Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

NNFS Annual Gathering Reflects Growth and Depth in the Fiscal Sponsorship Industry

From left to right: Asta Petkeviciute from Social Impact Commons, Kim Lillig and Josh Clement from Strong City Baltimore present.

Fiscal sponsors from across the country convened in Philadelphia at the end of October for the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors (NNFS) National Gathering. In this still-burgeoning sector of the nonprofit industry, the Gathering is a vital space for fiscal sponsors to share challenges, find solutions, and advance the work of fiscal sponsorship. This year, the gathering was hosted by Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC), a close partner of Strong City Baltimore’s.

Attendance grew by nearly 50% as compared to last year, with 200 people representing over 70 fiscal sponsors from 19 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. And Greg Colvin, “father” of the sector and author of Fiscal Sponsorship 6: Ways to Do it Right (commonly referred to as the fiscal sponsorship bible), promoted the recently updated third edition of the book.

Strong City attended for the fifth year in a row. Seven staff members from the operations and finance departments participated in nearly every workshop.

Strong City was an industry educator this year, leading a workshop on “Financial Success and Fulfilling Your Mission: How fiscal sponsors can more effectively manage their social enterprises in order to meet their mission.” Assistant Director of Operations Kim Lillig and Development Consultant (former Grants Manager) Josh Clement teamed with Asta Petkeviciute from Social Impact Commons and presented how to use research and data as a tool for making strategic decisions about fiscal sponsorship business models.

“We had over 30 [executive and finance directors] in the room asking questions and digging deep into our data,” said Kim. “Two of my favorite phrases I heard this year were: ‘Overhead is necessary, not a necessary evil’ and ‘Effective management happens through agency, not authority.’”

As with previous years, staff noted that fiscal sponsors across the country are struggling with the same challenges, from covering the cost of services to clear communication to effective evaluation.

UAC revealed they raise approximately $1 million every year to cover the cost of their services not met by charging 10% of their projects’ revenue. This is the national average fee for fiscal sponsors, which Strong City also uses.

Industry consultant Andrew Schulman noted in his takeaways that communicating the benefit of fiscal sponsorship, especially to prospective funders, is an ongoing challenge. During the Funding Panel, representatives from across the funding sector continued to push the narrative that the onus was on the fiscal sponsor to better explain the benefits by improving marketing strategies, while not bogging funders down with too many details.

Conversations about program evaluation revealed that nearly all sponsors struggle with collecting effective data due to low response rates, inability to standardize data points to the variety of work done by projects, and a lack of capacity and resources to focus on this need.

Despite the shared challenges, staff also found the Gathering to be stimulating and rejuvenating.

CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia placed fiscal sponsorship in a historical context, dating back to 500 C.E., using the language of commons.

“The main impact of understanding the history and placing fiscal sponsorship in the context of ‘communing’ is to use common language, which is more concerned with pooling of resources than more traditional capitalistic language,” said Josh, who attended the session.

“The idea is that they want the projects to feel like they are joining a movement as compared to purchasing a service, which fundamentally changes the relationship.”

Lynette Hodge, who was recently promoted to Portfolio Manager, found the Leaders of Color session to be a welcoming space where intersectionality and humanity in the workplace amongst staffers of color was discussed.

“The commentary in the room assured me, as a woman of color, that Strong City is doing a lot of the same anti-racist work that many other organizations are, and, in some cases, we have a lot to offer,” said Lynette.

Kenya Pope, Initiative Bookkeeper, found her first Gathering to be a full and rich learning experience where she could speak the unique language of fiscal sponsorship and be understood. As a result of the conference, Kenya is leading efforts to explore a new software that could integrate the multiple financial systems Strong City is currently using.

“One of my takeaways from the conference: With cobbled systems, we as accountants/bookkeepers are pegged to be data processors; but with integrated systems, we can do the data analysis,” said Kenya.

Danielle Conway, Payroll and Human Resources (HR) Associate, was initially unsure what value there would be for her to attend the conference. She found that HR professionals in the fiscal sponsorship sector all face similar challenges and came away confident that the conference had equipped her with new tools and strategies.

“I was also grateful for the experience to network with more experienced professionals in our field who were generous enough to not only share their knowledge but offered themselves as a continuous resource for Strong City,” said Danielle.

Director of Operations Tyson W. Garith, who has been working in fiscal sponsorship for 11 years and is considered one of the top experts in the sector by fiscal sponsorship peers, left the conference with a renewed sense of confidence.

“This year, I think my most exciting learning was an affirmation – Strong City is operating within the best practices of the fiscal sponsorship sector, and any challenges we may face are shared by our fiscal sponsorship colleagues across the country,” said Tyson.

“We’re working in the right direction, and with an excellent network of support and collaboration. I’m so proud to be part of Strong City’s fiscal sponsorship work!”

Karen Stokes on Strong City’s Future at the Hoen Building in East Baltimore

With Strong City’s much-anticipated move to the Hoen Lithograph Building just weeks away, we sat down with CEO Karen D. Stokes to hear from her why the organization is making this move, how it will affect the work Strong City does, and what the future may hold.

Q: This organization has been a fixture in North Central Baltimore for 50 years – most of that time as Greater Homewood Community Corporation, and since 2015 as Strong City Baltimore. Why move now?

A: An effective organization responds to changing needs and conditions. Our commitment to Baltimore and its neighborhoods has never wavered, but Strong City has seen many changes since our founding in 1969. Certain programs we were strongly identified with – Experience Corps and VISTA, for example – are no longer in our portfolio. On the other hand, we now operate two highly successful community and after-school centers. Our biggest change has been going from having a handful of fiscally sponsored projects a decade ago to being the largest fiscal sponsor in Baltimore.

Around the time we changed our name, I began thinking about the future of this organization beyond my tenure as CEO. I wanted to leave a meaningful legacy. We brought many of our founders to meet with the Board of Directors to discuss the future of Strong City. They regretted that they had never found a permanent home for the organization. I also was concerned that we had outgrown our current space, which was not handicapped accessible, and that as renters we were not building value for the future.

The board and I decided that we should own our own building, but the question was: Where? We looked carefully for a place where we would be welcome, and where our physical presence could make a positive difference. We were approached by Bill Struever of Cross Street Partners about the Hoen Building in East Baltimore’s Collington Square. A number of past development attempts there had failed, but Bill and I were both intrigued by the possibilities. Participating on the team that put together the financing package to make this work has been the biggest challenge of my professional life. But we finally closed on the building in January 2019, and we will be moving in this coming January.

Q: What should people know about the Hoen Building?

A: It’s a remarkable structure – actually, series of structures, built over a course of several decades starting in the late 1800s. Strong City’s operations and Adult Learning Center will be in the largest building, and our partners will occupy the rest of the complex. Although we will be tenants at first, if all goes according to plan, after seven years we will have the opportunity to “buy-out” the developer and become the owners, if we raise enough funding via a capital campaign.

The building itself is a gem. For about 80 years, the A. Hoen & Sons Lithograph Building was a manufacturing hub in East Baltimore, employing thousands of workers engaged in lithographic printing techniques. It was a center for this type of work in North America, producing an astonishing variety of printed products, from baseball cards to beautiful maps inserted into National Geographic magazine, to a wide array of advertising signs and labels. Many of the original stone plates used in this printing process were discovered when building renovations started and have been rescued. Sadly, the factory closed in the early 1980s and was abandoned for nearly four decades, becoming an eyesore with broken windows and trees growing through the roof. Cross Street Partners are experts in adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and along with City Life Historic Properties, they have brought this architectural beauty back to life, preserving many original historic features.

Q: You said something a moment ago about wanting to be in “a place where our physical presence could make a positive difference.” What did you mean by that?

