There's a well-kept secret in Baltimore, and it goes by the name of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies. Most Baltimoreans do not even know that this hometown jewel exists -- or that it influences the non-profit sector worldwide.
In providing research about and service to the non-profit sector, few organizations can rival the institute. In the confusion following the breakup of the Soviet empire, how does a newly formed Eastern European democracy begin building the infrastructure for a non-profit sector? How do international policy-makers obtain reliable information comparing one country's non-profit sector with another's? Where can a municipality obtain data on how non-profit organizations affect the local economy?
In all these cases, the most credible source for research and data analysis is the institute. What makes the institute unique in the academic world is its parallel dedication to practitioners.
A few years ago, policy-makers in Baltimore wanted a fix on the health of the local non-profit sector. Dr. Lester Salamon, director of the institute, was chosen to coordinate the study. The result: one of the most influential policy studies in a long while.
More Than Just Charity: The Baltimore Area Nonprofit Sector in a Time of Change has been used as justification for several non-profit initiatives.
In part due to director Salamon's experience in the Carter administration budget office, the institute regularly issues bulletins that explain the federal budget's impact on the non-profit sector. These analyses are often used by policy-makers -- as well as columnists -- to understand the delicate balance between the public and voluntary sectors, and to predict trends and assess stresses on the voluntary sector.
The institute's work extends far beyond the Baltimore Beltway.
The Third Sector Project is helping to build the human infrastructure for a private, non-profit sector in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The project provides in-country training workshops, organized by the institute in partnership with non-profit groups in the host country.
This is frequently supplemented by a short-term internship in the United States, providing community leaders with experience in the more sophisticated American non-profit community.
The institute also operates an international fellowship program in philanthropy. Through this program, leaders of non-profit groups from other countries take courses and study philanthropy in the United States for one or two semesters.
The goal: initiating similar efforts back home. Sensitive to other cultures, the institute helps the fellows reshape the American philanthropy model to fit the characteristics of their own countries.
The popularity of the Hopkins program reflects the program's quality, as well as the torrid pace of change in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This year, the institute has received 65 applications for eight fellowship slots. Fellows currently come from England, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Ghana and Japan.
The institute has had a seminal influence on philanthropy, as both a scholarly pursuit and as a vehicle for global understanding and the improvement of the human condition.
"We don't just teach. We also learn so much from the fellows, which we apply to other areas of our work," says Julee Kryder-Coe, Coordinator for the International Fellowship in Philanthropy Program. "It's encouraging to see people who care TC about improving our global society."
Making a difference in the non-profit sector, whether at home or abroad, is a daily challenge to the institute staff. And, through the work of the non-profit sector, policy-makers will find the seeds of hope for many of the intractable social problems we face.
Can the Institute for Policy Studies facilitate these changes? Ms. Kryder-Coe thinks so. "It's easy to feel hopeful about the future of the world being around these fellows."
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.