For Maryland nonprofits, time is money

Baltimore businesses donate volunteers as well as money

  • From left, Richard Barth, dean of the UM School of Social Work; Bronwyn Mayden, assistant dean and executive director of Promise Heights, and Amanda Malone, a School of Social Work student and Promise Heights intern, help construct a playground at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School.
From left, Richard Barth, dean of the UM School of Social Work;… (Laureate Education Photo )
June 28, 2014|By Michael Bodley, The Baltimore Sun

Dozens of low-income middle schoolers at Baltimore's St. Ignatius Loyola Academy are getting a head start on money management, thanks to Legg Mason employees.

Volunteers from the Baltimore-based money management firm regularly visit the Jesuit boys' school throughout the year to teach students how to open savings accounts, balance checkbooks and understand the taxes they'll soon have to pay.

"We just don't want this to be just a financial component," said Auburn Bell, Legg Mason's director of corporate philanthropy. "We're working toward having our employees engaged with these key partners in the education space, getting them to volunteer."

Overall, companies aren't giving as much money as they used to, according to a recent Giving USA report, leaving Maryland nonprofits to scramble for alternatives sources of funding. The study found that corporate giving fell 3.2 percent to $17.88 billion in 2013 compared to the year before, while personal donation rose 2.7 percent to $240.6 billion. But some companies are also shifting toward more volunteer work.

The decline in corporate giving puzzles Greg Cantori, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, which serves more than 1,000 nonprofits in the state.

"It's distressing because companies have been hanging onto cash and not giving up their capital base. It doesn't make sense to me," Cantori said. "They're not hiring unless they absolutely have to."

Larger, regional companies that once gave more generously in Baltimore are spreading philanthropic funds more thinly across the Mid-Atlantic region, according to Celeste Amato, president of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. But she said Baltimore-based businesses such as Legg Mason and T. Rowe Price remain invested in the city.

"Companies that have a healthy presence in Baltimore City are very generous in the city," Amato said. "Companies are giving well beyond financial support to nonprofits. There's a lot of volunteer energy, and it's vibrant, that comes out of Baltimore."

Like Legg, some businesses have discovered there's more to philanthropy than writing a check.

"Even though corporate giving may be down, there are a variety of ways that corporations are engaging in communities and partnering with nonprofits around causes," said Una Osili, who guides Giving USA as director of research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "It's not just the philanthropy dollars, but also the volunteering that's important."

A few hundred Laureate Education employees recently helped construct a playground at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School in Baltimore to provide a safe place to play for the students and children in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood. The Baltimore-based firm, formerly Sylvan Learning Systems, operates a network of for-profit and nonprofit universities around the world.

"It's a great honor to give back to the community that has given me — and Laureate Education — so much," Douglas L. Becker, Laureate's founder and CEO, said in a statement. "We are committed to doing work that is here for good in every community in which we operate."

It's hard to put a dollar value on such volunteerism.

T. Rowe Price is in the process of trying to calculate the value of the 51,361 volunteer hours logged by its 5,600 associates in 2013.

Independent Sector, a national collection of nonprofits, foundations and corporations, values the average Maryland volunteer hour at $25.43.

"That doesn't count in our economy," Cantori said. "It's a secret number, but it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If you and I go out to volunteer, why don't we count that in our economy?"

Regardless of what the volunteer work is worth, it has an impact.

"You're definitely seeing engagement levels up — not just one time we're going to do a drive and everybody bring in something, but actually embedding people in the community for longer-term commitments," said Vanessa Milio, deputy director of Business Volunteers Maryland.

Added Cantori: "Rather than just going out on a ropes course or shooting paintballs on each other, companies are doing some real good in the community."

Faced with falling corporate largesse, successful nonprofits are seeking alternative sources of funding, Cantori said.

"Nonprofits are adapting. We're seeing the uptick," Cantori said. "The markets have come roaring back. There is definitely more money available than there has been."

The shifting environment for nonprofits has led the National Aquarium in Baltimore to reconsider its fundraising strategy, which has historically relied heavily on corporate funding.

The aquarium is reaching out to its 23,000-household membership base to find those "capable of giving at a higher level."

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