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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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ABAG and Maryland Nonprofits Partner on "Connecting for Impact - Justice for All"

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Thursday, November 5, 2015

November 5, 2015

By Celeste Amato, ABAG President

Recognizing the critical partnership between nonprofits and funders in affecting the change we seek in our communities, ABAG has joined with its strategic partner Maryland Nonprofits to present the 2015 Annual Conference: CONNECTING FOR IMPACT - JUSTICE FOR ALL November 12-13, 2015.

The strategic partnership between ABAG and Maryland Nonprofits is an important one, secured by our shared interest in promoting a healthy, vibrant nonprofit sector. Our goal in partnering on this year’s Annual Conference is to increase the impact of our members by sharing our expertise, influencing good governance, and increase opportunities for dialogue and collaboration.

ABAG staff and funder members will participate in a number of sessions, including the United Way of Central Maryland and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region.

ABAG Members should contact us to get a coupon code for a discounted member rate.

Registration closes on November 8th.

ABAG will continue its partnership with Maryland Nonprofits and invites all nonprofits to connect with us by:

  • Visiting the resource section for nonprofits on our website
  • Using the updated guides on preparing grants for funders, which recently replaced the "common grant application"
  • Downloading our Member Directory featuring more than 100 grant opportunities
  • Taking advantage of our monthly grantseeker workshops and webinars to learn about grant research and writing, and to meet with Funders
  • Connecting with us on our Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin pages
  • Subscribing to our monthly Philanthropy News Online eNewsletter
  • And, by joining Maryland Nonprofits and ABAG for future shared opportunities to promote our sector together.

See you on the November 12th!

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers is the network, the resource and the voice for the philanthropic community in Maryland.

Tags:  Maryland Nonprofits  Nonprofits  November 2015 Members' Memo 

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Thank You on My Last Day - Adam Donaldson

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, August 31, 2015
August 31, 2015
By Adam Donaldson

After more than six years, my last day as Member Services Director at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers was last Friday, August 28, 2015.
My wife and I have packed up the kids and the dog to return to the state where we grew up. If you are reading this then you likely have a role in a Baltimore or regional nonprofit organization and I want to say thank you. Thank you for your hard work. It does have an impact.

The nonprofit sector in Baltimore has directly impacted my family. My family learned to swim and trained for half-marathons at the Orokawa and Weinberg Family Center Ys. Almost weekly for five years, we have benefitted from the quality care at Kennedy Krieger Institute. In the middle of the night, I have taken my unconscious child to the ER of Sinai Hospital (and I am still uncertain why everyone at Sinai is obsessed with Sponge Bob).

Artscape, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the National Aquarium are among the cultural institutions that have entertained and educated our family. While Civic Works, Health Care for the Homeless, Marian House, Our Daily Bread, Paul’s Place, Reading Partners and Strong City Baltimore connected us with people and engaged us deeper in the city through volunteer service and giving. The UMBC Shriver Center gave us a family of friends and a moral rubric for pursuing justice and peace in the world.

Now I have to ask one more thing of you. The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers’ 2015-2020 Strategic Plan commits to a goal to impact the community through several strategies, including:

Support our primary partner constituency, the nonprofit community, to build capacity, knowledge and best practices around resource development and funder relationships.

What I would ask you to do is hold the Association accountable in my absence. They published it in the Strategic Plan, so now go ahead and share your ideas on the tactics or activities needed. In the past few years, the Association improved the Member Directory, which presents information about our members’ funding interests, by changing the format to a searchable, printable PDF that includes a topic index. The grant format was redesigned to provide more free instruction on writing a proposal to a funder. The grantseeker programs (more TBA this fall) expanded from philanthropy 101 to include grant writing workshops and more opportunities to meet with funders directly. The Association dedicates staff time to Maryland Gives More, and the Association’s many partnerships with Maryland Nonprofits continue to multiply.

You can begin by encouraging qualified candidates to apply to be the next Member Services Director. This position includes responsibility for external relationships with nonprofit organizations.
Maybe it’s you.

