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Helping Out: Grandmother’s legacy informs her corporate giving

Who: Susan Davis, chairman of Susan Davis International public relations firm.

Charitable giving highlights: Provides corporate financial contributions, pro bono work and board membership to nonprofits such as Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nongovernmental organization that supports women leaders in the fields of economic empowerment, women’s political participation and human rights.

Personal: Lives in the District.

When was the philanthropist in you born? Family legend has it that my grandmother set an extra place at the table daily for men riding the trains during the Great Depression. In my family, there was always a responsibility to give back to others.

First charitable endeavor as a company? For 25 years, we as a company organized a major chili cook-off in the District to benefit Children’s Hospital. We raised hundreds of thousands.

When did philanthropy become part of the business? It’s always been a part of our corporate culture. People want to work at SDI because we have a philosophy of only hiring employees that have a generous heart and a strong desire to make the world a better place. That might sound lofty but it’s what we do. We’ve also made a conscious decision to work for clients whose mission makes a true difference in the world, whether it’s lung cancer, vision impairment research, or caring for military troops.

How do you determine that potential hires are givers? We determine it in the interview process and by their experience. When people ask me what we are looking for in an employee, the first word is passion. Then I ask them how they can demonstrate that they have passion. That’s usually when it comes out. Almost everyone who submits a biography highlights that area of their life as something that sets them aside. More than likely we won’t interview someone if they don’t have some kind of indication in the materials that they give back and why.

Key areas of philanthropic focus? We get involved in issues related to women empowerment, the military and Ireland. We’ve worked with the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation. We have many SDI employees who are members of the National Guard and Reserve who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. We also do a lot with Vital Voices because it invests in emerging women leaders in countries in conflict and transition who have the potential to change their world and ours.

How did you determine these areas of focus? They are my personal passions.

How do you determine which nonprofits you give to? Part of it is determined by our clients. We support their causes. We will give pro bono time, financial resources, additional staff support. We encourage all of our employees to help a nonprofit with communications strategy or developing a campaign on a pro bono basis. When I started my business three decades ago, I was very young. People encouraged me to join nonprofit boards and contribute my strategic communication skills as a way to become better known and it was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. The people I met and lessons I learned helped me grow as a person but it also helped the company build a reputation that money couldn’t buy. It helped us develop a platform for us to use the best of our skills and resources to help others. We really have the best of all worlds.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Read the story on The Washington Post online here.