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Business Owners find Donating their Time and Money not only Helps the Community, it also can Help the Bottom Line

Mark Powell, a 1983 Naval Academy graduate who runs his own Web design and data services company Sidus Data is driven by his nature to give back.

The son of a decorated World War II veteran who landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, Mr. Powell said he has best shown his love for the community through his company.

Since 1999, Sidus Data has donated in the neighborhood of $200,000 in pro bono work and monetary donations to more than 20 local organizations.

Most recently, Sidus became a $10,000 corporate sponsor for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, a responsibility that includes redesigning the organization's Web site.

While work is busy, Mr. Powell said it's his civic-minded personality that keeps the company's corporate giving on course.

"It's a priority," said Mr. Powell, who also manages his time serving a third term as board president of the Anne Arundel Tech Council while maintaining a family life.

Corporate philanthropy is great way to gain personal reward, but it also can be a competitive strategy to cross paths with other executives who can lead you to new business. And let's face it, it's just good public relations.

While writing big checks isn't an option for many startups, small companies can give back by sitting on a board, contributing a pro-bono project here and there or volunteering.

But how do you run a business and give back to the community without working a gazillion hours and still have time for family?

Hollis Minor has worked out a plan to run a business successfully and still give back.

In 1997, she started The Minor Group, an Annapolis-based company that offers a myriad of organizational and business development services. She and her employees have served on more than 15 local boards and committees over the past decade. A good reputation and solid sales helped company revenue triple last year.

But the amount of time spent outside the office also took a toll. Ms. Minor found herself working 80 hours a week, a schedule that cut into family time and added to stress-related health issues.

"I realized that I had to start saying no," said Ms. Minor. "If we were going to put in this extra time, we felt that it should return something, as well."

Today, Ms. Minor limits time outside the office to 10 hours a month serving on the tech council's events committee and serving on the city's 300th year celebration tapestry committee. While donating time or money can help boost business, it could also mean fending off opportunists.

Kathy Floam is the president and creative director of a marketing firm called the Pomerantz Agency in Annapolis. She said she likes her company to give back between $10,000 and $25,000 in monetary donations or pro bono work every year.

Some of those donations came in the form of branding "Night Out for New Orleans," an Annapolis-based Hurricane Katrina relief initiative and monetary donations to the American Red Cross.

Ms. Floam, whose company has seen business grow about 30 percent each year for the past two years, said Pomerantz is contacted several times a month by groups wanting money.

Her strategy?

"I just try to be really polite and say we have certain organizations that we are focused on," Ms. Floam said. "You have to be selective. You can't give away to everybody."Mr. Powell, whose company is consolidating its corporate operations from Crofton to a total of 7,000 square feet at 175 Admiral Cochrane Drive in Annapolis, said he selects organizations to support based on his personal interests. For example, Sidus designed the Web site for the 6th Naval Beach Battalion, the unit his father, Lawrence McClellan Powell, served in.

E.G. Staton, who with his wife owns Admark Creative LLC, an Annapolis branding company that offers embroidery, screen printing and promotional products, volunteered as a basketball coach at the Boys and Girls Club in Annapolis. He said his company also provided T-shirts for two teams.

"Anytime I give something away that hurts the bottom line, but sometimes you have to step up and say 'I can make that up another time,' " he said.

Mr. Staton, who grew up playing basketball, said small-business owners can give back by using their skills for a cause.

"Many of these kids stay at the club because they don't have other places to go," he said of the local Boys and Girls Club. "Certain kids need some guidance."

By KATIE ARCIERI, Staff Writer, Capital Gazette

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