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Our "Adventures in Philanthropy" blog posts are written by our staff and diverse membership and offer a glimpse into the world of philanthropy, presenting current issues and information relevant to funders, policymakers, members of the media, and those interested in current issues and giving trends.


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Top Five Ways Grantmakers are Utilizing the Standards for Excellence® Program

Posted By Tausi Suedi, Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By Amy Coates Madsen, Director, Standards for Excellence Institute®, Maryland Nonprofits

All around the Free State, more and more grantmakers are utilizing the Standards for Excellence program. The Standards for Excellence program helps nonprofits live by the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, a set of 67 standards for good nonprofit governance and management. The Standards for Excellence Institute, a project of Maryland Nonprofits, offers a host of high-quality educational materials and training programs to help nonprofits achieve and embrace these leading standards. Organizations demonstrate to funders (and everyone else!) that they operate in a way consistent with these high standards by participating in the Institute’s accreditation and recognition programs. Nonprofits that earn the Seal of Excellence can display it prominently and it also becomes part of their GuideStar profiles.

In Annapolis, the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County has added a question about Standards for Excellence achievement to its grant applications. Melissa Curtin, Executive Director, stated, " Our confidence in an organization's focus on efficiency, effectiveness, integrity and transparency is increased significantly when an organization has earned the Seal."  

Prince George’s County Department of Social Services (PGDSS) is awarding extra points to organizations that receive the Standards. Additionally, the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development requests the list of Standards for Excellence accredited and recognized groups when they are undertaking their grants review process.


The Horizon Foundation, based in Columbia, Maryland, has eligibility criteria for its Level III funding opportunities that require either Maryland Nonprofits Standards for Excellence, BBB Standards of Accountability (or a similar industry specific standard) by the time of the grant award.

Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States is sponsoring a cohort of organizations in Baltimore to strengthen their governance and management capacity and earn the Seal of Excellence, combined with leadership development and peer learning.  T. Rowe Price Foundation is also sponsoring a cohort of organizations West Baltimore to strengthen their capacity, in part, utilizing the Standards for Excellence. 

The Standards for Excellence program is now offered under license by regional, statewide and national partners all around the country. 

The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama (CFNEA) offers training and coaching for organizations interested in being accredited by the Standards for Excellence Institute®, and sets aside additional funding available exclusively for Standards accredited organizations.

“It is imperative that not-for-profits of all sizes be effective, efficient, credible and transparent as they strive to meet critical community needs,” says Jennifer S. Maddox, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. “We believe not-for-profit organizations are our partners in achieving the mission of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. The Standards for Excellence® accreditation gives us confidence in the grants we make.” 

Other examples of foundations moving in this direction are plentiful. 

• Seven foundations in Pennsylvania (where the Standards for Excellence program is offered by the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations) encourage their grantees and other nonprofits to participate in the Standards for Excellence training and accreditation process (Phoenixville Community Health Foundation; Westmoreland County Community Foundation; Grable Foundation; Philadelphia Foundation; Montgomery County Foundation; Adams County Community Foundation; and the HBE Foundation.)

• Eleven foundations in Ohio (where the Standards for Excellence program is offered by the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations) do the same (Richland County Foundation; Licking County Foundation; Dayton Community Foundation; the Cleveland Foundation; the Columbus Foundation; Toledo Foundation; Greater Cincinnati Foundation; Findlay-Hancock Foundation; Gund Foundation; Gar Foundation; and the Mathile Family Foundation).

• In Oklahoma, numerous foundations ask whether potential grantees have completed Standards for Excellence comprehensive training programs, which are offered through Standards for Excellence replication partner, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

Funders in Maryland can utilize the Standards for Excellence as a due diligence tool and as a resource for their grantees – and for nonprofits they aren’t able to support.  To learn more about how your foundation or governmental agency can benefit from the Standards for Excellence program, contact Amy Coates Madsen at  

Based on a blog originally published by the Peak Grantmaking (formerly Grants Managers Network), February 2017.

