Viewpoint: What business can do to ease homelessness

In a new op-ed for the Washington Business Journal, our President and CEO Bruce McNamer discusses what we learned from a conversation with Mayor Bowser and corporate executives at Salesforce, Zillow, Cisco, and Kaiser Permanente about what it will take to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. He shares key takeaways about how the local business community can step up its investments of resources, voice, and leadership to help ensure more of our neighbors have a place to call home.

Bringing Community Voices to the Table

By Desiree Griffin-Moore, Executive Director, Prince George’s County

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Growing up in the DC area, I have seen the city transform from a small sleepy government town to become the principal city of a major metropolitan area comprised of more than 6 million people. As the seat of our nation’s government, this area has grown exponentially and is quickly being recognized as a bastion for economic growth by corporations and private markets.   

Throughout the city and its surrounding areas, new developments and increasing interest from corporations, including Amazon, are stimulating the region’s economic growth and prosperity and creating new jobs and new business endeavors for many. Still, questions arise such as: Who is benefiting from this growth? How do traditionally marginalized communities gain access to these opportunities? Can the field be leveled and if so, how?   

Our Voices of the Community survey of more than 3,400 local residents found that:

  • Nearly one in five residents has faced some form of housing or food insecurity in the past 12 months, and that increases to one in three people for our region’s black and Hispanic populations.

  • The cost of living, especially renting or owning a home, is one of the most challenging aspects of our region. Nearly a third of people knew someone in the region who had to move in the past two years for a reason other than their own choice, typically due to high housing costs or job loss.

  • Nearly a third of Prince George’s County and Montgomery County respondents rated access to education and training as a “major” barrier to finding a job.

The region’s explosive growth is now extending into Prince George’s County as corporations are seeing the County, its people and its land as valuable assets. As a native Washingtonian, and currently a Prince George’s County resident, I am seeing history repeating itself. While I am excited by the growth and celebrate the decisions of companies like MGM, National Harbor, Washington’s professional football team, and others, to relocate here, I also find myself worrying if the displacement of people that took place as a result of the growth in DC will now duplicate itself in Prince George’s County. Will families who have called Prince George’s County home for generations and contributed to its vitality suddenly find themselves fleeing because they can no longer afford to live here? Are there ways to thoughtfully encourage growth and, at the same time, ensure that the fabric of our communities remain intact? 

The racial and economic inequities that continue to plague our entire region could hinder our progress unless our area’s business, community and philanthropic leaders work together to address these challenges and advance racial equity and inclusion. 

The Greater Washington Community Foundation is tackling these issues by prioritizing strategic partnerships across sectors and developing new approaches to address the region’s most pressing challenges. With more than 45 years of community-based philanthropy experience, our knowledge of local needs and the most impactful nonprofits provides our corporate partners with important connections which are essential to their success. For example, you can read about how our partnership with MGM National Harbor expanded its ability to support and enhance the surrounding community in Prince George’s County.

We continue to play an important role by leveraging our relationships with businesses, nonprofits and local communities to help broker new partnerships that will ultimately provide necessary community input, diverse voices and broader perspectives as development continues to take place. In my years of service to this community and region, I have found that the relationships which emerge through these partnerships are essential .

Desiree Griffin-Moore joined The Community Foundation in September 1998 as executive director of The Community Foundation in Prince George’s County where she has provided leadership in strategic giving, development, and donor engagement activities. A committed advocate of civil rights and social justice, Desiree has extensive experience working with the nonprofit sector to advance low-income and marginalized communities.

Corporate Philanthropy that Unites Communities

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP is a New York-based law firm with offices in Washington, DC, Houston, Palo Alto and in the U.K. and Europe. About 15 years ago, Willkie’s DC office was looking for a way to give back to give back to the DC community that would complement the firm’s already-extensive pro bono efforts. Willkie’s goal was to enhance its impact on the community by concentrating its charitable giving on a key area of need in the DC region and harnessing the volunteer spirit of the entire office to serve a common cause, in a way that also would serve as a unifying force for the DC office.

In 2004, Willkie launched the Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP Greater DC Community Foundation as a component fund of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. The Willkie Foundation’s mission is to support educational and enrichment programs for underserved youth in the region.


Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP attorneys and staff are actively engaged with Principal Grantees.