A: For the Baltimore ’68 book project, Frankie Gamber wrote an essay pointing out that Strong City’s focus has always been on “where we live.” We were formed in the late 1960s at a time of great racial and social upheaval, but we never were a civil rights organization in the traditional sense. We supported racial equality and integration not as stand-alone issues but as part of a package of values inspired by a deep commitment to North Central Baltimore. Our goal was maintaining “Greater Homewood” as a place with strong and stable neighborhoods. That meant improving schools, supporting neighborhood leaders, offering a mix of housing options, and everything else that makes a neighborhood strong.

The work has not been easy, and progress is imperfect at best. Still, we have made great strides in these neighborhoods over the years, working with many partners. That progress is described in our forthcoming book, Building Blocks: Stories of Neighborhood Transformation From Strong City Baltimore. Now, we hope to achieve something similar in a different area of the city, one that could greatly benefit from our long experience and skills in organizing and asset-based community development. The Hoen Building, reimagined as the Center for Neighborhood Innovation (CNI), can serve as a catalyst for change “north of the tracks” – just blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital, and yet a world away in terms of neighborhood conditions. Our ultimate hope is to create, with community input, not just a thriving Hoen Building but a revitalized neighborhood with good, affordable housing for Kennedy Krieger and Hopkins lab techs, nurse’s aides, custodians, and office workers, and small businesses springing up to serve both new and legacy residents.

Q: Does this mean you are cutting ties with North Central Baltimore?

A: Absolutely not! We have been citywide for at least a decade, but our roots in North Central Baltimore neighborhoods run deep, and many things will not change as a result of this move. For example, we will continue to operate the 29th Street Community Center in the heart of North Central, and to staff the Margaret Brent, Guilford, and Govans schools with Community School Coordinators. We are actively exploring ways to continue our community building work in the York Road Corridor. We are still the community partner for the Greenmount Avenue LINCS initiative. Our fiscal sponsorship still supports many community associations in this area, and we are the Healthy Neighborhoods administrator for eligible neighborhoods in this part of town. We have many friends and partners in “Greater Homewood,” and those relationships will continue.

Q: How will the people Strong City serves be affected by this change?

A: Many will hardly notice it. We will serve our 90-plus fiscally sponsored and fiscally managed initiatives the same as we always have – but in a more comfortable, professional, and inviting environment. Our staff will have a better working space. And we will be able to bring our traditional neighborhood work – community organizing, blight remediation, supporting businesses, grassroots advocacy – to an area of the city that is new for us.

Q: What about the Adult Learning Center?

A: Our adult learners will probably see the biggest benefits from this move. We are grateful to University Baptist Church for providing the ALC with space for almost 25 years, but the CNI will offer amenities that a church basement just can’t: newly renovated classrooms, lots of natural light, sufficient space, handicapped access, updated computer labs, no more waiting lists. Also, the ALC will share a campus with workforce development partners City Life Community Builders and Associated Builders and Contractors, which could create some synergies for the learners.

Q: Tell us a little more about your new neighborhood.

A: It is literally the “other side of the tracks,” just north of where the Amtrak train right-of-way makes a wide swoop through the Broadway East neighborhood. Collington Square is part of an old story in Baltimore – a familiar example of the neglect and disinvestment seen throughout the city’s “Black Butterfly.” We see many abandoned houses, little economic activity, pockets of drug and gang activity. At the same time, there are considerable assets on which to build, starting with the refurbished Hoen Building itself.

There are five active African-American churches in or near the neighborhood that are interested in the revitalization of the area. Around the corner from Hoen is The Club at Collington Square, a vital after-school and summer camp program that serves 100 local families and was kept open when Strong City took over operating it in 2017. Other neighborhood assets include Collington Square Elementary School, Collington Square Park, and the COR Health Institute. Just a few blocks away are Humanim’s headquarters in the American Brewery Building, beautifully restored by Cross Street Partners; the Baltimore Food Hub, being developed by American Communities Trust at the old Eastern Pumping Station; Dayspring Programs, a residential center that supports women in recovery and their children; and Southern Baptist Church’s Mary Harvin Center. And, of course, we are a short walk from the city’s largest employer, Johns Hopkins Medical Campus. The potential for good things to happen in this neighborhood is huge.