Top Five Ways Funders are Using Standards for Excellence in Grant Making

1. Providing support to nonprofits interested in Standards for Excellence training or accreditation.
2. Asking if an organization has earned the Seal of Excellence as part of the proposal or grant application process.
3. Awarding extra points or extra credit in the review process for organizations that have earned the Seal of Excellence.
4. Sponsoring cohorts of grantees to get consulting support to meet the Standards.
5. Referring nonprofits to the Standards resources such as the self-assessment, financial policies, or board composition analysis. 

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Maryland Nonprofits  nonprofits  philanthropy 

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Peer to peer: At the heart of influencing more effective philanthropy

Posted By Elisabeth Hyleck, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A new report by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation highlights the critical role of peer-to-peer- learning among foundation staff and trustees.

When looking to solve a problem or learn about a topic, foundation staff and board members indicated that they first go to a trusted peer or colleague. They also cited peers and colleagues as their most trusted source. Funders described trusted sources as people who are honest, open, and discreet. Trusted sources often have some shared characteristics like working in similar foundation roles or in a foundation of similar size, values, or geography. Interviews further confirm that peer validation is often what helps get knowledge to actually be used inside a foundation.


When asked about how they connect with peers, in particular, funders cited regional associations of grantmakers as being helpful in connecting them with one another.

The study also found that while not highly used now, social media may become a more important channel in the future for foundation audiences. Program staff, who tended to be younger, are more likely to use social media than foundation leaders, as illustrated by the fact that 27% of program staff cited social media as a primary way they seek out practice knowledge compared to 17% of foundation leaders. Do you connect with ABAG on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or ABAG's Adventures in Philanthropy Blog? We regularly share member news, reports, and other resources for the field.

When asked in an open-ended question to list their top three practice knowledge needs, 44% of survey respondents said evaluation and assessment. Respondents also expressed a desire for more information about best practices and information about what doesn’t work.

Our Association takes seriously our role as a convener, resource for Grantmakers, and the network for givers. We know our members like to learn together, in person, and from one another. We take care to provide ample opportunities for members to connect with one another, learn about best practices, and share information. Several upcoming events are providing such opportunities: Impact Investing: Setting the Stage, A National Perspective on Impact Investing; Racial Equity & Philanthropy: Achieving Equity…How Exactly?; and a Funder Conversation about Immigrants and Refugees.

We hope to see you at one of these or other upcoming programs. Or feel free to reach out to any ABAG staff member if you would like to talk with a peer about a specific issue.

We’d love to connect with you!

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy; philanthropy; ABAG mem 

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Baltimore Integration Partnership Update

Posted By Kurt Sommer, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Strengthening Baltimore’s Workforce: Reflections and Lessons Learned

For over a decade, members of the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative (BWFC) have supported a growing number of industry focused workforce development initiatives, and the outcomes are notable. Through these efforts, previously unemployed residents are getting industry recognized certifications and jobs with career advancement opportunities at impressive rates. This report highlights several of these initiatives and offers recommendations on how they can be expanded. Read the Report.



Growing Anchor Institution Local and Minority Purchasing 

Anchor institutions in Baltimore are working to strengthen minority and local purchasing to create jobs and local economic opportunity. To improve internal policies and practices, Next Street, U3 Advisors, and ML Whelley, LLC are completing reports assessing the budgetary, policy, infrastructure, and planning processes at five Baltimore anchor institution. Participating institutions include LifeBridge Health, Maryland Institute College of Art, Notre Dame, University of Maryland Medical System, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore. Common findings, strengths, challenges and recommendations from the work are captured in this summary presentation made to BIP anchor institutions and other stakeholders. Review the Findings.

Central Baltimore Future Fund Launches

A new $10 million fund was launched in December to continue the revitalization of neighborhoods in central Baltimore while creating jobs for area residents. The Central Baltimore Future Fund (CBFF), which was envisioned in the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, is being managed by the Reinvestment Fund. Fund borrowers need to incorporate economic inclusion goals including minority business contracting and local hiring into their projects.  Many area banks, foundations, and partners invested in the CBFF and loan guarantee pool including the Abell Foundation, The AnnIe E. Casey Foundation, City of Baltimore, First Mariner Bank, Goldseker Foundation, Howard Bank, Johns Hopkins University, Living Cities Foundation, M&T Bank, MECU, PNC Bank, and Rosedale Federal Bank. In addition to the Fund, predevelopment and acquisition resources are also available for eligible projects while Central Baltimore Partnership and BIP staff are connecting borrowers to workforce and other partners to help them achieve inclusion goals. The first CBFF loan was made to Telesis to support the next phase of their 300 unit mixed income housing project in Barclay. Learn more about the Fund. 

