10 Questions or Less is a feature here on the Forum’s Forum in which we get to know regional association staff members a little better—their work, what drives them, and more. This week, Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director at Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. If you would like to suggest someone for a profile through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.
You have a Masters in Public Policy and have played an active role in Foundations on the Hill. As we head into 2012, an election year, what issues should be at the forefront in regional associations staff’s minds?
All politics is local, which in this context is my way of saying regional association staff always have members at the forefront of their minds! So the questions are what are your members concerned about and what are you doing to engage and to listen to them? Have you established policies with your Board and members that allow you to advocate or lobby when opportunity or need knocks? In the Baltimore area, our members are anxious about government budget cuts and reduced private giving to nonprofits as a result of the economy. We are monitoring carefully the national conversation on charitable deductions and other efforts to gain government revenue from nonprofits and foundations.
You recently shared ABAG’s member renewal “thank you” letter on the Member Marketing listserve. ABAG seems to have a great relationship with its members, partially because of special touches like this. As the Member Services Director who also has a lot of other duties on his plate, how do make sure you get these important details right?
If I do get things right, it is precisely because I turn to the Forum network for best practices and rely on feedback from ABAG staff and long-time members (I believe in group writing). To focus my attention I rely on writing a fairly detailed annual plan and then pour my brain into my outlook calendar (my ring tone is “If I only had a brain”). Everything from reaching out to an unengaged member to taking my toddler to gymnastics happens because my iPhone buzzes. Send me a meeting maker anytime.
ABAG also serves the local nonprofit community. What kinds of programs do you offer to bring together grantseekers and grantmakers?
There is a separate Maryland Nonprofits association with whom we work closely and we try to provide a limited number of high quality workshops exclusively for grantseekers. To deepen relationships, we have experimented with having a summer book club to which our members could invite a grantee (Switch and Do More than Give). Mingling social and learning purposes has been popular. We have also supported member efforts to convene their grantees together and allowed affinity groups to invite strategic “partners” to some educational programs. It feels organic, but is the intentional result of a strategic plan goal: “ABAG will help members to address critical issues and improve community conditions, engaging the public sector, national philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations to support these efforts.”
What would you say is ABAG’s most popular member program?
Among the 98 programs seating 1122 bodies or 288 unique individuals in 2011… our annual fall Conversation with the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools is always the most popular. Dr. Alonso is known nationally and offers a mixture of truth and dare showmanship to an issue that our community cares about deeply. I have a very devoted and tiny group of members who meet monthly with me to discuss BIG ideas – What We’re Reading. We grab a New Yorker, SSRI, or other article and discuss how it applies to our values and work as grantmakers.
Is there anything you’re working on now that is particularly exciting?
I was excited to be asked to join the steering committee of Policy Works, a multi-year initiative that seeks to build the capacity of regional associations of grantmakers’ staff, board, and volunteer leaders to engage policymakers in support of a vibrant and effective philanthropic sector. Now housed at the Forum and staffed by Erin Skene-Pratt. Everyone should join.
What’s one thing you do in your position that the Forum network can help with?
Everything. Oh, one thing? Keep me looking smart by connecting us to national resources and experts whether through colleagues, Forum Bits, or webinars for our members. The Forum is an excellent filter and alert system for information in our field.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Turkey sandwiches. Sorry, we always joke about the number of lunch meetings. But it is the meetings. It is being in an environment of continual learning where smart people are dedicating that learning to improving the community.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about service and volunteerism; public programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps in which I served. I used to be passionate about fantasy football outside of work, but I brought that inside, having just completed our second year of a league for ABAG members and staff. Now if only I could win.
Anything else we should know?
I have not slept more than five hours straight in three years yet I am getting younger every day. I have a pirate (age 44 months) and tinker bell (age 20 months) and a better half (for 12 plus years) that fly me to Neverland every day for grand adventures.
And, ABAG rocks. We have the best staff and Madame President. But you already knew that.