Maryland's approximately 30,000 nonprofits range from the smallest all-volunteer organizations to the largest private employer in the state. Greg Cantori loves them all.
As CEO of Maryland Nonprofits since October, he's in his self-described dream job, running one of the nation's largest state associations for nonprofits after 20 years of working in the local sector.
He recently chatted with The Baltimore Sun about challenges facing nonprofits and how they're coping.
How much are federal budget pressures affecting local nonprofits?
Nonprofits will be hit in at least three ways from the likely federal budget cuts. There will be a cascading impact as direct federal funding is reduced, leading to state and foundation funding reallocations. As those multiple cuts continue, there will likely be more demands for nonprofit services, all while the nonprofits themselves are struggling with less funding.
I'm concerned it could become another perfect storm of unintended consequences. Less funding, more demands, less capacity to help. The good news is that [organizations in] our sector, although already battered by the Great Recession, are now veterans in creatively doing so much more with less. We've managed to keep most of the safety net in place, and our nonprofits even added jobs.
The bad news: We can't march forever on an empty stomach.
Other than funding, what are the biggest challenges nonprofits face these days? Are you seeing any creative work-arounds?
How does leadership, stretched and stressed staff, underperforming technology, loads of paperwork and fragmented funding streams sound?
Many nonprofit leaders were ready to retire but held on during the recession. They are just now starting to transition out. Even when well planned, leadership changes tend to be disruptive for any organization. Juggling multiple requirements from funders while struggling with technology and tons of paperwork also creates quite a drag on too many nonprofits.
There's no lack of creativity, however, as volunteers, internships and innovative collaborations are making up for some of those cutbacks.
A large chunk of Baltimore property is tax-exempt because it's owned either by nonprofits or the government, which has led to some payment-in-lieu-of-tax efforts over the years. Are nonprofits — especially big ones — bringing value to the city that sufficiently outweighs the tax-base downside?
You bet nonprofits provide value. More than a quarter of jobs in Baltimore are in nonprofits. In fact, our sector grew new jobs not only in Baltimore but in Maryland during the Great Recession. That growth doesn't even count the new jobs in the private and public sector that nonprofits helped create — think of all the job training, literacy and after-school tutoring that likely led to new skills and careers.
Without the nonprofit sector, and especially our larger institutions such as hospitals and universities, the city would be in much deeper financial trouble. Nonprofits also tend to be the first responders in many struggling neighborhoods, creating tremendous long-term value by organizing communities, creating neighborhood-based jobs, providing access to better health and education opportunities, and in redeveloping homes and community centers. Nonprofits are key players in building human as well as economic value that we should never underestimate nor undervalue.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in your years of running nonprofits?
To stay credible, we must be accountable to those we serve and those who fund us. We need to run our organizations as the smart and creative businesses they are. We also have to constantly evaluate if we are doing our work as efficiently and effectively as we can. We call it outcomes-based work and making a real difference.
Most of us choose to donate, work and volunteer with nonprofits to increase the quality of life, and therefore opportunities for happiness, in our communities. Sounds Pollyanna-ish, but studies are now showing that giving your time, talent and treasure creates a deep sense of personal fulfillment and even wellness. The more you give, the better you feel.
You frequently commute to work via bike. Why? Are there any scary stretches on the way?
With over 115,000 bicycle miles so far, my doctor said my human-powered engine is good for at least another quarter-million, and that's without any oil changes or rebuilds. …
I ride to save time, money and, frankly, my life. My 22-mile commute is often faster by bike. I get a sense of connection as I can hear, smell and truly see our communities from the city to the 'burbs. Sure, there are tricky spots, especially over the bridges, but most motorists on my route have become accustomed to seeing me, and, as I like to say, they're well trained.