‘Big Bean Theory’ Sprouts with Baltimore Anchors

This past Thursday, the BIP was pleased to host Ms. Eula McDowell and her growing Mt. Vernon Marketplace based business Big Bean Theory as she pitched to the procurement leadership and food service providers of Baltimore’s anchor institutions.   The pitch was one of the prizes for winning the School of Food/Startup Soiree’s Food Entrepreneur Demo Day this past November covered recently by the Baltimore Sun. Food is a ripe opportunity for many Baltimore anchors to support their local economy as it is a sector they all share in common and can engage through multiple avenues including catering, campus food service, as well as student and staff spending.  Over the past three years, the BIP has partnered with City Seeds to help connect anchors to local food entrepreneurs through vendor fairs and their business development program School of Food. More about School of Food and the Big Bean Theory.

Pilot Administrative Training Program Completes 3rd Cohort

Hiring local residents is one of the key strategies of the BIP to address economic disparities and is a priority for a growing number of Baltimore employers. In late 2015, 10 anchor institutions came together to support a funding application to the City of Baltimore to create a new training program committing to consider program graduates for entry level positions. With a partial match from the BIP, Humanim launched a free 13 week Administrative Assistant workforce training program enrolling 45 city residents. Participants received two of three recognized certifications including Microsoft Office Specialist, Certified Medical Administrative Assistant, and the Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence. This past November, the third and last cohort of the pilot graduated. With placements still underway, the program has already achieved strong completion and placement rates. The pilot found that motivated anchors can be a core group of employers to create a program around but it is also valuable if the training is also oriented to support positions with other employers. For this pilot, anchors represented over half of the job placements with jobs more prevalent in medical institutions.  A variety of hiring barriers were also encountered including experience needed, availability/timing of open jobs, and lengthy hiring process. This required a customized hiring approach for each employer, a motivated human resource/hiring manager and strong communication with the workforce agency.  Challenges and strategies were collaboratively shared across human resource leaders through an anchor steering committee formed to craft new solutions and even open up opportunities with new employers. In partnership with the anchors, Humanim and BIP are looking to continue this work in 2017.

New Orleans Visits Baltimore

The Baltimore Integration Partnership was pleased to help host a team from New Orleans, a sister city in the Living Cities Integration Initiative, to highlight local anchor institution hiring, purchasing, and reinvestment strategies. Bon Secours, Johns Hopkins, Maryland Institute College of Art, Humanim, the University of Maryland-Baltimore, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Reinvestment Fund, and the Mayor’s Office participated in the visit.  


From the News Desk

-          Baltimore leads state in growth

-          Food entrepreneurs build business savvy with Humanim's School of Food

-          Officials announce $10 million fund for projects in central Baltimore

-          Anchors/City help medical laundry firm to open 80,000-sf facility in East Baltimore, hire 400 new employees

Around the BIP

From Left to Right Top to Bottom - Presentation to Kaiser Permanente/UMB & UMMC Food Vendor Fair / NPower Graduation/Presentation to SC Community Capital/CASE World Business Chicago Anchor Conference / Next Street Presentation to BIP.

TheBaltimore Integration Partnership is funded by the national Living Cities Integration Initiative, the Surdna Foundation and receives generous local support from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Goldseker Foundation, Associated Black Charities, The Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative and the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG). ABAG acts as a backbone organization, coordinating and staffing the partnership.

Tags:  BIP; Adventures in Philanthropy; Philanthropy; ABA 

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2016 Annual Program Survey Results Report for Membership

Posted By Elisabeth Hyleck, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thanks to our members, what is consistently the most popular ABAG service? Our educational programs!

In 2016, we held 112 programs and webinars, all designed to assist and inform our members to be more effective grantmakers.  

In December 2016, we conducted the Seventh Annual Program Survey. The survey is designed to gather feedback to improve the quality of our work and capture the impact our programs may have had on your grantmaking and the community.

