Pooling expertise, funds Initiatives: Grant-makers are working together to provide an infusion of money for community development and public service.


It's not only nonprofit agencies that are merging these days, but local philanthropies wanting more bang for their buck.

About a third of the 70 groups in the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG) are collaborating by pooling funds to promote community development in Baltimore and public service by youth statewide.

The two types of initiatives, just ending their first year, are easily the most extensive collaborations ever done by grant-makers in Maryland, said Betsy S. Nelson, executive director of ABAG.

Its members are joined by 10 other charities in the initiatives. In the past, charitable organizations have most often carried out projects on their own.

"They are large grant-makers and small ones, family foundations and corporate ones. They're recruiting each other, learning from each other, understanding the communities better," Nelson said.

In the past year, 26 philanthropies collected $1.4 million. They committed $150,000 to three-year community projects in Irvington, Reservoir Hill and Waverly. A major thrust is fighting drug dealing. Hiring organizers of volunteers is a common weapon.

Some 14 grant-makers pooled $850,000 and spent $500,000 on 12 programs supporting Maryland service learning by middle-schoolers after school, when many have little to do.

New projects soon will be approved for funding in future years.

Diana L. Morris, re-elected president for her third term, told the recent annual meeting of ABAG that the grant-makers are helping breathe new life into street-level problem-solving:

"Working together, realizing the full benefit of pooled expertise and resources, they have provided a new infusion of funding into the community. "

Morris, whose regular job is directing billionaire philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute-Baltimore, challenged her fellow philanthropists "to think expansively about our very own potential to improve this region."

Lane Victorson, 28, working under the auspices of The Shriver Center, is supported by the collaboration. For the past year, living in Irvington and working part time, he has been developing community initiatives.

"We're trying to be a positive presence, finding people in the community to be leaders," said Victorson, who was a Peace Corps worker in Comoros, near Madagascar.

He has helped the racially mixed Southwest Baltimore neighborhood to get summer jobs and summer day camp slots for children, develop alliances with nearby communities, organize block captains, begin an anti-crime "peace patrol" and have a "school is out" party.

Drugs are a recurring concern. Dealers come, go and return in a four-block area on Frederick Avenue, mostly selling to commuters from the suburbs, said his superior, Dorothy Dobbyn, 50. She is director of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Irvington.

"We're all trying to work together on that and other problems. Irvington is a good, family-oriented stable community with some problems, not impossible to solve," she said.

"Lane has a lot to show for his year here."

She praised the collaborators' decision to make the grants of $50,000 for each of three years instead of the typical one year, to prevent possible loss of momentum.

The $50,000 pays the salaries of Victorson and Anita Stewart, starting soon as a second Irvington organizer, as well as technical and other support. People from Irvington and from nearby Allendale, Carroll, St. Joseph, Tremont, Upland and Yale Heights occasionally discuss common problems.

Elsewhere, the Better Waverly Community Organization and the Waverly Improvement Association are cooperating in various joint efforts. Near Druid Hill Park, the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council is trying to strengthen block clubs and community associations.

The second major initiative, the Maryland Service Funding Collaborative, works with agencies to prevent young people from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime, from abusing drugs and from being sexually active.

As with all charity grants, Nelson wondered: What is the difference that the collaborative efforts make? "The main goal is get more funders interested in community development," Nelson said. "So far, there is a sense that as the grant-makers work together, communities benefit more."

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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