Will CARE come to Baltimore?


CARE Inc., the world's largest non-profit relief agency, is considering relocating its global headquarters from New York to Baltimore.

Of course, Baltimore is not the only city under consideration, even though it reportedly is on the organization's short list of alternatives. But this in itself is a reflection of the appeal that this city increasingly has for non-profit organizations wanting to have a location -- and relatively cheap office space -- close to Washington.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People moved here from New York in 1985; Catholic Relief Services came from New York in 1988; the American Center for International Leadership transferred from Columbus, Ind., in 1990; the International Book Bank and the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity left Chicago last year.

Other groups, after scrutinizing Baltimore, have ended elsewhere. The American Field Service, which operates the world's largest student exchange, relocated from New York to Chicago. The American Cancer Society and the Girl Scouts of America turned thumbs down on Baltimore, too.

So what does all of this mean?

A lot of contradictory things, says a behind-the-scenes facilitator who has been watching scouts for various non-profit organizations come and go. According to him, no two organizations seem to use the same criteria for headquarters selection. One of the few constants is that each organization's board has the final say and that personal preferences and follies of board members often play a key role. (In that sense, non-profit organizations are no different from big corporations, where livability standards, as defined by the chairman's wife, have sometimes overruled other considerations.)

Of course, money is particularly important for non-profit organizations. "If someone gives a free building in one city and no other matches it, then that may be a winning card," the facilitator said.

Over the last decade, CARE has reviewed moving from New York on a number of occasions. This time, it has hired a management consulting firm to assist. Baltimore and the state of Maryland have put together an incentive package to entice CARE, which employs 220 people and has an annual budget of about $300 million.

Because of Baltimore's proximity to Washington, its thriving port and international airport -- and, yes, because it is the headquarters for Catholic Relief Service, which is in the same line of work -- we feel CARE would be happy here.

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