Getting into giving it away

Don't have Buffett's billions? Not to worry

through giving circles and community foundations, you, too, can be a philanthropist


Anne C. Fulwiler is no dreamer. She knows she'll never match Warren Buffett's philanthropic largess, but the executive director of Baltimore's Theatre Project and mother of two young children is still doing her part to help support local charities.

She's one of dozens of city residents who have started individual, family or corporate funds with the Baltimore Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps smaller-scale philanthropists fight the spread of infectious diseases, teach inner-city kids to read, and launch the careers of young Matisses and Miros.

"We are not Warren Buffetts by any means," Fulwiler said. "I mean, we live very modestly. My kids go to public schools. But this way, the community foundation leverages the funds that you would give, and it frankly makes it fun and easy."

Fulwiler, who gives to a wide array of causes from a memorial fund set up to honor her parents, didn't need Buffett's recent $31 billion gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to set an example.

But there are others in Maryland's nonprofit and philanthropic communities who hope the extraordinary gift of the Nebraska-based chairman of insurance conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will inspire people who have put off making donations to choose a cause and find a charity to help.

Community foundations - nonprofits that help individuals and families make gifts - have been around for years but witnessed a surge in popularity near the turn of the 21st century, a time when a buoyant U.S. economy allowed many Americans to look for new ways to put their money to work in schools, hospitals and museums.

The foundations make giving easy by providing staff members to help givers identify social needs that interest them and helping them connect with strong charities. In some cases, fund creators let the foundation decide how to spend their money; it depends on how involved the donor wants to be.

"What is so great about [the Buffett] gift and the exposure that has come from it is that it will serve as an incentive for all people, in all income brackets, to make a mark," said Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, communications director for the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, which tracks philanthropic giving in the state. "A lot of people have been talking about it."

The idea of wanting to help as many needy people as possible, as well as wanting to pass on something more to the kids than an inheritance, makes sense to Hugh and Lucy Mohler of Woodbrook in Baltimore County. The couple, who have five adult children, have started two philanthropic funds through the Baltimore Community Foundation, one for their family and one for the corporation they run together, the Bay National Bank.

"Our kids haven't started to contribute to the family fund yet," said Lucy A. Mohler, who is senior vice president of the bank; her husband is president. "But they have been involved in some of the decision-making when it comes to donations. We do talk about how they'd like us to apply the money. Some of them have young children, so education is in the forefront of their minds."

Generous giving by individuals has deep roots in Maryland.

Johns Hopkins left $7 million to be divided equally between the university and hospital when he died in 1873, and Enoch Pratt gave $833,333 in 1882 to start Baltimore's free library system.

The state is also home to some of the nation's wealthiest foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which doled out $172 million in 2003, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which distributed nearly $101 million that same year, according to the grant-makers association.

As individuals, Marylanders are also generous, for the most part, according to a recent survey by the association, which found that residents gave 2.94 percent of their adjusted gross income - slightly more than the national average of 2.32 percent - in 2002, the most recent year for which tax return information is available. The average charitable contribution per tax return, according to the survey, was $3,570, compared with the national average of $3,461. In all, Marylanders donated $4.1 billion in 2002.

That's all good, but the survey also found that some of Maryland's wealthier residents - those earning $200,000 to $1 million annually - are not keeping up with well-to-do people elsewhere in the nation. In fact, average contributions by Maryland residents in this category have fallen in recent years, from $17,833 in 2000, to $15,601 in 2002.

That same year, the national average for annual giving in the same income bracket was $18,874.

Beaudoin-Schwartz said that survey takers have been baffled by the results. They speculate that the state's high concentration of baby boomers, a group that tends to give less than others, could be a factor. Research suggests that the demographic concentration of baby boomers - more than 30 percent of Maryland residents are between ages 35 and 54 - decreases the statewide average for giving by $101 per filer.

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