We are pleased to share with you a summary of the survey results. 

A personalized email was sent to 95 members who had attended three or more programs between January – December 5, 2016. 34 people responded (44% response rate). Thank you for your time and effort to help us provide you with the best possible educational programs in 2017.

We ask in the survey if any of the programs led members to take specific actions or influenced their grantmaking. Twenty people said, yes and gave examples of grantmaking decisions, aligning grantmaking with others, and sharing information with colleagues, to name a few.

We also learned from the survey that ABAG members continue to value ABAG programs for four qualities they provide:

1.       The “right” speakers and information;

2.       Great timing;

3.       Vibrant discussion with peers; and

4.       New perspectives or out-of-the-box thinking.

We will continue to make sure ABAG program have these qualities, especially including time for discussions with peers about how we can work together on issues!

When asked to name what program was most useful to them, the most frequently noted programs focus on education issues and grantmaking practice programs. Of note are that 6 programs on the list dealt with cross-cutting issues and/or were organized jointly by two affinity groups, something staff has been working on doing more of.

In 2016, for the first time, we asked about members who participate in programs remotely (either by phone or GoToMeeting). We want to share that remote participation is available for almost all ABAG programs, and while the majority of members participate in programs in person, those who have participated remotely rated their experience as “good” or “acceptable”. We encourage you to try it instead of opting out of a program!

The full report of the program survey results has been shared with the full ABAG staff, program committee, board, and group leaders. 

If you have ideas for program topics and speakers, or for further information on ABAG's events and programs, please contact Elisabeth Hyleck, Programs and Initiatives Director.

Tags:  ABAG Members; Adventures in Philanthropy; Philanth 

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The Role of Philanthropy in Public Policy: “ABAG Goes to Annapolis”

Posted By Jonalyn Denlinger, Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017

By: Jonalyn Denlinger, Director of Member Engagement

On January 30, ABAG held its first ever “ABAG Goes to Annapolis” event. Twenty ABAG members and staff met in Annapolis to participate in the legislative session. For many, this was their first time to Annapolis observing the legislative session, for others this was a repeat occurrence. Both seasoned and first-timers commented on the “hurry up to wait” experience of the legislative session, as well as the importance of participating as an active citizen in the decisions made in our state capital. Everyone also agreed that it was a positive experience that exposed members to the legislative process.

This day in Annapolis represents the work of the Association’s Public Policy Committee, which meets quarterly. In 2016, the Public Policy committee, led by chair Kevin Griffin Moreno of the Baltimore Community Foundation, worked together to learn about the various roles our members play in public policy. It was through these conversations and exploration that we learned many of our members had not been to Annapolis, either in their personal life or professional roles. We also learned that our members engage with public officials and policy-related issues in a variety of ways- each unique to the charter and bylaws of their organization. Additionally, we learned that many of our members had hesitations and the need for further clarity about the role philanthropy can play in public policy. As a committee, we wanted to capture the various ways our members both define and act within the context of public policy. Below is our guiding document of definitions:

Public policy advocacy is a means of effecting change in public policy or practice through persuasive communications with elected or appointed public officials.

Advocacy does not equal Lobbying. Public policy advocacy includes a broad range of communications, relationship-building, capacity-building, and other activities. U.S. and federal guidelines limit lobbying to contacting – or urging the public to contact – policymakers for the purpose of: proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation; and/or influencing public policy decisions by Executive Branch employees.

Public policy advocacy includes:

  • Legislative advocacy – aimed at passing, blocking, or changing legislation;
  • Budget advocacy – aimed at affecting the allocation of public resources;
  • Administrative/regulatory advocacy – aimed at affecting the ways that laws are implemented and budgets are spent by public agencies; and
  • Judicial advocacy – aimed at reforming the legal system.

Types of public policy advocacy and potential roles for philanthropy:

  • Capacity Building – grantmaking to advocacy organizations, organizing, leadership development  
  • Coalition Building – mobilizing individuals/organizations around specific policy issues
  • Convening – holding meetings/forming networks around particular issues
  • Education – providing information to public officials and other stakeholders about policy issues
  • Grassroots Organizing – leading organizing efforts around particular issues
  • Litigation – lawsuits, legal representation, etc.
  • Lobbying –direct & grassroots lobbying – includes verbal & written testimony unless formally invited
  • Research – funding and/or disseminating the findings of studies, reports, white papers, etc. for the purpose of effecting policy change
  • Relationship-Building – cross sector relationship building with public, private, and social sector stakeholders
  • Strategic Communications – press releases, interviews, op-ed pieces, blog posts, social media activities, marketing, branding, emails to stakeholders, etc.
  • Funding - direct funding to advocacy organizations to address key issues important to foundation and community

Please join us for continued conversations about the role of philanthropy in public policy at our upcoming Public Policy Committee Meetings:

March 30, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM

June 19, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

September 18, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

November 20, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM 

Tags:  ABAG Members  Adventures in Philanthropy  Philanthropy  policymakers  policyworks  Public Policy 

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Let's Give them Something to Talk About – Our Region’s Amazing Giving Circles!

Posted By Elisabeth Hyleck, Monday, November 14, 2016

Blog written by: Elisabeth Hyleck, ABAG Programs and Initiatives Director



Our region is home to dozens of giving circles that benefit from connecting to and learning from one another about a variety of issues important to giving circles.


On October 27, 2016, ABAG brought together 40 giving circle leaders representing 10 giving circles of various ages and sizes from four states to Annapolis for our eighth Annual Giving Circle Connector Gathering.


We had a wonderful day of learning and sharing with the theme: "Let's Give them Something to Talk About: Communicating with and about your Circle". As in the past, the Gathering provided the opportunity to network, and conversation about resources and best practices on how to sustain, nurture and grow giving circles. Marketing and Communications Specialist Adrienne Peres kicked off the gathering with helpful tips to guide circles in their marketing and communications endeavors.  


This year's event, co-hosted with Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, a giving circle at [ABAG Member] The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, was held at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's beautiful Philip Merrill Environmental Center. John Rodenhausen, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shared with us some interesting facts about the Center and its green features. Some attendees were founding donors, others new to giving circles. Some had a long history of giving, others were relatively new to philanthropy. But it was clear by the energy in the room all were excited to learn and share about the work they do.


Underscored during the day together is that giving circles are making a great impact!


Our quick in-person survey of the 10 circles present revealed that about 2,248 donors granted $1,207,000 in this last grants cycle. Amazing!


The collective power of giving circles to make change in their communities was clear, as was the passion and dedication of the donors around the tables. While the Gathering didn’t target women or women’s giving circles, all but one of the circles present focus on women or women and girls. It was inspiring to be among women leading efforts to affect change for other women in their communities.


ABAG has spent the last 15 years supporting giving circles because of our mission to promote philanthropy.


Our tagline is "Informing Grantmakers, Improving our Community” and much of our work focuses on assisting members to learn about community needs, possible solutions, and effective and efficient grantmaking to address these needs. Since our formation, ABAG has been interested in promoting philanthropy and cultivating a community of givers, knowing the great needs in the community. Our early hypothesis for championing giving circles was that they would be a terrific way to positively impact the community, as well as a great training ground for philanthropists, which circles (pun intended) back to what ABAG is all about.


We at ABAG are pleased to continue to play a role in bringing our region's giving circle community together. We will continue to be the regional resource and hub of giving circle activity, and look forward to continuing to provide information via our GivingCircleConnector Facebook Page and GivingCircleConnector Twitter page. And, we offer membership for giving circles in the region.


ABAG is proud to serve our region's thriving giving circle community. To learn more about giving circles, visit


Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions!

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers was founded in 1983 to provide a forum in which colleagues could address common problems, approaches and interests.

Our vision is that philanthropy in Maryland will be an integral force in tackling Maryland’s most pressing problems through partnership with government, business and nonprofit decision-makers.
Our mission is to maximize the impact of giving on community life through a growing network of diverse, informed and effective philanthropists. 

Tags:  giving; giving circles; the giving life 

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Baltimore Integration Partnership Update

Posted By Tausi Suedi, Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Food Hub Breaks Ground, City Seeds Social Enterprise Taking Off