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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

October 21, 2010 at 4:06 PM

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Businesses take on greater role in addressing domestic violence

Posted by Kristi Heim

Some corporate philanthropy is about little more than tax deductions and image enhancement. But when a problem takes the lives your employees and costs your business millions, addressing it turns out to be much more meaningful.

That's what Gail Cottle has found in fighting domestic violence and encouraging more companies to get involved.

"Business is becoming more engaged in fighting this issue because it does have a huge cost in the workplace," she said.

One in four women in the U.S. experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.

For businesses, the cost is $727 million annually in lost productivity and $4 billion for direct medical and health care costs, most of which are absorbed by employers, according to the CDC.



ERIC ERICSON/FINELIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

Gail Cottle, a retired Nordstrom executive, has worked 20 years to stop domestic violence by raising money for organizations like New Beginnings and speaking out about its impact in the workplace.

Through perseverance, a network of loyal friends and help from her employer, Cottle has helped call attention to the problem and raise nearly $750,000 over the years for Seattle non-profit New Beginnings. Today she is being given an award by the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence for her efforts over two decades.

Her own work started simply with a postcard from the organization. She hosted a small gathering of friends in her Magnolia apartment to talk about the issue and pool money for donations. The luncheons became an annual tradition, and Cottle started inviting local officials to speak to the group, including Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper and King County Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff.

Early on in her career, Cottle remembered a coworker who had some of the warning signs -- wearing sunglasses when it wasn't sunny, unexplained bruises, frequently missing work or coming in late. Years later, Cottle realized that abuse was the likely cause.

"Thinking about women and children going home to violent situations -- that just kept gnawing away at me," Cottle said.

"Sadly it continues to be a big issue in our society," she said. "It crosses all socio-economic education levels. It has no boundaries. Possibly the numbers continue to look large because it is coming out of the closet, so to speak. It is being talked about, and that is raising people's interest, desire, and sense of responsibility to do more."

The problem is also related to homelessness, with a significant number of people escaping from a bad situation at home winding up on the street.

Cottle, who worked at Nordstrom for 33 years and retired as president of its product group, has organized a business fundraiser every year at the downtown Seattle Nordstrom to benefit New Beginnings, which provides shelter and support for battered women and their children. The event has raised $630,000 over the last five years.

She has also worked to get companies to make more resources available for their employees.

Through its foundation, Verizon Wireless is funding and promoting the PBS documentary "Telling Amy's Story," about one of its employees who was killed in a domestic violence incident in 2001, in an effort to educate more people about the issue and how to recognize warning signs. The company also has a program to provide free shipping for used mobile phone donations, which are given with free airtime to shelters and agencies that help survivors.

Columbia Bank is holding an information campaign against domestic abuse and promoting employee resources, including a confidential and free assistance program, paid leave or a restructured work schedule and special parking for employees at risk.

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