Small Grants Big Results

The Black Women & Girls Fund meets a critical need: operating support for under-resourced, overachieving organizations

Maria S. Johnson, Ph.D.

BCF donors offer value well beyond their financial resources, bringing diverse perspectives and expertise that inform our strategies and maximize the impact of our grantmaking. One example of the unique insight donors can offer is Maria Johnson, founder and chairperson of The Black Women & Girls Fund (BWGF). A Black woman raised in a military family, Maria experienced a lot of cultural and geographic diversity while moving to numerous Southern states and the DMV area, finally settling in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. A graduate of Hampton University, a historically Black college and university, Maria says, “As a first-generation college student, Hampton exposed me to a wide range of class diversity among Black students and families.” Maria went on to receive a joint Ph.D. in public policy and sociology from the University of Michigan, where she examined how biases in research and public policies have disproportionately impacted different groups of people, especially Black women and girls. While at Michigan and later as an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, Maria taught relevant subject matters and topics, including how charity has helped to effect social change and the challenges that arise when government entities rely too greatly on private philanthropy.

In 2018, after years of studying and teaching on proven program models for addressing racial and gender inequality and poverty, Maria thought about how she might contribute to advancing solutions in a more concrete way. The answer seemed clear: “Black women disproportionately give—financially and of their time—but organizations specifically focused on Black women and girls are often under-resourced.” She launched The Black Women & Girls Fund to support such organizations and spent the next year delving into the unique issues facing Black women and girls in Baltimore. “I read articles, I analyzed data, I met with people, and I matched what I was seeing with my research background, looking for program attributes that I knew could be transformative and change the trajectory long term for participants.” One finding Maria noted was the need for increased general support funding by donors and funders. “For smaller nonprofits, many leaders of color are working full time elsewhere…. They are spread thin, using their own personal resources and spending an inordinate amount of time doing paperwork for small amounts of restricted funding. These are driving factors for why I have chosen to make all of BWGF’s grants general support grants.”

Maria’s hope is that her small grants, given with the institutional backing of a BCF donor-advised fund, will help organizations leverage larger grants. She also sees her support as the beginning of a relationship in which she can offer technical assistance and connections to other experts as needs arise. “Growing up, there was a belief in my family that no one gets where they are by themselves and it’s important to give in all of the ways that we can,” says Maria. Giving in a multitude of ways—with funds, time, and access to social networks—is especially important for small organizations. “Most BWGF grantees have smaller budgets compared to larger nonprofit organizations that receive significant support from philanthropic funders,” says Maria. “Yet, I’m consistently amazed by the amount and type of work they accomplish. I look at MOMCares and its efforts to provide emergency grants to new mothers who sometimes suffer from post-birth challenges or Black Girls Cook, which delivered food to program participants to cook virtually for their entire family as part of the organization’s pandemic response. These organizations demonstrate a fiscal efficiency, always managing to do more with less.”   

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Building Stronger Neighborhoods Regionwide

We have a nearly 30-year history of offering grants to resident-led groups and community projects in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. These grants give residents the resources they need to accomplish a small project, get more people involved, and encourage the next generation of neighborhood leaders. We also fund programs that support the development of leaders of all ages who are working to improve their neighborhoods and schools. Our support is intended to help identify, activate, inform and network leaders. And finally, we believe when schools and neighborhoods team up to improve their school and community, meaningful and lasting change can be made. We are interested in funding proposals in which the students and adults in schools collaborate intentionally with community residents, neighborhood associations, and other individuals, groups, and institutions in the area surrounding a school.

School Leadership

We believe that attracting and retaining effective and diverse school leaders is a key lever for change in Baltimore's educational landscape, and so we fund school leadership development efforts at the district and individual school level. We are interested in funding proposals that focus on principal coaching, mentoring, peer networking, wellness/self-care, as well as pipelines that identify and develop new leaders. We will also continue to support efforts that build a culture of appreciation and encouragement for school leaders.

How Can We Help?

Melissa McC. Warlow
Director, Baker Fund Grants Program
410-332-4172 x150

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Place-based Grantmaking in Selected School Communities

We have allocated funds for two geographical areas that bookend a crucial corridor on the Westside of Baltimore City: Howard Park /Forest Park area (served by Calvin Rodwell Elementary Middle School and Liberty Elementary), and Reservoir Hill/Penn North area (served by Dorothy I Height Elementary). In these three schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, we will support projects and activities designed to make the communities safe, clean, green and vibrant; and improve the quality of the schools. Some projects may be neighborhood-focused, some school-focused and others collaborative projects between the schools and their respective communities.

Early Learning & Judy Centers

High quality early childhood education has a lifelong effect on students. Through our Early Learning grant program, we are interested in system-wide early childhood education proposals that will help Baltimore City and County's youngest learners, and their families, get the start they need. Nonprofit organizations that offer programs and/or services to Judy Centers are encouraged to contact the centers directly to explore partnership opportunities.

How Can We Help?

John A. Gilpin


Director of Planned Gifts
410-332-4171 ext. 132

How Can We Help?

Kate Sam

Communications Officer
410-332-4171 ext. 181

How Can We Help?

Cathy Brill

Executive Director
Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation