Lending a helping hand Study shows how Central Maryland trails nation in many aspects of giving

November 25, 1990|By Laura Lippmann | Laura Lippmann,Evening Sun Staff

This could be a day in your life:

Get up, take the kids to school. One has a field trip to the National Aquarium; the other has to go to Girl Scouts after school. Try to figure out who's going to pick up whom, who's going to fix dinner. Remind your spouse to attend a Red Cross course in CPR. Go to University Hospital and visit a sick relative. Fall asleep to Ella Fitzgerald, singing on WJHU.

Before you drift off, remember to be grateful that at least no one in your family needs help from the area's non-profit sector. That's only for the poor and needy, right?


The frantic, but plausible day described above involves siexamples of the non-profit sector at work in ordinary lives, yet outside the notions most of us hold about non-profit organizations.

Don't feel guilty if you didn't spot them. You're in good company: More than 90 percent of those polled in a recent survey said no one in their family received any benefits or services from a non-profit organization, unless it was a church or a synagogue.

This finding, from a representative survey on giving and volunteering in Central Maryland, goes a long way toward explaining why Marylanders lag behind the national average in volunteering.

It also may help to explain why households in this area contribute a smaller percentage of their income than the nation as a whole, although 87 percent of households here do give.

Partners for Giving, a coalition of business, foundations and non-profit organizations in the Baltimore metropolitan area, wants to encourage an increase in giving and volunteering here. Toward that end, the coalition commissioned the survey, to figure out who gives and why.

With this baseline study in hand, the coalition hopes to convince people in Central Maryland to "Strive for Five" -- to give an average of five hours a week, or about 250 hours a year, to the non-profit sector.

"It's almost impossible to be a part of this community and be involved in this community and not be touched by the non-profit sector," said Frank Gunther, who co-chairs Partners for Giving with his wife, Mary Ellen.

So why does much of the non-profit sector seem invisible?

"Unless it's some sort of emergency-oriented problem or a major illness, we think we're not affected," Gunther replied. "All of us at some time are affected by the non-profit sector."

The Aquarium, the Girl Scouts, the Red Cross and public radio are obvious examples of the non-profit sector that can be woven into anyone's life.

But that list excludes two of the non-profit sector's largest

elements, the school system and the hospital.

All told, the Baltimore area's non-profit sector is composed of more than 700 organizations with operating expenditures totaling $2.5 billion. And with 70,800 employees and a payroll of about $1.3 billion, according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the non-profit sector employs more people than the region's three largest manufacturing industries combined.

So the non-profit sector touches almost everyone. The mission for Partners for Giving, Gunther says, is to figure out how to make people touch back.

First, Gunther says, the coalition has to appeal to people to give more. With 87 percent of area households already contributing, the challenge is to convince those who give to come closer to the national average of 2.5 percent of household income. Right now, Central Marylanders give an average of 1.5 percent.

The richest tend to give the least, in per capita terms.

There is a bright side, Gunther says: "We have a larger base to begin with. So it's not a matter of convincing people to give, but to give more. We have a leg up, in that we already have the attention of 87 percent of our population."

But when it comes to volunteering, the study found, that attention level drops precipitously. Only 34 percent of those polled said they volunteered, far below the national average of 54 percent.

How can Partners for Giving improve upon that? Primarily by asking. The survey found that half of those polled had never been asked to volunteer. Changing that alone could bring the level of volunteerism up to 42 percent, the survey predicted.

Gunther also said Partners for Giving is considering a clearinghouse, which would match interested volunteers to organizations that reflect their interests and abilities. For volunteering to work, Gunther said, it has to be enjoyable.

"Volunteer time can be attendance at a board meeting, or being a docent [a museum lecturer or tour guide], or being a volunteer in a hospital," Gunther said. "It doesn't have to be sitting behind a desk."

As to the "Strive for Five" concept, it's not as formidable as it sounds, Gunther said. The idea is to average five hours a week over a year. For example, he said, a person who volunteered to help at a summer camp for a week would go a long way toward fulfilling that goal.

Aiming for five hours a week also fits in with the standards cited by 37 percent of those surveyed. Twenty-seven percent said a volunteer should give at least five hours a week; 10 percent thought it should be even more.

But what about the perception, cited by 77 percent of those surveyed, that giving money can fulfill one's obligations?

"It may be the easy way out, but it's not the most fun," Gunther said. "It can be very enjoyable, very exciting to be a volunteer. If they think about it, they'll find if it's something they really want to do, they'll find the time."

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