From the March 2009 issue of Startups

Getting a phone call in the middle of the night from a domestic violence victim is the last thing most business owners expect. But early on, Molly Maid franchisees Dave and Mary Dickinson received several such calls from some of their own employees who had no one else to turn to.

It gave the husband and wife a firsthand look at the prevelance of the problem in their community. "We had no idea how much domestic violence was really occurring," says Mary, 55. "As we grew faster and had more employees, we started to see that domestic violence acts really occur [more frequently than we knew]."

The Dickinsons both came from corporate backgrounds but decided they didn't want that same work culture when they started looking for a franchise to purchase. They eventually opened a Molly Maid service in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1997 and quickly became Molly Maid's fastest-growing franchise, a record they held for several years. But while the Dickinsons have been highly successful with their residential cleaning franchise--with 2008 sales of $1.7 million--their fight against domestic violence has become as integral to their business as their cleaning services.

With the problem hitting so close to home, the Dickinsons got involved with their local domestic violence agency before joining the board of directors for the Ms. Molly Foundation, a nonprofit launched by Molly Maid Inc. to support and increase domestic violence awareness. The Dickinsons have worked tirelessly to increase participation among the hundreds of other Molly Maid franchisees, helping to recruit 165 franchisees who each donate a percentage of sales and organize community fundraisers, all of which generated a total of $106,000 in 2007.

Working with the foundation is good for business, says Dave, 66, because it gets owners involved with the community. "You don't have too many people that support the cause," he adds. "That's one reason we've become pretty passionate about it."