So now I have edited out the quote from Maya Angelou about contributing to the psychic force of good in the world and edited out commentary on the institutions and families whose generous donations and volunteer time champion nonprofit organizations and I am just typing because when I stop my time is up. I will miss working with you. It does have an impact.

Thank you,


Tags:  Maryland Nonprofits  Member Services Director  Nonprofits  September 2015 Members' Memo 

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National Policy News You Missed While on Summer Vacation

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Tuesday, August 18, 2015
August 18, 2015
By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

Charitable Tax Incentives
On July 21, the Senate Finance Committee approved through 2016 a package of 52 expired tax provisions, collectively known as the "extenders package” (because the temporary measures have to be renewed periodically). Included in the bill was the IRA rollover and enhanced deductions for donations of food inventories and conservation easements. The bill does not make the provisions permanent. It also did not include changes to the foundation excise tax. A bill still needs to be brought to the Senate floor – most likely in the fall. During debate on the legislation, Senators Thune (R-SD), Stabenow (D-MI), Schumer (D-NY), and Wyden (D-OR) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have included all of the other components of the America Gives More Act. The purpose of the amendment was to keep on the table the issue of making the charitable incentives permanent during forthcoming reform negotiations.

Nonprofit Votes Count
A new initiative aims to encourage nonprofit staff, board members, and other volunteers to get registered and to vote. Entitled Nonprofit Votes Count, this nonpartisan voter engagement campaign – spearheaded by Independent Sector, National Council of Nonprofits, Nonprofit VOTE, and United Way Worldwide – provides a wealth of resources that make it easy for nonprofits to ensure all the people connected to their work are registered and ready to vote. At, nonprofits and nonprofit networks can sign up and access tools and resources to engage their own staff, board members, and other volunteers.
DOL Proposed Overtime Regulations Debated
The National Council on Nonprofits provides news about the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed overtime regulations. The draft regulations would increase the minimum salary level that employers must pay their white-collar employees from $23,660 to $50,400 per year to exempt them from time-and-a-half overtime pay. The proposal would also raise the minimum salary level for "highly compensated employees” from $100,000 to over $120,000 per year, and possibly establish a mechanism for automatically raising these salary levels in the future.

The National Council of Nonprofits encourages nonprofits to conduct a mission-based analysis of these proposed regulations. That means answering questions about how the proposed increases in the minimum salary levels would affect operations, resources, and staffing, as well as what impact the draft regulations would have on persons relying on the services and the mission of the nonprofit. Nonprofits should share their answers to those questions with the Department of Labor in the form of comments to the proposed regulations. Comments are due by September 4, 2015. Read the analysis by the National Council of Nonprofits and consider these tips on filing comments.

Tags:  Charitable Tax Deduction  Nonprofits  Policyworks  Public Policy  September 2015 Members' Memo 

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The Right to be Informed – 990 E-Filing

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, July 20, 2015

July 20, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

On June 16, 2015 Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and co-sponsors John Thune (R-SD) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act of 2015, which was referred to the Committee on Finance. Among other provisions, under Title V – The Right to be Informed, the legislation mandates e-filing of nonprofit 990 tax returns and requires the IRS to make the returns public in machine readable format.

Mandatory e-filing of nonprofit tax records – a good idea?

There has long been interest requiring charitable nonprofits to file their IRS Form 990 annual tax returns electronically rather than submitting them on paper. For several years President Obama has proposed electronic filing. The IRS’s Advisory Committee of Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) recommends mandatory e-filing in its current annual report (FYI Maryland Nonprofits’ Amy Coates Madsen is a member of ACT!).

Advocates say donors would have better information to inform their philanthropy if the IRS required all nonprofits to electronically file AND the information was in a machine readable format. Researchers, watchdog groups and nonprofit leaders would better understand financial health, the nonprofit capacity of communities and more. And besides, BIG data is now cool.

