When it’s time to settle the bill at Cause DC, a bar and restaurant in Washington’s popular U Street nightclub district, patrons get to make one last menu choice: Which of four featured nonprofits do they want to benefit from their entertainment experience?

Cause DC opened in late 2012, creating a buzz with its unusual business model: It gives away a portion of its profits to worthy organizations. Other “philanthropubs” have opened in Houston and Portland, Ore.; another is rumored to...

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