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Baltimore is a city that gives and gives and gives

Garden Manager Lewis Sharpe at the nonprofit Duncan Street Miracle Garden - Arianne Teeple
Garden Manager Lewis Sharpe at the nonprofit Duncan Street Miracle Garden - Arianne Teeple

If manufacturing is the muscle that historically propelled Baltimore's economy, with higher education providing the brains, then the nonprofit sector --particularly the neighborhood and community-based organizations often operating on a shoestring -- has earned its place as the city's heart and soul. Baltimore and its surrounding region are blessed with an abundance of organizations that make a difference every day in the quality of community living.

According to the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, 3,676 organizations are based in Baltimore in 2009 with 501(c)(3) certification. The Baltimore region, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties� in addition to Baltimore City� had 10,580 nonprofits with 501(c)(3) certification in 2009.

Without these organizations and the extraordinarily dedicated people who serve as staff, board members and volunteers, much of the city's famed charm wouldn't exist.

For starters, the city would be a much poorer and less competitive region economically. In Baltimore City alone, 85,501 people were employed by nonprofit organizations in 2008. This represents 25.2 percent of the city's total workforce and is much higher than the national average of approximately 10 percent. Collectively, nonprofit staff members earned $4,515,340,867 in wages during 2008. Take away even a small portion of this income and purchasing power and the impact on businesses, large and small, throughout the region would likely be significant.

The giving side

Looking beyond the numbers, it's clear that Baltimore's nonprofit organizations make a profound difference to the social fabric of the city.

"Baltimore nonprofits provide conduits for people with passion and compassion to serve people in need," says Greg Cantori, executive director of the Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation. "The most vulnerable people get the attention, services and referrals they need."

"Look at the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation [nonprofits] turned the area around. That part of the city would be destitute without their efforts," he adds.

These organizations, whether they provide job training services, help beautify a neighborhood or perform some other crucial service, are frequently part of the glue that binds communities together and the city as a whole.

"Nonprofits are the face of familiarity in Baltimore's neighborhoods�especially to kids and families," says Tony Cipollone, vice president for Civic Sites and Initiatives at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "They play a critical role in the context of communities."

According to Kelly Hodge-Williams, executive director of Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) Maryland, the area's non-profits impact citizens at stage of their life.

"Without a strong nonprofit sector, Baltimore would have fewer afterschool programs for low-income youth, no health care for many residents, more animals on its streets, fewer services for homeless people. Parks would not be as clean...our waterways would be more polluted...we'd have many fewer cultural resources."

Tim Armbruster, president and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation sees the nonprofit sector's impact in the bigger picture of Baltimore's transformation. "The sector has an outsized influence on our civic and social wellbeing. The shift from an industrial to a service-based economy has thrust nonprofits and philanthropy into a major role in civic leadership and life, meds and eds [health care and higher education] in particular are the region's intellectual and economic drivers."

"Baltimore would be much poorer without a strong, vital nonprofit sector tending to the city in all the everyday, small ways that are important...many of them invisible to the public," he adds.

The support residents receive from non-profit organizations helps stem the city's downward slide during challenging economic times.

"It's impossible to overestimate the impact of Baltimore's nonprofit sector, especially in a post-industrial economy. Because of our strong nonprofit sector, Baltimore is more like Boston or San Francisco than Detroit," says Tom Wilcox, Baltimore Community Foundation president and CEO.

Non-profit Central

Over the past 20 years, Baltimore has developed a national reputation as a place to be for nonprofit organizations working on the cutting edge of innovation and social change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation moved its headquarters here in 1994. The Open Society Institute, founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, opened its only U.S. field office in Baltimore in 1998.

According to its website, "OSI looked at a number of cities and ultimately decided that Baltimore -- a city with typical urban problems but the resolve to address them -- had a unique set of attributes that would make it a good choice as a 'laboratory,' where a number of initiatives could be tested and evaluated. OSI-Baltimore remains the only OSI office in the United States that directs its work solely to solve problems in one city."

Other nonprofit organizations that have relocated to Baltimore include Catholic Relief Services, the International Youth Foundation, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the League of American Theatres andSingle Carrot Theatre, whose Colorado-based founders looked at 50 cities and found Baltimore's burgeoning Station North Arts & Entertainment District as the place to call home.

"Baltimore is a big city with a small city feel," says Executive Director Elliott Rauh. "Our experience in Baltimore has exceeded our expectations."

Changing fortunes

When it comes to non-profits, there's something different here in Baltimore. Yes, Baltimore has some severe problems like many other urban centers around the country. Seeing homeless men and women sleeping on the benches or in church doorways along Charles Street is heartbreaking. Reading yet another story about a senseless murder makes it a challenge to keep hope and faith alive.

However, hearing Tracee Ford talk about how her Community Mediation Program helps people resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways, seeing Project Place founder Mary Slicher joyfully introduce previously homeless women whom her agency helped get back on their feet and watching the men and women employed by John Herron at Harbor City Services beam with pride knowing they can finally support their families, provides ample evidence of the difference Baltimore's nonprofit organizations make each and every day in the lives of its citizens and life of our community.

The purpose, passion and perseverance with which Baltimore's nonprofit organizations carry out their work are nothing short of remarkable. It is inspiring, energizing and a huge reason why so many newcomers and natives alike are proud to call Baltimore home. And since home is where the heart is, Baltimore's nonprofit organizations have earned their place in our region's collective identity. In every way that matters, the nonprofit sector is Baltimore's heart and soul.

Paul Sturm facilitates the Baltimore Nonprofit Leaders Circles for executive directors and senior managers of nonprofit organizations. He also teaches at the College of Notre Dame and University of Baltimore. Paul lives downtown, where he feeds his addiction to crabcakes and Berger cookies!

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Garden Manager Lewis Sharpe at the nonprofit Duncan Street Miracle Garden. Photos by Arianne Teeple

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