It’s Your Business: On philanthropy and paying it forward


It might seem counterintuitive that a person toiling to grow a small business could also find time to nurture seeds of philanthropy. But every day in the Charlotte region, scores of small business owners lay aside their spreadsheets and business plans to pursue the cause of giving.

Consider the case of Bruce Bleiman, co-founder of Giving Tree Realty. Although the company is only five years old, he and his wife, co-founder Brandy Gaiser-Bleiman, CEO, have made local philanthropy a “foundational pillar” of everything they do as business owners.

Their local nonprofit, Giving Tree Charities, each quarter identifies a “community drive” to be the focus of a fundraising effort. Beneficiaries have included local organizations such as Crisis Assistance Ministry, Humane Society and Goodwill Industries.

Bruce Bleiman said he now dedicates between 10 percent and 15 percent of his work hours to local philanthropy.

Not only is giving back good for the community, he said. He also believes that, in due time, it will also be good for business.

In addition to the foundation, each of the company’s 43 brokers – Bleiman calls them “broker associates” – is aligned with a charity of his or her choosing. And each time a property is sold, Bleiman said, Giving Tree Realty makes a donation to that broker’s selected charity.

“I get up every morning now and my passion is to have an army of real estate brokers…doing great real estate work for their clients and impacting their charitable organizations in our community,” he said.

Each fall, the Bleimans’ nonprofit organization partners with other local groups to buy and collect toy that are distributed at Christmastime to children of U.S. military service members who are deployed, recently deployed, wounded or killed in action. Last year they gave toys to more than 400 children.

Bleiman said his goal now is to advise and work with other small business owners looking to do philanthropic work.

At Life Enhancement Services, a Charlotte mental health agency, CEO Herb Gray and wife Felicia also have made giving back a part of their professional strategy. Each summer their Gray Classic Golf Tournament and related events raise money for male mentoring efforts in Charlotte’s African American community. The couple also hosts fundraisers for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

Herb Gray said he never undertook charitable work with business goals in mind, but he said he does believe that his philanthropic efforts have opened doors and put him in positions to meet key business contacts.

Gray said that, unlike some wealthy donors who can write fat checks, he prefers to raise money though activities that bring people together and rally them around a cause.

For small business owners looking to give back, Bleiman and Gray said it’s important to think strategically. As with any good business, a successful nonprofit needs a viable plan, capable workers and operating capital.

Gray said a good starting point is to volunteer with or serve on the board of an existing organization.

“Try to find what you think you can manage to do,” he said.

Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.