Q&A with Elizabeth “Buffy” Minkin, President of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds


Elizabeth “Buffy” Minkin

Minkin, a fourth generation Meyerhoff family member, was recently named president of the Funds,one of the most well known family foundations in Baltimore as well as nationally and internationally. Minkin has played an integral role in developing and guiding the Funds’ impact through significant and strategic contributions that improve the quality of life in Baltimore.

Tell us about you and a bit about your professional history

After I graduated from Union College with an economics degree in 1996, I came back to Baltimore andspent just over 12 years in the real estate industry, both in residential construction and development and in commercial brokerage services.I joined the staff of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds (the Funds) in 2003 and was the special projects director for the next five years. I coordinated and oversaw a wide range of assignments including several major family writing projects, leading collaborative roundtables, working on our Jewish/Israel grant making and implementing significant adjustments to our grant making processes. In 2008, I returned to the private sector as a commercial real estate broker at Abeshouse Partners, and I then rejoined the Funds in 2011 as vice president of Baltimore and Domestic Initiatives. Since that time, I have also served as one of a three-member management team who, together, have been overseeing the Funds’ grant making, strategy and next generation work.

How did you get into the philanthropy arena?

When I moved back to Baltimore, I became active in the secular and Jewish community and served on a variety of boards like Jewish Community Services, Roland Park Country School and Middle Grades Partnership, to name a few. I also spent quite a bit of time raising money for the organizations on whose boards I was serving. The complex challenges both in service to the constituents alongside the operational elements of these organizations cemented my interest in the sector. Combined with my upbringing in a family of committed community leaders and philanthropists, I was completely hooked. From there Ibegan my professional career in philanthropy with the Funds.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Granting out money thoughtfully and strategically is more complex than it might seem. We work with a board of exceptionally bright, committed and experienced grant makers, and together we need to make tough decisions. During the economic downturn of 2008, we decided to sharpen our focus to leverage our impact in our local, national and Israeli work. Being more intentional and trying to have deeper influence within the confines of your resources means you have to say “no” more than “yes”. And that is tough. Saying “no” to organizations with committed leaders, compelling missions, visions and goals is not easy.

How has the Funds contributed to the betterment of the Baltimore community?

Building on the legacy of my great-grandparents, we are firmly committed to fostering a vibrant Jewish community in Baltimore. The Funds is a major supporter ofThe Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the umbrella organization of Jewish service agencies, as well as of other non-profits supporting Jewish education, services and community building.

We believe that a healthy middle class provides the backbone for our communities and our world. In Baltimore City, we have developed two funding responses to the challenges we see facing our middle class: one set of grants is targeted to neighborhoods or geographical areas that have identified a specific need or strategy for attracting and retaining middle class populations, and the other set of grants goes to institutions that can affect large numbers of people and improve the quality of life through the arts, education and gathering spaces of all kinds.We also maintain a smaller reserve fund for organizations with exceptional leadershipwho provide critical services yet may not otherwise fit into our core strategies in Baltimore.

What are some specific projects the Funds has supported?

Our work in the Baltimore Jewish community, with national Jewish organizations, in Israel, and throughout Baltimore City is vast.

In our Baltimore Jewish community, we have funded numerous organizations, many of which come under The Associated umbrella. We have supported thePearlstone Center, a nationally recognized Jewish retreat center and community centered farming operation located in Reisterstown, Maryland. We made the founding grant for Jewish Legal Services, which provides legal aid for those who need but cannot afford legal counsel. We have backed theJewish Community Services’ Workforce Development initiative, which provides assistance to out of work and underemployed Jews in our community.

We have funded a variety of national Jewish organizations, including: TheJoseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. We support Slingshot, a national Jewish organization supporting innovation in Jewish non-profits; many of their awardees are also our grantees. We fund U.S.-based Israel advocacy organizations that help tell Israel’s story to the world. We make grants to theJewish Agency for Israel(JAFI) and theAmerican Jewish Joint Distribution Committee(JDC), which provide assistance to Jews worldwide.

In Israel, we concentrate on community development by engaging the next generation of civic leadership, supporting programs and building or renovating facilities that improve quality of life. Our capital projects in Israel reflect our commitment to building and sustaining a burgeoning middle class. In main cities like Beer Sheva, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, our focus extends to theaters, museums, libraries and parks. For these projects, we partner with local municipalities and theIsrael Education Fund. We have invested in over 80 capital projects and more than 150 institutions. We carry on this legacy by continuing to invest in projects aimed at building a civil society. As Israel has evolved, its needs, and our contributions, have become less concrete, allowing us to focus on projects that enhance the social fabric of society and Israel’s growth as a Jewish and democratic state. We concentrate on nurturing community and societal leaders through our support.

Our target neighborhoods in Baltimore are in Northeast and Southeast Baltimore City. We help support a network of community organizations and neighborhoods in these areas. Our community investment strategy is grounded in building on a neighborhood’s strengths and assets with the goal of stabilization and improvement. In 2010, we identified the target middle class neighborhoods of Patterson Park, Hamilton-Lauraville and Belair-Edison. To complement the target neighborhoods’ work, we also support the middle class in the whole of Baltimore City. Demographics show an influx of young professionals enthusiastic about meaningful urban living in Baltimore. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life and supporting people’s commitment to a vibrant Baltimore City.

In our target neighborhoods work, we partner withHealthy Neighborhoods, Inc., Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc.,Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street and theSoutheast Community Development Corporation, all of whom focus on sustaining and improving the economic viability of their communities. We support charter and parochial schools of excellence – such asCity Neighbors Charter Schools,St. Francis of Assisi andPatterson Park Public Charter Schoolprovide education options to encourage families to stay in Baltimore when their children reach school age. We also make grants that encourage collaboration among non-profits. For example, wefundYoung Audiences Arts for Learning, MarylandandPlayworks Baltimore, both of which provide programmatic support to schools in our target neighborhoods. These organizations and schools work together to support families and children.

To sustain the overall health of BaltimoreCity, we support a variety of cultural and educational organizations and resources. We make grants to Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA): the producer of Artscape, the Baltimore Book Festival, Free Fall Baltimore and the Baltimore Farmers Markets. We support Enoch Pratt Librarybranches, theBaltimore Museum of Art, theWalters Art Museum, Center Stage and theBaltimore Symphony Orchestra, to name a few.

How isthe Funds different from other foundations?

The Funds is different from many other foundations in that it is a group of family foundations with a family board working in concert with our professional team to make funding decisions and shape strategies. Generations of my family have been and continue to be deeply invested in and committed to the work of the various foundations under the Funds’ umbrella. To have a group of foundations moving into its fourth and fifth generation of family leadership and involvement is unique.

What is one of your greatest professional achievements?

I am a connector. I love helping people think through complex issues. Sometimes it is related to operational challenges, their personal careers, staffing and funding struggles. I listen, think and talk through issues and then help make connections. Being able to help strategize, to help to map out a course of action and to help connect the dots is something I know I do well.

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