Q&A with Maryland Nonprofits CEO Heather Iliff

The traditional time of giving is around the corner, and this season continues to be a time of challenge for our Baltimore community.
The new challenges posed by the COVID-19 delta variant and pre-existing inequities are combining to form big challenges for Baltimore’s charities. “Give Baltimore” is a resource for charitable organizations to share their missions and invite the generous support of our many print readers of Baltimore, in addition to our very large online following.

What are the specific challenges facing the area’s nonprofits? To find out, we talked to Heather Iliff, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, a statewide coordinating group for good causes that is partnering with Baltimore in this section.

Maryland Nonprofits is a statewide voice for the nonprofit sector, as we work together to advance quality of life and equity. Maryland Nonprofits resources, such as our Standards for Excellence program, provide research-proven practices and support for nonprofits to meet the highest standards of ethics and accountability. Justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of our work, and more and more organizations of all sizes are turning to Maryland Nonprofits to support organizational transformation.

Whether it’s questions about fundraising, board governance, strategic planning or growth, Maryland Nonprofits provides a wide range of training, resources, and consulting designed for nonprofit organizations, as well as government agencies. Maryland Nonprofits is the home of Maryland Latinos Unidos, a statewide network to strengthen nonprofits, advocacy, and collaboration among the Latinx community. Maryland Nonprofits is also the home of MARFY, the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth, which addresses the needs of Maryland’s most vulnerable children in foster care.

Nonprofit organizations are on the front lines of serving our most vulnerable communities in the pandemic, providing health care, food assistance, and shelter throughout the crisis. As our nation became more sensitive to the issues facing hospitals and nursing homes, we are mindful that there is a wider direct care workforce in the nonprofit community, caring for people 24/7. Group homes and treatment centers for children in foster care, people with developmental disabilities, and people with severe mental illness are all heavily affected by COVID and the worker shortage.

Nonprofit organizations have played an important role in ensuring vulnerable Marylander’s are able to access vaccines. African-Americans and Latinos in the Baltimore region have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 illness and death. While nonprofits are serving the community on the frontlines, they themselves are stretched and many are exhausted, given the heavy lift that the pandemic continues to present. Nonprofit leaders of color especially are under tremendous pressure as they face greater challenges in ensuring their organization’s sustainability and at the same time are dealing with higher levels of grief, loss, and economic strain themselves.

Maryland Nonprofits surveyed nonprofits in 2020 and found that about half of organizations saw significant declines in individual giving, while only 23 percent saw increases. Government funding from the Paycheck Protection Program and other sources helped make up the gap for
many organizations. However, organizations led by people of color were more likely to see declines from all sources of revenue than white-led organizations. Fee for service revenue, such as ticket sales and tuition, collapsed during the pandemic, with 79 percent of organizations reporting declines. Individual, corporate, and foundation giving are critically important to help ensure nonprofit services and programs can meet the high levels of community needs.

Throughout the pandemic, Maryland Nonprofits has been the go-to source for nonprofits navigating the complexities of COVID-19, vaccine and testing issues, the financial impact and applying for relief, the impact on racial equity, organizational policies, staff and office questions, and other areas.

Advocacy on behalf of nonprofits and the communities they serve continues to be vitally important. Maryland has received $6.3 billion through the American Rescue Plan Act, and we must call upon our elected officials to ensure supporting nonprofits is a high priority from that funding. We are convening a “Think Big Think Tank” to address some of the long-standing problems with lack of adequate funding and salaries in the nonprofit sector.

Keeping our members up to date and connected with each other has been a high priority. Our biweekly Member Meetings (new since COVID), town halls with elected officials, and regular workshops on emerging topics have supported nonprofit leaders navigating the complexity of the ongoing crisis. Maryland Latinos Unidos, a program of Maryland Nonprofits, launched the Mid-Atlantic Latinx Vaccine Equity Coalition (MALVEC) to increase vaccination rates. With the rise of the delta variant, Maryland Nonprofits has announced that all our programs will be virtual through the end of 2021.

Give, volunteer, and serve on a board. To incentivize giving, Congress passed a $300 charitable deduction even if you are not an itemizer on your taxes. We also encourage donors and volunteers to seek out those Black and Latino-led organizations that are working for social justice and serving their communities in authentic and accountable ways. A Baltimore-based organization, CLLCTIVLY.ORG, is a resource to find Black-led organizations and businesses to support. One good way to get to know local nonprofits is by volunteering, or deepening your relationship by serving on their boards of directors.