It was not that long ago that philanthropy in a place like Baltimore was tinged with an "alms-to-the-poor" aura.
There was a bit of noblesse oblige involved in helping ease the miseries of those known as the less fortunate, as well as supporting the standard variety of educational and cultural institutions.
That was then. Now, such philanthropy is almost an industry whose leaders spout buzz terms like "strategic coordination" and "leveraging" and "accountability."
"Foundations have become much more significant in the local community over the last 20 years," says Robert Embry, head of the Abell Foundation. "In many ways they have had to make up for the loss of corporate giving because of the loss of corporate headquarters in Baltimore."
With that importance has come a increasingly complex role in the life of the city. No longer do these foundations just fund do-gooder programs; they now permeate the governmental and educational bureaucracies as well as the business and economic life of the city, planting seed money here, suggesting policy changes there, investing in businesses over there. They do not have the wherewithall to build the economic ship of Baltimore, but they can be a significant hand on the tiller.
Foundations come in all varieties in Baltimore. Two - the Open Society Institute and Annie E. Casey - were national operations lured here by Baltimore's combination of huge problems and potential for finding solutions. The OSI is funded by the international financier George Soros, though it is now looking for additional donors. The Casey money came from the founder of UPS. Both make grants nationally but focus much of their work on Baltimore.
"We came here from Connecticut in 1994 because we thought as a foundation that focuses on vulnerable and low-income families and kids that we could learn a great deal here, and apply what we had learned elsewhere to Baltimore," says Douglas W. Nelson of the Casey Foundation. "We thought there was a fit between the issues and needs at that point in the history of Baltimore and what we at Casey wanted to be about."
But there are plenty of homegrown foundations, too, such as Abell and France-Merrick and Harry and Jeannette Weinberg - which also makes national grants - as well as the Baltimore Community Foundation, an umbrella group that administers about 500 foundations with assets from $10,000 to $21 million.
All report a growing cooperation among the foundations as they tackle the needs of the city.
"It used to be you would never get the Jewish charities and the Catholic charities and the Protestant charities to sit down in the same room together," says Tom Wilcox of the Baltimore Community Foundation. "Now that happens all the time. Everyone is looking for maximum impact."
Diane Morris of the Open Society Institute says this is evident at all levels of Baltimore philanthropy. "There is a real desire to work more strategically. People realize that they have to be present for a long time, to stay at something for a number of years, and take multiple approaches.
"You can't do it all yourself," she says. "You work with other foundations, hand in hand. What that means is that there is a lot of collaboration going on."
Some of those multiple approaches are not traditional philanthropic activities. Abell, for instance, invests in businesses with the goal of making money for the foundation while contributing to the city's economy.
"Overhelmingly, the business has to be projected to make money," Embry says of such investments. "Secondly, it should be doing something socially worthwhile. Third, it should be headquartered here in Baltimore, and fourth, it should be providing jobs."
Embry says its most successful such venture is Guilford Pharmecuticals, which has been sold, but still employs 200 in the city. He is currently touting a firm that makes cement which does not contribute to the pollution of the atmosphere.
The Casey Foundation was instrumental in bringing together all the disparate characters necessary for the big biotech park around the Johns Hopkins medicial complex, which has the potential of remaking a huge swath of East Baltimore. It was the catalyst, a word often used by foundation executives to describe their role.
"We can't singlehandedly revive the economy of East Baltimore or provide all the needed housing or the access to employment," Nelson says. " But in many ways we can facilitate those things happening by the private sector."
The idea is not to throw the money up and watch the winds blow it this way and that, but to use the money to help direct those winds in the right direction.
That's because, no matter how much money these foundations hand out, it is a pittance compared with what businesses can generate in the private sector, or government can do in the public arena.
"We can only take care of a finite number of people," says Shale Stiller, president of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which focuses much of its efforts on helping the elderly poor.
"When you think of the amount of money needed to do a good job, not just with the elderly, but with treatment for drug addiction, with hunger, with work-force issues, with fixing the public schools, all the other things, the amount is staggering," he says.
"And then you face what we are facing in the United States, with budgets being cut, with politicians not willing to increase taxes because they are afraid of not getting re-elected, with less and less government support," he says. "Who is going to take care of all these people?"
Stiller says such questions put foundations like his in a bind.
"You never know how to deal with these things in a perfect way," he says. "Say you have $1 million to take care of people who do not have enough to eat. Do you give it to a program that feeds 5,000 people a meager meal, or to one that only feeds a tenth of that, but gives them more food?
"How can you answer that?" Stiller asks. "There's not an answer. It's a dilemma that cannot be solved."
One result is that more and more foundations, which used to keep their heads low, out of the partisan limelight, are getting involved in policy issues, taking stances on politically charged questions in an attempt to get the resources of government directed in a way that will address the needs of those the foundation is trying to help.
"There is a much greater emphasis in foundations becoming involved in policy issues, in speaking out on matters of concern to them," says Morris of the Open Society Institute.
Abell regularly issues reports on issues facing the city, from car insurance rates to illegal electronic gambling machines to housing, that advocate change.
And you have the Baltimore Community Foundation - despite the disparate views of the many funds it administers - involved in setting up the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, which will probably never start running buses, but instead will try to lead the area's governmental agencies into providing better public transportation.
"What good does it do to provide drug treatment if the person who needs it can't get to the treatment center?" asks Wilcox. "Or to the job training they need after finishing treatment? Or to the job the subsequently get?"
Morris noted that a survey taken 15 years ago found that people in Baltimore thought that the foundation community was not playing a big enough role in speaking out on problems in society and potential solutions. "I think if you did that survey today, you would not find the same kind of criticism," she says.