There is concern about the administrative burden to small organizations and to organizations with less technological capacity. The Grassley legislation addresses this directly by giving organizations under $200,000 in gross receipts two additional years to comply with the mandate. Advocates counter argue that e-filing can be simpler and less expensive than traditional paper.

Missing from the media coverage and inevitable march to technocratic transparency has been an overt conversation that private foundations are also nonprofit organizations that file the 990PF. Most likely legislation from Congress would apply to e-filing documents by all variations of tax-exempt organizations.

As a network of philanthropists, this realization resurfaces conversations at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers about the transparency continuum from Glasspockets to Anonymity. There are strong arguments that transparency increases public trust, wins funding partners to your work and improves grantee relations. It also diminishes personal privacy and undermines the ethic of anonymous giving.

We will be tracking the progress of proposed regulations and preparing our members for what feels like inevitable change.

Mandatory e-filing of nonprofit organizations and private foundation tax records – a good idea?

Tags:  July/August 2015 Members' Memo  Nonprofits  Public Policy 

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Applications for Tax-Exempt Status Double in 2014

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April 8, 2015

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

The IRS approved more than 110,000 applications for tax-exempt status in 2014, more than doubling the number (44,274) approved the previous fiscal year, according to a new report.

At the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, we wish we could say that the growth was caused by a spike in philanthropy and the establishment of many new foundations! It could be partly true, but the IRS attributed the spike to both a new Form 1023-EZ used by 20,103 smaller entities and a related almost-automatic approval process for other application forms. To apply for exempt status using Form 1023-EZ, the applying organization must have less than $50,000 income (annual gross receipts) for each of the next three years.

We also wish we could say that the growth in nonprofit public charities was caused by a surge in goodwill and commitment to social services. Perhaps, but the National Council of Nonprofits attributes the spike to lessoning standards and the failure of the IRS to appropriately vet applications to create new nonprofits. The federal Taxpayer Advocate warned Congress that the new approach amounts to the "IRS’s abdication of its responsibility to determine whether an organization is organized and operated for an exempt purpose.”

Funders may welcome innovation, new ideas and new people to nonprofit leadership, but they also remain deeply concerned about unnecessary duplication of effort and the dispersion of charitable resources – both money and people.

One report is not a trend, but the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers will continue to monitor Form 1023-EZ and work with Maryland Nonprofits and the National Council of Nonprofits on IRS policies that work for its members and for our mission to improve communities through effective philanthropy.

Tags:  April 2015 Members' Memo  Charitable Tax Deducation  IRS  Nonprofits  Public Policy  Tax Exempt Status 

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Nonprofits Want More Direct Contact with Grantmakers

Posted By Celeste Amato, Monday, November 17, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
November 18, 2014

By Celeste Amato, ABAG President

When asked what members value in the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, one consistent response for 32 years may surprise you – ABAG’s work to strengthen nonprofit organizations and communications on behalf of grantmakers about grant guidelines and proposal writing.
ABAG publishes our Member Directory for grantseekers, offers public learning programs on philanthropy and grant writing, publishes Philanthropy News Online monthly eNewsletter, has an active social media presence, and has developed the new Grant Writing section of our website,

ABAG also maintains a strategic partnership with Maryland Nonprofits.
As I wrote about our mission to maximize the impact of philanthropic giving, "without the nonprofit sector, we cannot achieve that mission. Nonprofits are the partners who deliver the service and the impact (Connecting for Impact 11/6/14).”

Now, to improve the grant processes and relationships between grantseekers and grantmakers, ABAG recently invited feedback on the experience of fundraising from Maryland foundations and corporations. Providing detailed comments, 136 respondents completed the 2014 Nonprofit Survey. This information will inform ABAG’s current work with nonprofit organizations and our current 2015-2018 strategic planning process.

Respondents delivered clear messages through the survey results, highlighted here:

• Nonprofits want personal and frequent communication with grantmakers;
• Nonprofits need general operating and infrastructure support to sustain and scale their work;
• Nonprofits turn first to the Internet for information and appreciate online grant applications;
• Nonprofits value and appreciate a simplified grant application process; and
• Nonprofits desire better feedback from funders after a proposal is rejected.

