Tossing a buck or 2,000 toward her favorite charitable organizations just didn't do it for Jillian Manus. So when she joined her mother's already-established literary agency 15 years ago, she decided to overhaul the business plan a bit. Now, about 80 percent of Manus & Associates Literary Agency's profits - at least $500,000 per year - go to support literacy and education efforts, women's issues, and other groups. "It was the thought that instead of just writing checks from my own funds, I could generate more money for charity with the business," says Manus, the company's president.
When she first set out, Manus didn't have a model for what she wanted to do. "I made it up because my ability to give was limited," she says. When she was considering making the move to her mother's firm, she "was just thinking that in my next job I wanted to love what I do and give as much as I can." Luckily, Mom bought into the plan. "She was always philanthropic," Manus says of her mother, Janet Wilkens Manus.
All of the charities are handpicked by Jillian Manus, although her employees are encouraged to suggest places that could use a bit of help. A large portion of the funds the company hands out goes to a set list of organizations, including the Bring Me a Book Foundation and College Track, but about 10 percent is held back as a flexible give to be used on an as-needed basis.
At Manus & Associates, the literary agents get a commission from the 15 percent fee the agency collects when they sell a book to a publisher. Another piece of the fee goes to overhead, and the rest goes to nonprofits, says Manus, adding, "We never show a profit because we're not profitable." But don't mistake not-profitable with not-serious: Manus was the agency behind such big books as The One Minute Millionaire and Cane River (yes, the same book Oprah chose for her Book Club). "We sell 99 percent of the projects we take on," Manus says.
Manus & Associates is not the only company set up to give away its profits - Paul Newman has given away more than $175 million raised through his Newman's Own brand since he bottled his first salad dressing in 1982 - but it definitely is a rare bird. And there are plenty of philanthropic programs, but few businesses are set up to give away the bottom line. Clearly, it requires a sizable cash reserve or an additional business to be able to give up a fair share of the profits.
Bill Broich and his wife, Phyllis McGavick Broich, do just that with their second business, McGavick Winery in (appropriately enough) Grapeview, Washington.
In 1976, Bill Broich founded the Ste. Chapelle Winery in Sunnyslope, Idaho, then sold it to go into the insurance business. Five years ago he decided he wanted to get back into winemaking as a hobby. But since the couple had to go "through all those hoops" of getting a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms anyway, says McGavick Broich, they decided to do something more than their original plan of a "little hobby winery." They swap cases of their wine for $200 checks - which are tax-deductible - made out to one of five local charities. "The theory behind this is to help the greater good by providing help on the local level," says Broich. The winery produces about 3,000 cases of wine per year.
The Broiches pay all of the winery's overhead out of their own pockets - at least $80,000 annually.
But the Broiches make it clear that they get back a lot more than the dollars they put in: "We have been blessed in recent years, and this is our way of giving back to our community," says Broich. Actually, the winery motto is noblesse oblige - the blessed are obliged. His wife adds: "We spent so much time working hard on the insurance business that we didn't get to focus on that" giving-back sort of attitude.
And then there’s Golden Gate Community Inc. (GGCI), which gives back — internally. The umbrella organization, which began 25 years ago by operating a homeless shelter in San Francisco, now runs three social-purpose businesses that train homeless and at-risk youth and adults between the ages of 14 and 30, says CEO Tess Reynolds.
Founded 15 years ago, the first GGCI company, Ashbury Images, a production shop for custom screen-printing on T-shirts and promotional products, now accounts for $2.2 million in annual revenues. Though Ashbury revenues help support other GGCI programs, the money also supports an in-house training program. “Basically, Ashbury pays for itself,” says general manager Kevin McCracken, who started working at the company six years ago after going through a substance-abuse program.
He feels very strongly that GGCI tactics can be put into play at other companies: “I will challenge other business owners to step out of themselves a little … to do something a little bit different.”
No matter the business, one concept remains golden: producing good work or good products must come first — or there will be no business. “This isn’t fantasy land,” says McCracken. “We’re very good.”