In Washington D.C.’s popular nightclub district, Cause DC is redefining what it means to give back. Opened in late 2012, the bar and restaurant operates with an unusual business model; at the end of each meal, the patrons get to choose one of four rotating nonprofits they want to benefit from their purchases. The establishment, co-founded by Nick Vilelle and Raj Ratwani, then donates a portion of its profits to a changing list of charities.  This new restaurant model based on charitable giving – which has been copied in several more establishments around the country – has been dubbed the ‘PhilanthroPub’.

The goal of the restaurant is simple: to make donating “more convenient, fun, and transparent for everybody.” The bar was created in response to a decrease in overall giving and volunteering because of the current financial climate. Indeed, Ratwani was first struck with the idea for Cause DC when he was struggling to balance his own philanthropic interests with his educational and career schedules. Vilelle, who has worked with nonprofits as an organizational psychologist for more than a decade, saw the restaurant as an opportunity to improve the efficiency in both giving and development at the grassroots level.

The bar’s founders do not want their venture to be viewed as a novelty, however, and have worked hard to create an establishment that is worthy of praise by its own merit. They hired an experienced business manager and a skilled chef to ensure that their food and atmosphere would make the bar as deserving of a visit as its philanthropic goals. The ingredients featured in their menu are locally sourced and ethically produced, and the dishes are a far cry from typical ‘pub grub.’ The adventurous patron can start their meal off with African Chicken Groundnut Stew as an appetizer, follow up with a Wheel Ranch Lamb Ragou, and round the night off with a Buttermilk Panna Cotta for dessert.

The true beauty – and genius – of Cause DC lies in its simplicity. Their target audience is the quintessential twenty-something, out to have a fun night in the city. As Vilelle says, “Younger people aren’t your big-check philanthropists.” In order to integrate this audience into the world of charitable giving, Cause DC came up with a different way to tap the market. The restaurant allows young people to actively support worthy nonprofits in a manageable way, simply by doing what they would have done anyway. The rotating list of nonprofits further adds to the bar’s appeal. Organizations interested in working with the restaurant can fill out an online application, which is then reviewed by an advisory board. Each quarter, four new recipients are chosen, with the board favoring those that are “innovative and working at root causes,” Vilelle explains.

Once Cause DC has recouped their start-up costs, they expect to be making annual donations of up to $100,000. To maintain transparency for their customers, they are planning on publishing reports of their donations online. For those patrons who want to know exactly where their money is going, or want to know more about the nonprofits to which they are donating, all they have to do is write their email address on the receipt. They will then get an update on what their money has helped to accomplish.

– Rebecca Beyer
Feature Writer

Sources: Stanford Social Innovation Review, Cause DC