The full survey results are available here. There were many comments of appreciation for the survey itself. ABAG echoes one comment that "I applaud this survey as a beginning…”

In response, ABAG has:

• Informed our membership of the survey results;
• Shared survey results with our regional association of grantmaker colleagues across the country; and
• Updated our resources for the nonprofit sector, including our new Grant Writing website section.

Stay tuned for additional announcements on how the survey results inform ABAG’s work. Comment below or send your own observations of the survey to

Tags:  Grant Writing  Nonprofits  November 2014 Members' Memo 

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New ABAG Resources on Grant Writing

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, November 17, 2014
Updated: Thursday, November 20, 2014
November 17, 2014
By Adam Donaldson

In the recent 2014 Nonprofit Survey conducted by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, 57% of respondents named the ABAG Common Grant and Report Format as one of their primary resources for learning how to write a grant.

We are pleased to now offer a new Grant Writing resources website page on the ABAG website,, which provides grantseekers with:

For those who have used the ABAG’s Common Grant Application Format in the past, we no longer offer it as a resource. Our new Grant Writing resources website page is taking the place of it.


A Task Force, comprised of member grantmakers and nonprofit professionals, began meeting in 2013. The Task Force reviewed grant formats from other regional associations, trainings from other providers, and published guides to grant writing. ABAG members and nonprofits were individually interviewed about their needs. And then even more volunteers reviewed the new resources. The Task Force agreed upon the new Grant Writing resources website page as our best opportunity to provide quality information to grantseekers.

The primary purpose of our new Grant Writing resources website page is to provide free education on how to write a high-quality proposal. By being explicit and detailed on the information sought by grantmakers to decide on grant awards, we hope we have reduced the time and resource burden of applying for funding.

In particular, the new grant proposal format we now offer as part of the new Grant Writing resources website section is not a "common grant,” or a single proposal for a community of funders. It may take time for our membership and community to stop referring to these resources as the "ABAG Common Grant,” but the truth is that over the past decade fewer and fewer local grantmakers mandate that applicants submit an ABAG format.

And that is actually fantastic news.

Online grant systems, preferred by applicants according to our 2014 Nonprofit Survey, have multiplied. Soon online systems will be the norm. In some cases, local grantmakers have taken the ABAG format built on group consensus and stripped away questions to create shorter, streamlined formats.
And even better for nonprofit organizations, local grantmakers have leap-frogged the ideal of a common format by opening their process to direct conversation about proposed activity and flexibility with the format of written proposals for review by their Board of Directors.

Members and grantseekers should direct questions and continued feedback to me at

Tags:  common grant application  grantseekers  grantwriting  nonprofits  November 2014 Members' Memo  resources 

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Raising Concerns about Form 1023-EZ

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director

On June 19, 2014, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers joined a growing chorus of concern about the Internal Revenue Service proposed Form 1023-EZ, a shorter application to earn nonprofit status.  On behalf of our members and the nonprofit community, we sent a joint letter with Maryland Nonprofits to Members of Congress asking them to stop the IRS from implementing Form 1023-EZ.

We understand the good intentions of the IRS to manage a backlog of applications by developing a streamlined process for smaller organizations.  The Form 1023-EZ, however, provides just a two-page checklist instead of the traditional proven protocols of requiring applicants to submit materials showing they are prepared for the responsibilities of tax-exempt status.  ABAG is concerned that Form 1023-EZ would increase opportunity for fraud and exacerbate the proliferation of nonprofit organizations. We believe the IRS should slow down and restart a public and transparent conversation about improvements to the current Form 1023.

Members interested in learning more about this issue can read from several recent articles:

Tags:  IRS  Maryland Nonprofits  nonprofits 

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The Business of Doing Good

Posted By Celeste Amato, Thursday, June 20, 2013
Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013

By Celeste Amato, President, Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers 

Here at ABAG we focus on telling the story of philanthropy and highlighting the good work and impact of our 145+ membership. We strive to be a consistent voice for philanthropy, and one of the ways we are doing this is through our new monthly column on philanthropy in the Baltimore Business Journal

We are excited for the opportunity and hope you find it useful. 

