the charity operates, how, and where these programs are carried out, how much of your dollar is spent on the charity programs, and how much is spent on fundraising and administrative costs. * Check your facts Some phony charities use names that sound, or look like those of respected organizations. Check with your local charity registration office (usually a division of the state attorney general's office) and your Better Business Bureau to make sure the charity is legitimate. * Never give cash For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Make your check payable to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation. * Clarify tax deductibility A charity must qualify, for your business to be eligible for a tax write-off. Ask the charity for a copy of its letter from the IRS recognizing it as tax-exempt, or call the IRS directly at 1-877-829-5500.

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