The Client’s Choice program

Feiner Real Estate customers donate to Island nonprofits.

Derrill Bazzy, Jim Wallen, Christopher Anderson, Wendy Swolinsky, and Jim Feiner. — Courtesy Jim Feiner

Paying it forward is an idea that’s been around for a very long time. When you pay it forward, others trust you more readily and take you into their confidence. They respect you more because they have less reason to doubt you. For Jim Feiner, principal of Feiner Real Estate, paying it forward means doing something good simply because you can, not because you hope to benefit from your actions. Feiner began paying it forward four years ago. He did it because it made him feel good about each and every real estate transaction his firm handled and glad to be in a position to help others.

Feiner had the beginnings of his idea for almost 2 years before he acted on it. When asked why the idea took so long to be implemented, Feiner says he was concerned about many things, from being shunned for changing the status quo, to not making enough to support his family. “Donating 10 percent of your income is a lot. Support from friends helped me … take a leap of faith and launch the program which coincided with our company’s 40th anniversary”. 

Feiner’s idea was based on his affection for the Island and his desire to be a philanthropist like many of his clients were. He was also motivated in part by the way he was raised. His parents Fred and Carol Feiner owned and operated the Beach Plum Inn for many years, using the beauty and bounty of the Island to delight their guests. Carol Feiner eventually decided to get her real estate license because so many of the Inn’s guests wanted to maintain their connection to the Vineyard. Indeed, she and her son built a thriving business. Now her son carries on her good business sense and love of the Vineyard.

Each Feiner Real Estate client chooses the Island charity or non-profit that will receive ten percent of Feiner’s commission from their purchase. Feiner recalls “Our first sale was to an Aquinnah family who chose the Island Housing Trust” and he was happy to deliver that check for $4500. 

With that first check, “it felt great and I went on to attend board meetings with big checks that our clients had joyfully dedicated to their favorite nonprofits.” While Feiner was at first nervous making presentations to mostly strangers, the feedback and warmth of the recipients told him that his gifts were “meaningful, valued and significant.”

Feiner also connected with several coaches who helped him create marketing materials and advised him how to make his philanthropy most impactful. He calls his program Client’s Choice and has since its inception donated over $126,000 to nonprofits. He has also presented the program itself to many Island nonprofit organizations to encourage them to become potential recipients of donations. 

Feiner believes in the transparency of his donations and the social sectors that are recipients. Thus far, housing has received 22 percent, conservation 19 percent, community and cultural enrichment 22 percent, health care 15 percent, food security 12 percent, education 3 percent, and animal welfare 9 percent. While the numbers change constantly, the choices are always made by Feiner’s clients. 

One client selected Island Food Pantry, which ended up receiving its largest donation that year — $6,000. One nonprofit says, “The philanthropic approach you have taken to business is inspiring and has the potential for big impact in our island community.”  –Dance the Yard. Another says, “Your generous and thoughtful program is an unexpected boost to helping us meet our daily mission to the Island community.” –Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. A full list of recipients can be found on

Feiner didn’t anticipate obstacles in getting the community to believe in what he was doing; though that is why he spends a significant amount of time sharing the details of his Client’s Choice program. But another thing he did not anticipate was just “how good it feels to give. I hope that the relationships I help create with the clients and nonprofits are more than one-time encounters.” He notes that some clients refer to past donations for guidance on how to donate and sometimes they even ask Feiner for help with their choice.

Feiner himself sums it up best: “There is no additional cost to the client associated with the [real estate] transaction, so each one gets to be an impact investor. The client chooses not only to make a difference but also chooses exactly what that difference will be.” Well said and well done.