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Mentioned in this Article:
Ross Ellis

Ross Ellis
East Side Office

Brokers Weekly

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Author: Jason Turcotte

Even in the toughest of markets, real estate brokers are still seeking out ways to give back to the community, and now a new program is encouraging them to donate portions of their commissions to benefit thousands of at-risk youth in New York.

Commissions for a Cause (C4C), the latest arm of The Catalog for Giving organization, already has a strong contingency of real estate professionals using generous portions of their transaction commissions to benefit 10 local charities. Of The Catalog's 17 board members, eight of them work within the real estate industry.

The C4C program operates thanks to real estate firms and brokers teaming to designate a percentage of their rental and sales fees to support The Catalog's member organizations – organizations that strive to better the lives of youth whose lives are impacted by poverty, crime, drugs and violence.

The Corcoran Group's Keith Davidson is one of those brokers glad to be giving. Upon learning about the program, he recently donated part of his commissions from the $1.4 million sale of 77 Bleecker Street.

"Supporting this charity softens the blow to potential rental customers who are aware that a portion of the fee that I collect from them goes to a good cause," Davidson said.

In fact, a real estate client was one of the first on board with the new opportunity, according to C4C board member James Nelson, a partner at Massey Knakal.

Nelson, who has served on the Catalog for Giving board for several years, was drawn to the group's mission because 100% of proceeds assist youth charities in his own backyard. When he told client Mary Swartz - who tapped Nelson to sell a townhouse – about the new C4C project, she and her late husband committed $10,000 of their own money to match the donation of Nelson and his firm.

While Swartz had not heard of the organization before Nelson's explanation, she was pleased about putting the money to "extremely good use." And she was so moved by the cause that she now serves proudly on The Catalog for Giving's board.

The aim of C4C includes convincing other parties from real estate related industries on board. Beyond the broker and real estate firm, C4C seeks matches from attorneys, lenders, mortgage brokers, appraisers and engineers.

The cause has certainly come a long way from its inception, when Flank's Jon Kully and Mick Waldsdorf featured The Catalog in their sales materials for a condo project at 385 West 12th Street. The pair saw an opportunity in spreading the cause through real estate's expansive network and encouraging professionals within the industry to donate.

Others have been quick to build up that network.

Flank managing director Tim Crowley and Heather McDonough, of Brown Harris Stevens, too, have earmarked portions of the 380 West 12th Street co-op sales fees for C4C. The two-bedroom unit is listed at $1.6 million.

And before C4C, two real estate professionals – vice president Kerry Fedigan-Cid and senior vice president Steve Cid, both of Prudential Douglas Elliman – founded Giving House, a donor-advised fund through The Giving Back Fund organization, as a way to encourage brokers in the industry to contribute a portion of their commissions to community-based charities.

Participants in the Giving House program agree to donate part of their commissions to the charity of their clients' choice.

A recent partnership with the New York Yankees highlights one example of the group's selfless work. Yankees fans that purchased a 2009 season ticket package or luxury suite through PDE subsidiary, DE Worldwide, had the opportunity to donate a portion of the sales price to the community group of their choice.

Clearly the brokerage community is no stranger to generosity, and there are some brokers who took on real estate for the primary reason of supporting charitable causes.

Halstead Property's Ross Ellis, for example, made real estate a second career five years ago when fundraising for her nonprofit, Love Our Children USA, became difficult post 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

"I wish I could say we can help all children but we can't. But we do help a lot, and that makes me feel very good," Ellis said.

Ellis launched Love Our Children USA after interning for a Chicago-based child abuse organization's Albany, N.Y. office. The more she learned about the high number of children abused and neglected, the more attached to the cause she became - and the more passionate she became about making a difference.

"If I can help someone, that's no sweat off my back and it's making someone else happier and doing some good," Ellis said. "If you spread the kindness, it'll carry you."

Last week CBRE's Suzanne Sunshine announced the launch of her own firm, Sunshine & Associates, which will offer both residential and commercial brokerage and consulting services to nonprofits – including their staff, volunteers and board members. And the new company will donate a percentage of its fees back to each nonprofit client.

Working under CBRE's nonprofit division, Sunshine’s lengthy list of clients included the American Ballet Theatre, the New York Historical Society, YMCA of Greater New York, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and many others. She was most recently involved in handling new nonprofit lease space at Columbus Circle's 1865 Broadway.

There are even examples of entire firms forking over commission checks to charities; Charity Realty was established on the notion of lending a helping hand to charities nationwide. After the Internet reduced overhead exponentially for the San Diego, Calif.-based residential firm, the organization launched an offering to donate 20% of their commission to their client's charity of choice.

Even during challenging economic times, Crowley says C4C – with its expenses fully funded by The Catalog board - makes giving easy. "In this difficult financial environment donations are increasingly difficult to solicit...The C4C program is mindful of this in two ways: the donations are small and the gift is given out of proceeds prior to those monies being a truly realized gain," he said.

With Newcastle Realty Service and Citi Habitats' West Village office also joining the program, the push for citywide expansion is paying off. To date, The Catalog has raised $10 million and assisted the lives of more than 150,000 children in Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

"I believe this campaign will be extremely successful as donors typically respond very favorably when asked to match a donation," Nelson said. "Every time a C4C sale happens, there's a chance for all parties to get involved and make an exponential impact."

To participate or learn more about the REBNY endorsed Commissions for a Cause program, call 212-765-8212 or visit www.catalogforgiving.org.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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