The Difference Between MAP Real Estate and Investing In Communities


MAP Real Estate’s focus is “through the lens” of Investing In Communities®. We want people to be clear about what MAP is, and what IIC is, and what each is not. In a nutshell, MAP is a brokerage and IIC is a platform. MAP is a Chicago-based commercial real estate brokerage; Investing In Communities is a separate entity that can be used anywhere in the U.S.  by both commercial and residential real estate consumers to generate funding for any cause they care about- regardless of who they choose to be their agent or broker.  If you want a deeper dive, please read on. 

What is MAP Real Estate, Inc.

MAP is the commercial real estate brokerage firm that I opened in 1986 and have run for the last 34 years with my wife and business partner, Sharon Porter. MAP specializes  in office space brokerage and exclusively represents office tenants, never landlords. Our clients are generally small to mid-size enterprises, both taxable and tax-exempt, in the Chicago metropolitan area. We have saved our clients’ time and money in over 900 transactions. And this is still what MAP does. We are office tenant reps, negotiating Chicago office leases. 

We love to represent charities and companies with a social purpose, because we have one. MAP continues its nearly 25-year tradition of incorporating philanthropy into its daily business life, by pledging to remit 10% of each commission to IIC, for further distribution to the charity or school chosen by its client. MAP is also the proud parent and sole underwriter of Investing In Communities. 

But MAP and IIC are separate legal entities that exist for different reasons.

What is Investing In Communities

Investing In Communities is the name of a philanthropic program that we began in 1995, when we chose to be in business in a different way. We wanted to  serve our clients and simultaneously do good for the larger world. We’ve always wanted to do good. But, like almost everyone, we need to make money before we can give it away. The breakthrough idea for us was that we might make more money by giving it away. And that could be a positive feedback loop, enabling us to do more of both. Doing business, doing goodsm was the way we began to describe our business philosophy. 

We were tentative at first, because we were not quite comfortable that mixing charity with profit was “polite”. After a while, we made the pretty bold decision that our philanthropy would mean giving 10% of our gross income. We wanted there to be no mistake about our sincerity. And we wanted each check to be meaningful to its recipient charity.

In our industry, the norm is for landlords to pay commissions, even to the tenant rep. Our idea was to invite a client to choose the charity to which we would give part of the commission that we earned as a result of having negotiated their lease.

Most people, when they hear “Investing In Communities,” think of community development, as in real estate development. But the name has always been completely figurative. We chose that name because we wanted our program to be a central part of our business activity. And because we are in a licensed profession, our experiment of giving away money to make money to give away had to be “License act compliant”. 

We wanted to discuss our idea with the state regulator that oversaw the business activities of Illinois real estate licensees.  In a call with one of the staff attorneys, we learned that we would be in violation of the License Act were we to give part of our commission to a charity. However, we could give part of our commission to our client and ask them to give it to a charity. That was permissible, we later learned, in 40 states. Perhaps in that way, we had created client-directed/broker-funded philanthropy. 

We learned that we could give the money to our client, but we could not dictate what they would do with it. We had to give the funds to our client unconditionally. 

We learned much more, as we progressed. This has been a mind-expanding journey for us. We learned, for example, that in three likely instances, for-profit clients kept the money. The other roughly 65 times that we made the IIC pledge to for-profit clients, they gave our money to their favorite charities. We made the same pledge each time that we represented a nonprofit client. And, in those cases, we were able to write those checks directly to those nonprofits, because they were our clients.  

Because we were giving without ever knowing to which charity, the name Investing In Communities made a lot of sense to us. You’ll read why, over time, it has come to make even more sense.

We had identified the first challenge to our model, that the money might get stuck in someone’s pocket. Another challenge was that our small company had to be chosen for the brokerage assignment, in order for the good to happen. 

Yet another challenge was that, even if we got every office tenant rep assignment in Chicago, that would not have any charitable effect on home purchases or sales in Chicago or on any brokered transaction of any sort outside of Chicago. 

And an observation: while we liked the idea of doing business doing good, it seemed that not many of our competitors liked it, unless they had no choice. When our competitors learned how we had pitched a deal, trying to win a charity as our client, if they thought they might win the brokerage opportunity for themselves, they said “Oh, we’ll give you 10% of our commission, too!” MAP was committed to this practice for every transaction, for every client. That was the next spark of insight, which made us start to think about how much more we might be able to accomplish.

By 2007, we had formed an IL nonprofit corporation called Investing In Communities. We thought it was time to separate IIC from MAP,  in order for it to scale. We began to conceptualize how we could transform our simple experiment into something that could scale. And, more than once, we found that the way to resolve a conundrum was by thinking bigger, thinking on a larger scale.

In 2010, we launched the first website for Investing In Communities, by then a free resource that could be used by any individual or company, regardless of the brokers and agents they choose for their respective assignments, benefiting virtually any charity or school. And it didn’t matter where in the country the transaction and the recipient charity might each be located. 

We expected consumers to learn about IIC from the charities that they supported by volunteering time and/or donating money. 