As the Willkie Foundation was launched, The Community Foundation provided an array of services to assist in the foundation’s organization and management. The Community Foundation’s professional staff helped Willkie develop its grantmaking program, including the strategy and identification of investment opportunities, facilitating meetings, and training on how to review proposals and make grants.

The partnership between Willkie and The Community Foundation led to a highly-customized foundation structure that is unique among law firms, but could provide a blueprint for other law firms and organizations looking to achieve similar goals. The key components of the Willkie Foundation model are:

  • Focused Mission: All efforts of the Willkie Foundation are directed toward organizations that provide educational and other enrichment programming for underserved youth in DC and neighboring jurisdictions.

  • Partnership Consensus: The Willkie Foundation’s mission statement was developed and endorsed by the Willkie DC partners and counsel, whose voluntary, individual contributions are the primary source of funding for the Foundation.

  • Office-Wide Advisory Committee: The Willkie Foundation is managed by a committee that includes partners, counsel, associates and staff across all practice groups.

  • Rotating Principal Grantees: Periodically, the Willkie Foundation selects an organization with which it partners, typically for a period of 5-6 years, making it the recipient of the majority of the Foundation’s annual giving, volunteer hours and other support.

  • Active Engagement with Grantees: Willkie attorneys and staff are actively engaged with grantees through events organized at Willkie DC for its grantees and through volunteer opportunities provided by grantee organizations.

  • Undirected (General Fund) Grants: The Willkie Foundation selects its grantee organizations carefully, but then allows the recipients of its grants to determine how best to use the awarded funds.

The Willkie Foundation awarded its first grants in 2005, and since then has awarded nearly $2.3 million in grants to about two dozen organizations providing educational enrichment and other related services to DC youth. Examples of the work of the Willkie Foundation include:

  • The Willkie Foundation’s first Principal Grantees, DC SCORES and Higher Achievement Program (HAP), received significant financial support that was instrumental in their growth and expansion. Along the way, Willkie attorneys and staff members participated in HAP’s mentoring program (a 26-week commitment), volunteered at their events, sat on their boards, organized school supply drives, and coordinated numerous activities for their students, including mock trials, shadow days and tours of Willkie’s offices.

  • The Willkie Foundation has provided over $100,000 in “rescue grants” to organizations finding themselves in unexpected or difficult situations, such as a $10,000 grant to Life Pieces to Masterpieces, to replace equipment lost due to vandalism of its facility, and $30,000 to DC Scores to cover an unexpected budget shortfall.

  • Willkie provided the lead gift in support of For Love of Children’s 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign, committing to a multi-year lead grant of $350,000. While FLOC was the Willkie Foundation’s Principal Grantee, Willkie lawyers and staff volunteered at FLOC, and Willkie organized events for FLOC’s students and volunteers at the firm, including a mock trial program, Scrabble and Uno tournaments, college fairs, resume reviews and mock interview and shadow days.

  • In 2017, a gift of $75,000 in seed funding from the Willkie Foundation enabled the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project to leverage a matching grant to fund its first-ever Social Worker. Having a full-time social worker has led to more collaboration with partner agencies, more children enrolled in early childhood programs, more parents learning skills to support their children, and more children getting their needs met in school and in the community.

  • The Willkie Foundation’s current principal grantee is Horton’s Kids. Aside from more than $200,000 in grants to date, Willkie has been an active participant in Horton’s Kids programming, including sending volunteers monthly to Horton Kids’ Homework Help sessions and participating in spring and end-of-year holiday celebrations and gift drives. And Willkie has hosted Horton’s Kids for resume and mock interview workshops, trivia night dinners and office tours.

As part of this continuing partnership, The Community Foundation shares its vast knowledge of and relationships with nonprofits across the region to help foster connections to organizations which share the Willkie Foundation’s charitable focus. This includes facilitating opportunities for Willkie employees to learn about the issues facing our region and the nonprofits who are working to address them.

“The Willkie Foundation has been so successful because it not only offers a vehicle to give back to the community by sharing our treasures, time and talent, but in the process brings together the entire Willkie DC community,” said Willkie partner Joseph G. Davis. “What excites people even more than the grantmaking is the fact that these groups and the youth they serve have become part of our extended Willkie family.”