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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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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 31st, 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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Mikulski Writes ABAG In Support of Charitable Tax Deduction

Posted By Adam Donaldson, Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 9, 2014

By Adam Donaldson, ABAG Member Services Director

On December 12, 2013, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed her support for the charitable tax deduction in a letter to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. Writing that "Taxpayers should have incentives to make charitable contributions,” Senator Mikulski agreed that "Charitable organizations are needed now more than ever. But philanthropy cannot do it alone – you need a government on your side.”

Senator Mikulski joined other Senators in signing a letter to Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) of the Senate Committee on Finance, which began "We write to you to underscore the importance of protecting the full value and scope of the charitable deduction during a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code.”

The Senate remains committed to tax legislation in 2014. Discussion papers and proposals have been released from the Senate Committee on Finance, but to date do not indicate a specific direction for the charitable deduction. The tax administration draft does propose requiring all tax-exempt organizations to electronically file their Form 990s, but gives organizations the ability to request a waiver from this requirement if they lack the technology necessary to e-file.

The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers has consistently voiced the important role that incentives have in charitable giving and called on Congress to protect the current charitable deduction program.

Tags:  adventures in philanthropy  charitable deduction  policymakers  Protect giving  public policy 

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Telling Our Philanthropic Story

Posted By Betsy Nelson, Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2011

May 11, 2011

Nonprofits and foundations must share stories of their successful strategies to address community needs. This is the message Mark Sedway delivered to members of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers at our recent annual meeting.

Mark leads the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative (PAI), a project supported by the Packard, Gates, Hewlett, Irvine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations to engage more influential Americans in the work of organized philanthropy.PAI research suggests that philanthropy faces an "awareness deficit” among the most engaged citizens. Only four in ten can name a foundation. Only one in ten can identify a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about. We’d expect those on the frontlines of community improvement to know something about foundations that exist to support their work. Most do not.

Why is there an awareness deficit? Many foundation leaders point to a belief that "the work will speak for itself,” noting that typical news releases focus on dollars out the door rather than impact achieved with foundation support. A lack of relationships with decision makers and failure to engage trustees and others as foundation ambassadors also contribute to this lack of awareness.

On the other hand, surveys commissioned by PAI suggest that engaged citizens have high expectations for foundations—expectations that many consider foundations well-positioned to meet. They feel foundations are important to their communities. And if they’re provided some kind of experience with foundations, they show higher appraisal of their work.

Mr. Sedway’s message to us was to tell better stories about foundations’ work, in the news media and elsewhere.Telling our philanthropic story, Mark suggested, can help spread promising practices, earn champions, attract new ideas, and encourage more giving. And it can combat the measurable awareness deficit among the public and government leaders.

This is a bandwagon that we have been on locally for quite some time. It is one of the main reasons I have been honored to write the bi-weeklyAdventures in Philanthropycolumn inThe Daily Record.

With increased public scrutiny of the sector, the time is now to step up our efforts. It’s more important than ever that we individually and collectively focus on telling our story.

Over the next several weeks, there will be considerable activity in Washington, DC, on budget and tax matters that could ultimately have a significant effect on the future of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. The charitable deduction may be at risk and we must understand that this in one of a number of challenges our sector may face in the future. We must seize the opportunity to make our voices heard in this current debate and for future debates that may affect charitable giving.

We are all ambassadors for the organizations we care about. Whether a donor, staff member, or trustee of a foundation or nonprofit, we have a communication role to play. And now, perhaps more than ever, it is vital also to educate policymakers and others about the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in society.

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

Tags:  communication  marketing  Philanthropy  policy  policymakers  promotion  public  stories 

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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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