But we expected that our agent and broker members, who were real estate agents, would be the main avenue by which the world would learn of IIC as a new and better way to be a real estate client. We expected them to use IIC as a business development tool, realizing that we had created a License Act compliant way for them to use generosity to gain a competitive advantage when trying to win a new brokerage client. We thought that they would at least occasionally use IIC to add philanthropy to their marketing repertoire in order to perhaps become known for doing business in a generous way, to engender more referrals. That expectation turned out to be mistaken. 

Of our 65 or so member licensees, only 4 even bothered to use IIC as we had hoped they might. They did so by “volunteering into the system”  transactions they already had, in order to bring a new dimension to their client’s brokerage experience, one that involved some of their commission being used to support a charity of their client’s choice. At that time the minimum pledge that we required in such instances was 10% of their commission, of which we retained only 8.75 cents from each dollar that we sent to their client’s charity of choice. 

Jeanette Brownson is the only agent, owner of Brownson Properties in Holland, MI, who has taken IIC and really run with it. 169 times, she has sent IIC a check for 10% of her commission from a residential purchase or sale, so that IIC could send that part of each of her commision to a charity of her client’s choice.

As a realization dawned on us about how referrals and referral fees work in the residential real estate brokerage profession, we entered the next phase of our evolution. It turns out that virtually all brokers, all but one of the hundreds we have spoken to, when asked “do you want a referral”, will say “yes”. And when asked, “what do you pay brokers in referral fees”, the most common answer we hear is, “25% of the commission”. We realized that we could rotate our model from being broker-facing and broker-driven, to being consumer-facing and consumer-driven. All we had to do was let consumers know that we could transform their everyday home purchase or sale into a deal that makes a difference, not only for their family, but also for a charity or school of their choice.

Paying a referral fee in return for getting a new client is not an act of generosity. It’s business as usual. Accordingly, the next advancement in IIC’s evolution was to remove generosity from the equation. That might sound sadder than it is. I say that because of the realization that competition among real estate agents for the next client is a more powerful motivator than generosity.

In the broader context of the modern world of consumerism, something interesting is happening. And I don’t see this as at all cynical. It’s simply reality in a world of internet-enabled social media. Generosity is replaced by rational pragmatism. When it comes to driving business, talking about your company’s big heart is a lot less important than discharging your company’s social purpose by doing actual good in the world.

So with IIC, now it’s unnecessary for any agent or broker to be charitable, in order for IIC to operate. That’s an improvement with powerful potential. 

The only requisite conditions for IIC to operate are:

  1. Contact IIC before you choose an agent. We will refer you to real estate agents, whether it’s one you already know or ones that we will match to you, based on their professional expertise, not on their generosity or lack thereof.
  2. Choose a participating charity or invite your favorite charity or school to join IIC. IIC membership is free for them.

IIC is 100% nonprofit,  but it’s the opposite of a charity. We have given nearly $700,000 to charities. We do not accept donations from the public.

What IIC is not

IIC is not a marketing platform for real estate professionals. That’s because IIC does not promote real estate agents or brokerage companies, not even its proud parents at MAP Real Estate.

What IIC is

It is a free consumer-facing platform that vastly improves the way in which individuals and companies can utilize the services of any real estate agent or broker, including ones they already know. IIC works across the country and empowers the consumer to transform their real estate transaction, for example a home purchase or sale, into a “deal that makes a difference”. And they do so at no personal expense. While they satisfy their family’s real estate needs, at the same time, they are  providing significant funding for a charity or school of their choice.

It doesn’t matter where in the country either the transaction or the recipient nonprofit are located. It doesn’t even matter if the consumer already knows the agent they want to use. Simply because a real estate agent knows a person, doesn’t obligate that person to choose that agent for an upcoming brokerage opportunity.

Each year, there are roughly 6,000,000 homes sales in the US. Usually, when there is a seller, there is also a buyer. Though admittedly, sellers and even some buyers go about the process without the benefit of being represented by an agent as their fiduciary.  So maybe at least 10,000,000 times each year, just in the US, families could be doing so much more when they buy or sell a home. They could, at no expense to themselves, provide meaningful support to their favorite charity or school. For free.

IIC can also be used by companies, when they buy and sell real estate and when they lease all kinds of commercial space. For example, when the law firm Eckhart Kolak renewed its office lease at 55 W. Monroe, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust in Maine received $6,905. When the law firm Miner Barnhill & Galland leased new space at 325 N. LaSalle, Near North Health Service Corp received $5,000 and Voice of the People Uptown Inc. received $4,000. When HMS Industrial Networks leased new space at 35 E. Wacker, Children’s Memorial Foundation received $3,654. When HMS renewed its office lease, Society of Women Engineers received $2,429. And when Metropolitan Group leased space at 35 E. Wacker, Circle of Parents received $2,313.

Those are among the many office leases in Chicago that MAP has negotiated, which have resulted now in nearly $600,000 of funding for our clients’ charities of choice.

Doing business doing good is a very fulfilling way to be in business.