How a passion grew into 'doing business doing good'

In 1986, I started MAP Real Estate as an office tenant-rep specialist. I've enjoyed helping our for-profit and nonprofit clients in over 850 office lease transactions in the city and suburbs and building many personal relationships. But the greatest gift has been discovering how to harness MAP to do some good and creating a social enterprise to extend that impact exponentially.

The story started a while ago. I can still remember the shame I felt when my parents took us to a restaurant where an elderly man, whose skin was a different color than mine, worked as the bathroom attendant. I was in 3rd grade. Later, I learned that my two Cleveland "cousins" were foster kids who had lost almost their entire family in concentration camps. I felt powerless to make any difference. Much later, a sense of relief began to grow that I could do something.

Investing In Communities (IIC) started as a business experiment that my partner, Sharon, and I began in 1995. We wanted to stand out in a very crowded field. Our hypothesis was that we could create business opportunities by giving away money every time we closed a deal on another office lease. (Full disclosure - I'm Sharon's lucky husband.)

The idea was to let each client pick a charity to which we'd donate part of our commission, which is always paid to us by the landlord. IIC turned out to be a perfect way to combine our business lives with our personal interests. We called the approach "doing business doing good." And we wanted to do more of both.

We got to work on our experiment. Because we're in a licensed profession, every aspect of our business activity must comply with the Illinois License Act. So we sought assurance that our experiment wouldn't blow up the laboratory and cause us to lose our licenses.

We contacted the Illinois Department of Banks and Real Estate, which then regulated brokers, to describe our plan.

A staff attorney stated, "A licensee may give any part of its commission to the client from whose transaction the commission was earned. But, a licensee may not give anything of value to their client's favorite charity." We realized that we could remain in compliance with the Act by giving our clients part of our commission and asking them to give it to their charities. We decided on 10 percent of the gross, not 10 percent of profit.

The attorney also said "no strings attached." We could ask clients to give our money to their charity, but couldn't require it. So, when we entered into an exclusive agency agreement with a client, we also gave them a written pledge for 10 percent of our future commission, asking them to give it to their charity.

Gradually, something great had been happening over the years that we conducted our experiment. IIC stopped being just a way for us to create business opportunities and became our passion. We wanted to scale the idea of client-directed broker-funded philanthropy. So, in 2007 we formed an Illinois nonprofit to separate IIC from MAP.

While IIC has always been a nonprofit, it's the opposite of a charity. IIC doesn't take donations, it gives them. We're relieved that through this platform, we can do what we've always wanted to do - help others and, potentially, a lot of others! As IIC scales, we hope the amount of good it does will exceed our wildest dreams.

MAP has given over $500,000 of our own commissions to our clients' favorite charities. It's been a wonderfully rewarding experience - with a lot of hard work, too - to build IIC, helping others to power their passion. Now, IIC can enable individuals and companies to support charities of their choice, at no personal or company expense, using any broker for the purchase and sale of homes and leasing commercial space, across the country. To use IIC, consumers just need to visit before they engage a broker.

•Michael A. Pink is chairman and executive director of Investing In Communities, based in Chicago.

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