Below you will find our first column, published on June 18 - let us know what you think!

The Business of Doing Good 

Foundations and nonprofits all too often believe that "the work will speak for itself.”

In most sectors communications to multiple audiences is standard business. Businesses with good ideas want existing customers, new customers and the world to know about their products or services. That’s how businesses grow. That need, in the philanthropic sector, is really no different.

Foundations invest in improved communities and quality of life through research and development, and in project and program implementation primarily through nonprofits. When an effective model for positive community benefit is identified and successfully tested how are we letting people know? How are we communicating with potential partners who can help us grow a model to scale and benefit more people? We aren’t - at least not often enough, not consistently enough and not effectively enough.

We don’t always see ourselves as the innovative business sector that we are – the sector where models for social change and benefit can be tested and proven. Typical news releases often focus on dollars out the door rather than impact achieved with foundation support. The need to change the way we talk about our work and the reach of our communications is becoming increasingly clear. Research from the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative (PAI) suggests that philanthropy faces an "awareness deficit” even among the most engaged citizens in our communities. Only four in 10 can name a foundation. Only one in 10 can identify a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about.

We need to talk more, not just to each other, but to the audiences beyond the individual projects we implement and the immediate geography and community we benefit.

Increased federal scrutiny of philanthropy is also pushing us to step up our communication efforts. Over the last several years there has been considerable activity in Washington on budget and tax matters that could have a significant effect on the future of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. Even incentives for individual charitable giving are under attack.

Ours is a sector free of normal business constraints and uniquely positioned to take an adventurous approach to investment in problem solving and quality of life for all citizens. Sharing our business stories can help spread promising practices, earn champions, attract new ideas, and encourage more giving. And it can combat the awareness deficit among public and policy leaders.

It is wonderful work to explore and implement ways to make communities better places to live for all citizens – and the vital role of this sector in shaping the future of Baltimore and Maryland is why I am excited to write this column for the BBJ.

Let’s seize every opportunity to talk about the business of doing good.

Celeste Amato is President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG). As The Resource on Grantmaking, The Network for Givers and The Voice for Philanthropy, ABAG is a membership organization of more than 145 private and community foundations, donor advised funds, and corporations with strategic grantmaking programs - representing the vast majority of institutional giving in Maryland. Celeste can be reached at:

Tags:  Adventures in Philanthropy  Baltimore Business Journal  Celeste Amato  July/August 2013 Members' Memo  Nonprofits  Philanthropy 

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The State of Evaluation

Posted By Tom Kelly, Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3, 2013

By Tom Kelly
Former ABAG Board Member
Vice President for Knowledge, Evaluation & Learning, Hawai'i Community Foundation

For the past 23 years I have been working with nonprofits, government, and foundations to build their capacity to assess and measure performance and results of their work. It had often been a challenge in the past to ”make the case” for the time, money, and effort that evaluation can take but I have seen enormous understanding, capacity, and even demand for evaluation grow over the years. And my observations are supported by recent data from the State of Evaluation 2012 from the Innovation Network. 

More nonprofit organizations are not only investing in evaluation but they are using its findings to learn and improve. But they continue to struggle with the resources (technical, time and financial) it takes to do it well and continuously (and, sadly, some still struggle with unsatisfactory evaluations and evaluators – that is a problem the American Evaluation Association is trying to address). And many find that their funders demand data and evaluation without assisting in the funding and building of the skill and infrastructure it takes to do it well. But I remain encouraged because there is no turning back from the demand of nonprofit managers and leaders (and I hope boards) to want to have and use data to grow, adapt, and improve.

So I encourage you to take a look:

State of Evaluation 2012: Evaluation Practice and Capacity in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit organizations and foundations hold great promise for developing new ideas to overcome old problems and for helping people the world over to live healthier, happier lives. But for all that promise, problems are still getting worse. In the face of ever growing need, funders and nonprofits need to use every tool at their disposal to maximize impact. Doing good isn't enough. We need to do ever better.