November News Bites from the Strong City Community

Last Chance to Apply for City Census Grant

Strong City is partnering with Baltimore City’s Complete Count Committee to ensure maximum awareness of and participation in the 2020 Census. The city is making grants of $500 to $5,000 available to community groups to do Census-related work. Act fast – applications close Wednesday, November 20 at midnight.


Take the Blueprint for Baltimore Survey 

Open Society Institute-Baltimore’s “Blueprint for Baltimore: 2020 and Beyond” is a collaborative effort to create a community-driven agenda for Baltimore and hold the city leaders accountable. If you live in Baltimore City, take their brief survey to make the needs of your community known! Strong City is proud to be a Blueprint for Baltimore Community Partner.


Two fiscally sponsored projects welcomed

Two new fiscally sponsored projects have joined the Strong City community: Sandtown-Winchester Harlem Park Collective and Friends of the Oliver Community Association! Sandtown-Winchester Harlem Park Collective, led by Inez Robb and Antoinette Mugar, is a group of community organizations that is creating a Master Plan for their two neighborhoods. Friends of the Oliver Community Association, led by Earl Johnson and Steven Duncan, is fulfilling a Community Development Block Grant focused on eliminating crime and grime in Oliver and will work with partners to assist with beautification, blight elimination, food security, youth education, and senior citizen enhancement.

Submit a Proposal for Neighborhood Institute

If you have a skill to share or a story to tell, consider submitting a proposal to present a workshop at our 12th annual Neighborhood Institute. While we encourage all topics related to strengthening neighborhoods, ideas that connect to our larger “Building Civic Power” theme are especially welcome. The event is March 28 at BCCC, and applications are due December 15.


Strong City Partner Tamara Payne Featured on WBAL-TV

Harwood community artist Tamara Payne, whose work has been supported by Strong City, was recently featured on WBAL-TV’s “Project CommUNITY.” Congratulations, Tamara!


October News Bites from the Strong City Community

Baltimore Beat led by Lisa Snowden-McCray (right) and Brandon Soderberg (left)

Dance and Bmore Director To Be Honored

CJay Philip, Artistic Director of Dance & Bmore, will be honored as an Arts Advocate at ArtsCentric’s Annual Gala on Sunday, October 20th.


MOMCares Founder Wins Homecoming Hero Award 

Ana Rodney, Founder and Executive Director of MOMCares, was one of five winners of T. Rowe Price’s 2019 Homecoming Hero Awards. Also, Blair Franklin, Executive Director of the Youth Empowered Society (YES) Drop-In Center, was named a semi-finalist.


Strong City In the News

Baltimore Sun column Jacques Kelly wrote a column updating the progress of renovations at the Hoen Building, which will be Strong City’s new home starting in 2020. And Maryland Matters published a column about the four Bank of America Student Leaders who worked at Strong City over the summer.



Small Grants for Census Work Now Being Accepted 

Strong City is partnering with Baltimore City’s Complete Count Committee to ensure maximum awareness of and participation in the 2020 Census. The city is making grants of $500 to $5,000 available to community groups to do Census-related work. Grant applications will be accepted between now and November 20.


Orioles Honor YLKA Director 

Ciera Daniel, Executive Director of the Young King’s Leadership Academy, was honored by the Baltimore Orioles with their Community Hero Award at a recent Orioles game. The Orioles donated $2,500 that will be used for student field trips during the upcoming year.


Strong City Wins Grants for Hoen Building, Organizing Work 

Two recent awards will advance Strong City’s upcoming transition to East Baltimore. A $250,000 Community Catalyst Grant from the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development will help us complete renovations at the Hoen Lithograph Building, where we will be moving at the end of 2019; and a $25,000 Community Builder grant from Bank of America will support community organizing and advancing economic mobility in and around Collington Square.

Baltimore Beat Is Newest Fiscally Sponsored Project 

Strong City is pleased to welcome the independent online news source Baltimore Beat to the fiscal sponsorship community. Led by Lisa Snowden-McCray and Brandon Soderberg, Baltimore Beat is a community-facing, community-accountable media outlet owned and run by journalists that prioritize telling the truth over maintaining access to power.


