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Baird & Warner makes good on their commitment to healthy community by automatically building it into every real estate transaction. In 2002 President and CEO Stephen Baird wanted to give back to the local communities served by Baird & Warner, so he created a new approach to local philanthropy.

Baird established the Baird & Warner Good Will Network with an automatic contribution program, adding $10 per transaction. About 90 percent of the 1,500 sales associates participate. Half of the funds are distributed to nonprofits chosen by an employee committee; the remaining half is distributed equally among the branch offices. These offices donate the money in their communities to a wide array of local nonprofit organizations with a focus on shelter and homelessness, particularly for women and children.

As Illinois’ largest and oldest real estate brokerage firm, established in 1855, Baird & Warner agents spend their days meeting neighbors and learning about local needs. Employees have established the Good Will Network and, to help meet the needs they identify, they raise money and participate in the grant making process themselves, using their donor advised fund at the Trust.

To date, the Good Will Network has raised nearly $2 million. Automatic deductions and a constant flow of small donations from multiple offices make the network’s administration potentially quite complex.

However, handling this complexity is a major reason why Stephen Baird is glad he set up the fund with the Trust, whose staff offers professional fund management and the expert vetting of nonprofits:

The Trust collects the money, invests the money and does all the administrative work in terms of keeping track of everything. We make decisions on where we want the money to go. It runs very efficiently, which is really what we looked for it to do. And I just like supporting the Trust. The Trust is a good thing for Chicago.

Fair and open housing continues to be an interest of the Bairds through several generations. Stephen Baird’s father John Baird succeeded his own father as president of the firm in 1963, the same year he helped lead the fight for open housing in Chicago. As leader of the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council from 1959 to 1963, he advocated for laws ending racial discrimination in home sales. When the Chicago Real Estate Board disagreed—an organization that his great-grandfather helped create—he resigned in protest. Baird’s fight for fair housing helped lead to the eventual passage of fair housing laws.

Read an update to this story, about Baird & Warner’s charitable celebration of its 160th birthday, from the Trust’s 2016 Annual Report.