Evaluation is an often undervalued, overlooked tool for improving outcomes and maximizing impact. It is seen as a nice to have, not as a need to have. In State of Evaluation 2012 the data show that more than two-thirds of organizations do not have the promising capacities and behaviors in place to meaningfully engage in evaluation. And 47% of organizations with annual budgets greater than $5 million did not have at least one full-time employee dedicated to evaluation.

In a sector where results matter, it is incumbent upon us all to evaluate, learn, and improve.

As we celebrate Innovation Network's 20th year of supporting the social sector, we take this opportunity to reflect on the great evaluation strides the sector has made. We are elated that the vast majority of nonprofit organizations (90%) did engage in evaluation. And we are encouraged by the fact that 100% of respondents reported using their evaluation findings.

We are proud to be a member of the social sector, and thankful to have supported so many of your evaluation efforts.

For more information on the State of Evaluation Project (and to download the report), visit For more information on Innovation Network, visit us at

Tags:  evaluation  innonet  nonprofits 

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Blue Water Baltimore Emerges From Merger

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Monday, March 7, 2011

March 3, 2011

Mergers are common in the business world, but relatively rare in the nonprofit sector. That’s why I am intrigued by the story of Blue Water Baltimore.

Baltimore’s four watershed associations and the Baltimore Harborkeeper pulled off a complicated feat when they merged last fall to become Blue Water Baltimore. With encouragement and support from the funding community, five independent organizations with related missions joined together to protect the streams, harbor and rivers of our greater Baltimore area.

The predecessor organizations were the watershed associations of the Herring Run, the Jones Falls, the Gwynns Falls and the Baltimore Harbor, as well as the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper. Each had a geographic focus, which gave them a strong local identity but also resulted in duplication of effort.

Cathy Brill, program officer for the Rauch Foundation, which invested in many stages of the process, says, "We really felt that the urban voice for water was strikingly silent, even across the state. The merger means that now we have someone who is authorized to speak for the Baltimore area.”

The merger idea dates back to 2004 at least and the process itself began two years ago. An early step involved grants from several area foundations, including Rauch and the Keith Campbell Foundation, to support collaborative work on stormwater messaging in the city.

Three of the watershed organizations participated in a three-year capacity building initiative supported through the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network. This effort helped organizations lay the groundwork for the merger.

Pro bono services by Baltimore’s legal community played an important role in helping the five organizations form a single legal entity. The Goldseker and Rauch foundations split the cost of a consultant to take the five boards through a structured decision process.

The outcome was never assumed and the five organizations retained their option to stay independent until the final vote in August 2010.

The Rauch Foundation published a detailed study of the merger, with the participants — staff, board members, grantmakers, and consultants — reflecting on their process and providing insights.

As the report says, "Every merger, no matter the context, will have a unique set of issues to address. Mergers between nonprofit organizations, however, will likely share some characteristics of the Baltimore merger.”

Click here to download and read the report 

Four major factors:

The watershed groups negotiated a host of detailed questions about the mission, programs, and operations of the new organization. Involved Board and staff leadership have identified four major factors that created a positive context for moving ahead.

1.Sound reasons for merging. The Baltimore groups’ primary goal was to combine strengths, believing this could lead to stronger programs, a larger platform for influencing policy, and more financial efficiency. Both the merging organizations and supporting grantmakers caution that mergers should not be viewed as means to save money. A merged organization may spend money more effectively by consolidating costs for office space, systems, and fundraising; however, budget needs may actually increase over time.

2.Compatible organizations and inter-staff relationships.The Baltimore groups had some variations in missions and programs, but they shared the same goals and challenges.

3.Organizational awareness of long-term needs.The leadership of each organization had been working internally on long-term planning for their separate organizations.