Strong City Presents Discussion Panel on Neighborhood Change

Neighborhoods are constantly changing. How does Baltimore’s history of redlining and segregation continue to affect housing patterns today? Is gentrification inevitable? And what are people doing to manage change in their communities?

These and other urgent questions will be on the table as Strong City Baltimore presents a panel discussion on “Investment, Disinvestment, and Neighborhood Change in Baltimore,” Saturday, November 2, at Brilliant Baltimore, the combined Light City/Baltimore Book Festival. The event will take place at 2 p.m. at Baltimore’s World Trade Center, 401 E. Pratt St.

“Strong City was founded in 1969, and from the beginning our goal was promoting neighborhood integration and stability in the face of rapid change,” says Strong City CEO Karen D. Stokes. “A half-century later, it’s clear we still need to have these conversations.”

This event is part of Strong City’s yearlong celebration of 50 years of building and strengthening neighborhoods and people in Baltimore. We have assembled a diverse panel of distinguished local writers, activists, and journalists for a forum on one of the most important issues facing our city.

Meet our panelists:

Marisela Gomez, M.D., a Baltimore-based community activist, public health professional, and physician scientist, is the author of the book Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore, published by Lexington Books. She received a B.S. and M.S. from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and a Ph.D., M.D., and M.P.H. from the Johns Hopkins University. She spent 17 years as an activist/researcher or participant/observer in East Baltimore during and after training at the Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine and Public Health. She is a co-founder and current care-taking council member for Village of Love and Resistance (VOLAR, a Black and Brown-owned collective organizing for community investment and land ownership in East Baltimore) and Baltimore and Beyond Mindfulness Community (BBMC).


Klaus Philipsen, AIA, is a Baltimore architect and author originally from Stuttgart, Germany. In his book Baltimore: Reinventing an Industrial Legacy City (Routledge, 2017), he connects his work as an architect, transportation planner, preservationist and smart-growth advocate to advance an urban agenda that will propel legacy cities such as Baltimore into the 21st century and the “age of cities.” Philipsen also writes frequently about urban issues in his “Community Architect Daily” blog. In 1992, he founded ArchPlan Inc., Philipsen Architects, a design firm with offices in downtown Baltimore that has received design awards and gained special recognition in rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, revitalization, and transit projects.


Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of history at the University of Baltimore, where she chairs the Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies. She was part of the steering committee for the award-winning Baltimore ’68 public history project. With project organizers, she co-edited an anthology entitled Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City (Temple University Press, 2011). She also co-wrote Introduction to Public History: Interpreting the Past, Engaging Audiences with collaborators in California and Indiana. Her work and interviews with her about Baltimore’s history have appeared in SlateTime, CNN, NPR, The Washington Post and The New York Times. This is her 25th year living in Baltimore City.


Lisa Snowden-McCray is the editor of Baltimore Beat, an independent news outlet in Baltimore City and fiscally sponsored project of Strong City Baltimore. Her work has appeared in outlets including The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Essence magazine, Baltimore City Paper, the Afro-American, Real News Network, Baltimore Brew, Baltimore Fishbowl, and Bmore Art.



The panel will be moderated by China Boak Terrell, CEO of American Communities Trust, where she is overseeing development of the Baltimore Food Hub and working with New Broadway East Community Association to secure the return of traditional business and retail to Broadway East, and to develop Last Mile Park, a one-mile urban ecological and public art trail. An alumna of Johns Hopkins University, the University of Minnesota Law School, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she has served as a corporate lawyer; business developer; liaison and advisor to agency heads, elected officials, and corporate leadership team members; and General Counsel for the District of Columbia’s legislative committee on human services. She has led on issues of police legitimacy and tenants’ rights, and is published through Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies on the topic of supportive housing for the homeless.

The panel will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Inspire Stage (Top of the World) on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center. The event is free and open to the public, with no reservation required. More information about this and other Brilliant Baltimore events can be found here.