GIVING MONEY away to good causes is a harassing experience, full of confusion. Fortunately, the people who do it here have a trade association, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG).
It was founded in 1983 by five well-intentioned people sharing a brown-bag lunch and now has 99 members (foundations, corporations and charities that both receive and make grants) and a staff of eight. If you don't know where to give money, ABAG has a few suggestions. Its year 2000 survey of capital and endowment fund campaigns lists 123 nonprofit organizations in Baltimore and the surrounding five counties with building or endowment campaigns under way.
ABAG, under its executive director, Betsy S. Nelson, can help a new foundation learn how established foundations work. It brings them together in affinity groups.
ABAG is fiscal agent for the Baltimore Neighborhood Collaborative (BNC) in which 30 grantmakers pooled $1.8 million to stabilize Baltimore neighborhoods. So far, BNC has distributed $900,000 to support six initiatives involving 26 neighborhoods. A somewhat smaller ABAG creation, the Maryland Service Funding Collaborative, has pooled more than $1 million to support after-school activities for middle-school youth.
With a grant from its own national association, ABAG started the Baltimore Giving Project, chaired by Jan Rivitz, executive director of the Aaron Straus & Lillie Strauss Foundation. Directed by Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, this is a campaign, born in the stock market boom year and boom mentality of 1999, to expand philanthropy.
It focuses efforts on the next generation of wealth holders, that is, the children of current philanthropists; the African-American community, in association with Associated Black Charities of Maryland; and the new entrepreneurs. It has activities for investment advisers and for women who may have been previously under-noticed and under-importuned.
The great nurturer of private philanthropy in Baltimore is The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. It not only runs an annual fund drive and supports an array of service agencies within the Jewish community but also counsels on wider philanthropy. It offers models, plans and legal advice. It has about $411 million in various endowments, funds and supporting foundations.
For the greater community - any and all ethnic, regional, religious and local groups - the vehicle for doing the same thing is the Baltimore Community Foundation. It also can recommend a variety of instruments that allow a donor to say where his money goes without having to employ people to do it.
The Community Foundation is part of a great national movement that began with the founding in 1914 of the Cleveland Foundation, which now has $1.6 billion in assets. By contrast, the Baltimore Community Foundation, founded in 1972, now has some $100 million in more than 270 charitable funds and gives some $11 million a year to agencies in Greater Baltimore. It got off to a slow start but achieved a growth spurt and is catching up.
For donors not wealthy enough to create a foundation with staff to carry out the original purposes in perpetuity, a community foundation is the perfect vehicle. Any legitimate, tax-exempt purpose or beneficiary is acceptable. The donor may advise the use of the gift, or designate a field of interest, or give without restriction so that the foundation's staff and board may determine the best use each year.
The Baltimore Community Foundation was given a strong boost by the Morris Goldseker Foundation, sharing chief executive Timothy D. Armbruster and other resources, for a decade. When the community foundation grew large enough to support its own infrastructure, Mr. Armbruster returned fulltime to Goldseker.
Searching nationally, the Community Foundation found its new leader in Thomas E. Wilcox, headmaster of Concord Academy near Boston and a fund-raising enthusiast with foundation experience, who arrived last year. Mr. Wilcox's mission is to raise the profile of the Baltimore Community Foundation so that more potential donors and their legal and financial advisors understand how to use it.
The nation's community foundations, however, have a new competitor. In 1992, Fidelity Investments of Boston started its Charitable Gift Fund, which has become one of the largest charities in the country. Rival asset management firms have followed suit.
While community foundations care most about where the income goes, and usually leave the investments to asset managers, the new vehicles are created by firms that care about managing the investments and wouldn't know about community institutions. Such funds make most sense to donors who favor well-known national charities.