4.Encouragement from grantmakers. The watershed groups met with grantmakers before beginning any formal part of the merger process. The local funding community not only supported a merger, but encouraged it. Grantmakers agreed that indefinitely supporting five separate organizations would ultimately limit their ability to grow. They also indicated that having one organization, rather than five, would not necessarily decrease the overall amount of environmental funding for Baltimore.

Board president T.J. Mullen is pleased by their unified mission.

"We are now a more comprehensive organization that truly covers the watersheds of Baltimore,” Mullen said. "We have the opportunity to make an impact on the water quality of Baltimore, period. Not a piece here, a piece there. All of these different watersheds are being cared for under one roof, without duplicating efforts.”

To learn more about Blue Water Baltimore, visit

Betsy Nelson is the President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

Tags:  Baltimore  environment  Foundation  funders  grantmakers  merger  mergers  Nonprofits  Rauch 

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"Nonprofits Should Share Tales of Generosity"

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Friday, February 4, 2011
February 3, 2011

In my previous column, I outlined the public policy challenges ahead for nonprofits and philanthropy in 2011. One of my colleagues, Adam Donaldson, member services director at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, makes the point that now, as Congress and the Maryland General Assembly wrestle with record deficits and the national debt, there is greater need to promote understanding of philanthropy and showcase the work of local grantmakers and nonprofit organizations. Otherwise, our leaders are making decisions about us without knowing us.

Here is what Adam has to say:

"Like many, I used to mark anonymous on the pledge form with my charitable gifts so I would not be listed in any annual reports. Anonymity seemed to infuse my donations with sincerity; plus my mom always warned me that I would start to be solicited by all of the ‘cancer people’ and then my name sold to the a sheriffs’ association who would call during dinner. She was right. Moms always are.

"But now I have caller ID, and what Mom later acknowledged is that knowing about my donations motivated her to give as well. Now I tell anyone who will listen what charities I support and why I care about their work. On an individual scale, each name listing and conversation ignites interest in my causes and inspires more giving.

"On the scale of institutions, the same lesson leverages investment in their work and aligns partners to maximize community impact. I am convinced that nonprofits and foundations should share stories of their generosity and successful strategies to address community needs. Stories can help spread promising practices, earn champions, attract new ideas, and encourage more giving.

"The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers has always worked with grantmakers to promote their good work. We channel these stories through news media, including the bi-weekly column in The Daily Record, and ABAG’s blog, website (, e-newsletter, along with Facebook and Twitter.

"These efforts combat a measurable awareness deficit among the public and government leaders. In the field of philanthropy, national research conducted by the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative found that only four in 10 influential Americans can name a foundation and only one in 10 can identify a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about. Nonprofit organizations are better known because they deliver direct services, but too few of us have knowledge of the operations, strategies, and collaborations propelling those services.

"We are all ambassadors for the organizations we care about, whether it is simply our favorite coffee shop or a national cancer research center. Whether a donor, staff member, or trustee of a foundation or nonprofit, you have a communication role to play. And now, perhaps more than ever, it is vital also to educate legislators about the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in society.

"I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions will be to step away from anonymity and help build awareness of your charity. Start with your Mom, but then ask your favorite organization how you can help.”

Betsy Nelson is the President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

Tags:  awareness  giving  news  nonprofits  philanthropy  policymakers  promote  promotion  stories 

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Budget Cuts, Tax Changes Worry Nonprofits

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Friday, January 21, 2011
Congress is back to work and, candidly, the nonprofit sector is nervous.

In addition to calls to cut spending and reduce the deficit, the Obama administration is pushing a tax code overhaul over the next two years. Both efforts could have a negative impact on nonprofit organizations and the people they serve.

And, with many new members of Congress, there has never been a more important time to educate elected representatives about the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in society.

According toThe Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nonprofit sector can expect a number of possible challenges in 2011.

First, there may be less understanding of how much the federal government relies on local nonprofits to deliver public services. The House of Representatives has 93 new members, the largest freshman class in years.

Second, many legislators campaigned for office last year promising to reduce spending. In times like this, grants to safety-net programs and social services are especially vulnerable.