Nelson says this is a lesson the Casey Foundation learned long ago, even before it made its move to Baltimore.
"We realized that we are not going to make a difference in the areas that are of concern to us, the conditions of disadvantaged kids and their families in Maryland and in Baltimore unless as a foundation we found ways to do two things: Help the public sector invest its people and resources and efforts more effectively in interactions with kids and families ... and help the private sector and its market forces to work better in parts of the city that have been left behind by the mainstream economy," he said.
The idea is that $1 million of foundation money goes a lot further if it ends up getting $5 million of public funds committed to a problem, or $50 million in private development money aimed at a disadvantaged community. That's the way these foundations have begun leveraging the money they have. Many involved in foundation work say their most significant role is that of a catalyst, the agent that brings together other public and private parties, getting them to do much more work together than the foundation could ever have done on its own.
Another way of leveraging money is written into the charter of the Weinberg foundation. Half of its money goes to buildings, but the foundation can never pay more than 30 percent of the total cost of any building. The idea is to get the recipient to raise the rest, thus making the foundation money go further.
"You get a bunch of donors actively involved in the construction of that building, working with the agency that is using that building, so they have a stake in it now," Stiller says.
There is a genuine feeling among these foundation executives that all their efforts are paying off in Baltimore. They point to the end of the decline of population, the rising property values, the fundamental changes in the school system.
But they also know their work will never end.
"We are busy trying to make more money for the foundation so we can do more," Embry says. "We are always looking at programs in education, in drug intervention, in job training, in health. Each one of them is good and cost effective. It is a value judgment as to whether to do one or the other. The need is infinite."
SOME LEADING BALTIMORE FOUNDATIONS
ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION
Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, Annnie E. Casey was the 15th0largest private foundation in the United States in 2006, with assets of more than $3.2 billion. Grants: Grants totaling $184 million in 2006. History: Established in 1948 by Jim Casey, founder of UPS, the foundation is the world's largest philanthropy dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged children. Employees in Maryland: 193 Maryland activities include:
East Baltimore Initiative: Providing job training, housing assistance and community development aid in an East Baltimore neighborhood adjacent Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Casey Family Services: Grants to local programs aimed at assisting children and families in Baltimore, Prince George's County, Anne Arundel County and Wicomico County.
Juvenile Detention Alternative: A program aimed at providing help for young people involved in the juvenile justice system by suggesting policies and programs aimed at providing alternatives to incarceration and minimizing their risk to communities.
Kids Count: Part of a national network of data collection assessing the well-being of children at the state and local level.
HARRY AND JEANNETTE WEINBERG FOUNDATION
Headquartered in Owings Mills, Harry and Jeannette Weinberg was the 22nd-largest private foundation in the United States in 2007, with assets of approximately $2.2 billion. Grants: more than 500 grants totaling more than $110 million in 2007. History: Harry Weinberg was a self-made investor in real estate and various business interests. His wife, Jeanette, was an avid painter and philanthropist. They established the foundation in 1959, and its assets increased significantly after the death of Harry Weinberg in 1990. Employees in Maryland: 23 Maryland activities include: The foundation provides support for programs and direct services (including general operating grants) and capital projects that assist financially disadvantaged individuals. Among the foundation's recent grants:
Volunteer Lawyers: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service received an $80,000 operating grant to help support free tax preparation services to ensure that eligible low-income and working-poor residents of the Baltimore metropolitan area take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Community Building: The Westminster Community of Shalom received a $100,000 capital grant to assist in building a community center on Union Street in a badly distressed neighborhood in Carroll County.
Food Aid: Moveable Feast, a Baltimore nonprofit, received a $150,000 operating grant over three years to help support the costs of programs and services, including the provision of meals and food delivery to chronically and terminally ill persons.
Children's Services: Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County in Aberdeen received a $300,000 operating grant to support the program, "Reconnecting Disadvantaged Children and Youth to Their Communities."
THE ABELL FOUNDATION
Headquartered in Baltimore, the Abell Foundation is the third-largest private foundation in the Baltimore metropolitan area with assets totalling more than $265 million at the end of October 2007. Grants: 208 for a total of $9 million in 2006. History: The Abell Foundation was established in 1953 by Harry C. Black, chairman of A. S. Abell Company, which published the Baltimore Sun newspapers. The foundation got a significant funding increase with the sale of the company in 1986. Employees in Maryland: 15 Activities: The foundation focuses on public and private educational institutions, human services organizations and programs and cultural organizations. The foundation also supports initiatives to conserve Maryland's economically significant and endangered natural resources. Among its efforts:
Communications: The foundation publishes background studies of selected issues on the public agenda, such as recent reports on public housing and video gambling. In each case, experts have been retained to research and write, and the foundation has distributed their findings in print and on the Internet, targeting elected officials, leaders in business, industry and academia and the citizenry.
Investments: The foundation invests in companies that create jobs in Baltimore and promote various social objectives, such as increasing energy efficiency and producing alternative energy.
Ingenuity Project: An ambitious effort to provide an accelerated math and science curriculum to eligible Baltimore City middle and high school students, with a symbolic goal of enabling students to compete in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search competition, now known as the Intel.
BALTIMORE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Headquartered in Baltimore, the Baltimore Community Foundation was the 57th-largest community foundation in the United States in 2006, with assets of approximately $176 million, from more than 500 different charitable funds. Grants: more than 770 totaling more than $29 million in 2006. History: Founded in 1972, the BCF is governed by a 30-member board of trustees, made up of a cross section of Baltimore. Employees in Maryland: 30 Maryland activities include: Grants to individuals, families and organizations focused on improving life in Baltimore. Investments are focused in nine areas: human services, youth, education, transportation, neighborhoods, diversity, environment, arts and culture, and promoting Baltimore.