**This article originally appeared in The Austin Post, February 2014**
In 2008, Laurie Loew started Give Realty, a real estate company that would donate 25 percent of its commissions to charities chosen by clients. Shortly after the business began, the economy collapsed. Yet she persisted in pursuing this donation-based business model, even though it meant taking significant savings from her 401(k) to survive for the first two years.
“Everyone wants to be social entrepreneur or philanthropist once they make money because then it’s easier,” she says. “If you really want to be a social entrepreneur, don’t wait until your company is profitable or you’ll never give – do it from the beginning, similar to saving in a 401(k) before you’re making good money. In both cases, your return on investment won’t be seen for awhile, but ultimately it will be well worth the effort. I obtained most of my business because of the donation model, so I saw it as startup capital.”
Loew’s passion for philanthropy emerged after a divorce, when her financial security was suddenly gone.
“The divorce provided an Aha Moment as we were dividing our many possessions, and I realized it was all just crap I had to dust,” she says. “I also saw that I was lucky to even have money and cars to fight over, so I wanted to incorporate significant giving into my life going forward.”
After a career in medical and semiconductor sales, Loew accidentally fell into real estate in 1995. She was married at the time, and found real estate enjoyable because she didn’t need it to make a living, and it fit well with her extroverted personality. Doing real estate when she suddenly needed it to pay bills after her divorce made it much tougher.
“The only consistency in real estate is the inconsistency of a paycheck,” she says. Yet living on less created Loew’s life motto to Give Big, Live Small.
To find business when she was first starting out, Loew met with leaders of nonprofits to let them know what she was doing, and how she could to contribute to their cause through Give Realty. Word of mouth served as an effective marketing tool to bring in new clients, however she cautions that using generosity and cause marketing for the main purposes of attracting new clients – rather than giving back – doesn’t usually work.
“Some want to be social entrepreneurs as an easy means of attracting clients, but the reality is you still have to be as good or better than your competition,” she says.
One of the best results of Loew’s business model are the types of clients she’s attracted – kind, generous types, many of whom she now considers real friends.
“I never could have strategized what has come organically through this business model, and that includes the quality people I’m able to work with,” Loew says. “My clients are interested in making the world a better place, and they want to see Give Realty succeed – I call each of them my angel investors because they believe in the company and want to make the community stronger. The 25 percent commission donation is a small price to pay to attract quality clients who value my time and respect what I do.”
Loew’s decision to donate 25 percent of her commission came about because it was the share she had been paying to a brokerage. She became her own broker and gave the saved fee.
Most transactions that happen at Give Realty result in a minimum of $1,000 being donated, so it’s always a really impactful amount for the nonprofit,” she says, adding that you’re considered a major donor at most at the $1,000 level. And because it’s a gift – not a grant with strings attached – the money is unrestricted, so the organization leaders can use it in whatever ways they want.
Since it started less than six years ago, Give Realty has donated more than $300,000 to Austin-area nonprofits. When people point out to Loew that she could have spent that money buying a large, lovely home, she says it would just be something to worry about and maintain.
‘I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt,” she says. “There is nothing I could live in, drive or put on my ears or fingers or feet that could make me feels as good as I do when I give.”