Third, specific federal programs scheduled for expansion, such as AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund, are unlikely to grow. These programs support volunteerism and expansion of promising solutions to our most pressing social problems.

Fourth, new leadership in Congress may bring greater scrutiny of the nonprofit sector.

Finally, efforts to raise revenue and overhaul the tax code may touch upon the sacred benefits of nonprofit status — tax-exemption and the tax deduction for charitable giving.

Getting the word out

Many groups knowledgeable about nonprofits and philanthropy will need to educate newly elected officials as well as keep returning policymakers up to date with the latest information.

Nationally, groups like Independent Sector and the Council on Foundations are already at work to advance a number of issues on behalf of the sector.

Locally, Maryland Nonprofits acts as a strong voice for nonprofits. Its Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute studies state government fiscal policy to understand how it affects vulnerable populations and community programs.

As the voice of philanthropy in Central Maryland, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers works with our members to bring the ideas and insights of the philanthropic sector to local, state, and national public policy discussions.

What we have most in common with other associations is a keen understanding of the old adage that all politics is local. That is one reason we devote so much time and energy to sharing stories about the great work of local grant makers and helping our members communicate their impact in the community.

The 2011 Congress may bring about changes affecting the nonprofit sector and philanthropy in a variety of ways, and we are fortunate to have regional and national efforts under way to focus on the value that the sector brings to our quality of life.

But we also need to have others sharing that story too. It is a story all nonprofit organizations can tell and should be telling — especially now.

Betsy Nelson is the President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

Tags:  budget  Congress  cuts  federal  giving  nonprofits  obama  philanthropy  president  programs  scrutiny  sector  tax  taxes 

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At Nonprofits, Need is Still Up and Funding is Still Down

Posted By Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Monday, December 20, 2010

As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting upon the accomplishments of, and challenges for, the Maryland philanthropic community over the past 12 months. We continue to be in challenging times, both as citizens and as players in the philanthropic landscape.

While the economy may be improving for some, those of us in the nonprofit arena recognize that many of our citizens continue to struggle.

Today's challenges are hitting a much larger segment of our community. And, unlike past downturns, the descent was faster, affecting people and organizations in more unexpected ways. More people need assistance, and we aren't seeing signs that this will decline soon.

The irony is that as more individuals and families experience financial and associated social difficulties, the charities whose missions are to offer assistance are financially challenged themselves.

Long story short, the need is up and the funding is still down — there has been a rebound in the market, but foundation assets aren't back to the pre-recession figures. Government funding and contracts, actually one of the largest sources of funding for social services, has declined, again, showing no signs of changing any time soon.

In previous downturns, I had predicted that we would see nonprofits merging with others, or closing their doors. Overall, I was proven wrong. I have come to realize that by nature, nonprofits are often scrappy organizations, with resiliency that we often underestimate. While we have seen a few organizations shut down, along with an occasional merger, we have not seen major disruption yet. I do fear that we have a number of fragile organizations that are just barely surviving.

How have philanthropies responded?

Funders are looking carefully at how their grantees manage and plan for difficult times. Some have offered technical assistance training for organizations on steps they can take to better position themselves to make it through these tough times.

And, funders are placing an increased emphasis on reviewing the financial stability of an organization and understanding what impact particular projects are having on an organization's financial health. Having a reserve fund has allowed some organizations to weather the downturn.

For some funders, the response to having less money to distribute has been to winnow the group of organizations they are supporting. Over the past year, many boards engaged in thoughtful, challenging conversations around priorities, expectations for their grants, and how best to respond to the current situation.

Finally, I have observed that more funders are looking at funding basic human needs, knowing that the recession is making life more difficult for more people in our community.

While some recent surveys indicate there may be a beginning of an economic recovery in the nonprofit sector, many are still hurting. My hope is that this holiday season our community continues the great spirit of generosity so tied to this time of year. Happy Holidays to all.

Betsy Nelson is the President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

Tags:  challenging  economy  foundations  funders  giving  grantmaking  need  nonprofits  philanthropy 

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