It's never too late to applaud holiday acts

December 29, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

Happens every year at this time: Someone tells me about some good organization or cause that could have used a little attention before the holidays arrived, or they describe a charitable gesture that deserved notice a couple of weeks ago, when readers throughout Central Maryland were scratching around for new ways to be generous.

Part of me says: Save it for next year, make the suggestions when people are open again to giving to a worthy cause.

But it's never too late -- or too early -- to be spreading these ideas around in what the U.S. Census Bureau considers the third-wealthiest state in the nation (with the sixth-poorest city at its heart). So here goes: two experiences worth considering -- and maybe repeating.

Corporate citizen

The people who run Campaign Consultation, a cool Baltimore-based company that has won praise for its rapid revenue growth and its public-spirited mission, like to practice what they preach. So this company, named to Inc. magazine's Inner City 100 in 2004, shares profits with its employees and good causes -- and they let the former choose the latter.

If there are any CEOs in the room, please take note: After a good 2006, you might want to try this at next year's holiday office party. Believe it or not, being a good boss and good citizen is good for business, and a growing number of consumers are noticing. You can look it up, or call Steven Rivelis, the chief executive at Campaign Consultation.

The company he and his wife founded in 1988 has offices in a Charles Village rowhouse.

They get paid for social missions -- to make other companies into better corporate citizens, make nonprofit groups healthier and more effective, and help reverse the decline of communities. They're out to save the world in the entrepreneurial manner.

The company performs on an international level now; it has a staff of 15 in Baltimore and associates throughout the United States. When it was noted by Inc., the company's revenues gave it a ranking of 40th among the top 100 inner-city concerns in the nation.

As the holiday season approaches, Rivelis and his wife, Linda Brown Rivelis, take their staff out to lunch. The company shares 5 percent of its pretax profits with employees. Then, the Rivelises and their 13 employees take part in deciding what causes will receive another 5 percent of Campaign Consultation's profits.

It's called Give 5, and it's been an annual ritual since 1990.

"It's one of the joyous days of the year," says Steven Rivelis.

"We close the books and take 5 percent of our December-to-December profits, and everyone gets to make a pitch for a cause. We go around the table and everyone tells us what they'd like us to support -- and in what dollar amount. It's a good exercise in consensus-building."

At this year's four-hour Give 5 lunch, the group decided to share profits with four local organizations, plus Accion, the international "microlender" that helps poor people around the world establish small businesses and become self-reliant; Ceasefire Maryland, a gun-control advocacy group; the Innocence Project, a law clinic that uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongly jailed inmates; and Break the Chain, an organization that provides legal services to domestic workers it believes are abused and held against their will.

"Your world becomes broader [as] employees bring to the table causes you might never have thought about," Steven Rivelis says. "It's our little bit to save the world."

Angel Tree

Karen Stokes wanted to do more than just write a check to a charity. She wanted to give a Christmas gift to a child but didn't want to just drop off an unwrapped toy at a collection site and be done with it. She also seemed interested in helping in the realm of the incarcerated -- or, at least, the children of those incarcerated. In this nation, more than 2 million men and women are in prison.

So Stokes took part in the Angel Tree project, through the Cathedral of the Incarnation in North Baltimore. The Angel Tree works through numerous churches to provide Christmas presents for children of men and women who request the help from behind bars.

"You select the name of a child with a parent in prison, and then you purchase a gift for that child from the parent," says Stokes. "I selected a 15-year-old boy (partly because I have a 15-year-old son). The first hurdle was calling up the mom and introducing myself and finding out what size jacket her son needed and what kind of CD or video game he might like. It was a little bit awkward, neither of us mentioning the fact that her son's dad was in prison. But I got the boy's name because the dad was trying to stay connected to his child. My role was to assist the father by getting some gifts in his name."

Stokes bought two gifts for the boy within the budget prescribed by Angel Tree. Then she set out to deliver them. "I had to drive to a neighborhood I was not familiar with," she reports, "and actually meet the mom. I handed her the gifts and wished her a merry Christmas. She reached out to me and gave me a hug -- two strangers wishing each other a merry Christmas. This was one of the best aspects of my Christmas giving.

"I know it is such a cliche about how giving can actually make you feel better than the person you are giving to. I don't know how that boy feels, having received something from his dad, who is in prison, but it sure made me feel good for trying to connect to this stranger out there.

"Part of the program instructions was to write a note to the prisoner telling him what you bought for their child. I hope my note made him feel more connected to his family."

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