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April 8, 2013 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

Philanthropy Fellows in the Field: Reflections from a Fellow

Charlie Cummings is currently serving as a Philanthropy Fellow with the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. He shared with us a bit about his experience at Cafritz.

WRAG Members: Don’t forget, applications for fellows are due by May 10. More information here.

Tell us about some of the work you’ve done as a Philanthropy Fellow.

This year at the Cafritz Foundation I’ve worked with program officers to quantitatively analyze five-year trends in all of the Foundation’s various program areas and evaluate whether (and if so, how) grant making in each portfolio has changed since the Great Recession. This project has been really rewarding for me because the program officers have all been super excited about analyzing trends and priorities in their portfolios. I also truly enjoy analyzing data and using it to make inferences and inform strategy!

How do you think you have benefited from participating in the program, particularly in relation to your coursework at UMD?

I am specializing in nonprofit management and leadership for my MPP and I can’t imagine a more perfect compliment to my studies than this fellowship. Reviewing grant proposals has enabled me to learn a ton about the programs and operations of the most successful nonprofits in Greater Washington. Being able to sit in on meetings between nonprofit leaders and Cafritz program officers has taught me how nonprofits and funders can work together to improve programs, enhance nonprofits’ performance, and deliver better outcomes for residents in the region.

In addition to providing a behind-the-scenes look at the Greater Washington nonprofit sector and supporting my professional growth as I work to become a nonprofit leader, this fellowship has also helped me with my actual coursework. I have often consulted with program officers when I’m working on a project for one of my courses, and they have not only taken the time to provide their insights and share relevant resources, but they also enthusiastically connect me with people who are doing the best work in the field. I cannot overstate how much these connections have benefited my studies.

What are some of the skills and knowledge you’ve gained while working at Cafritz?

Besides learning about the Foundation’s grant review process and the dynamics that determine which proposals earn funding from the Foundation, I’ve learned so much from the program officers about the important – and often innovative – work being done by nonprofits in all issue areas in the Greater Washington region. I’ve gained insights about outstanding nonprofits that are working to improve education opportunities and outcomes – my passion – but also about affordable housing coalitions, legal services agencies, capacity builders, and many others. I had never heard of many of Cafritz’s grantees, but now that I know them and their leaders I often find myself sharing information about their missions and impacts to my friends and classmates.

Tell us about something unexpected that you learned during your fellowship.

At first, I was surprised to learn that Cafritz program officers often meet with potential grantees before the application deadline to share information about the grantmaking process and offer guidance for the application. In addition, they often take the time to explain to rejected applicants why they were not awarded grants. I have always been frustrated by opaque application processes and the lack of feedback I receive after being rejected from jobs and other opportunities. I think this speaks volumes about Cafritz’s partnership approach with nonprofits and grantees.

Tobi Printz-Platnick of the Cafritz Foundation shared her thoughts on the Philanthropy Fellows program with us last week.

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