Tom Wilcox, President, Baltimore Community Foundation
On the job, influencing people is one thing, but using that sway to connect people to each other for the purpose of strengthening Baltimore makes others sit up and take notice.
At the very least, it makes influential people take your phone call.
So it goes when Baltimore leaders interface with Tom Wilcox, president of Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF). He makes connections, especially when it comes to doing good around education and neighborhood programs – both mainstays at BCF.
“We are a collection of funds and foundations to help Baltimore be stronger,” says Wilcox, who has served at the helm of BCF for 16 years. “Our action agenda organizes grants, initiatives and advocacy,” says the BCF website.
BCF has been described as an all-purpose, permanent charity. It strives “to earn and build and maintain trust among donors, grantees, staff, trustees and the greater Baltimore community,” according to its website.
“BCF improves Baltimore in a very focused way,” says Laura Gamble, regional president for Greater Maryland for PNC Bank and chairperson of the BCF board. “We used to really focus on a lot of different issues. We’ve narrowed it down to a specific ‘theme’ of neighborhood and education.”
At the core is connecting people. For Wilcox, it’s second nature, and it’s all in a day’s work.
Early, you might glimpse Wilcox at a breakfast meeting with staff or donors in eateries including Miss Shirley’s Café, Dooby’s, City Café or Marie Louise Bistro. Maybe you spy him “doing lunch” with donors at the Center Club, Harbor East or in Towson. Following late-afternoon office work, evenings bring invitations to fundraisers, rallies and speaker engagements.
In between, Wilcox takes meetings with the mayor, delegates, senators, heads of corporations, and leaders of neighborhood organizations. During the legislative session, he frequents Annapolis to testify or co-sponsor bills.
“I go everywhere,” says Wilcox. Top on his agenda: to get people talking about making change. “Tom is determined and persistent about moving the city forward,” says Gamble.
BCF defines itself as a philanthropic organization created by and for the people of greater Baltimore, where donors join together to make the region they love a better place, today and for future generations. “We have the top philanthropists and top business leaders,” says Wilcox.
It’s a league he’s played in before. Previously, he worked as headmaster for Concord Academy, a boarding and day school located in Massachusetts. A Colorado College graduate, he holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Although a transplant to Baltimore, that doesn’t stop Wilcox from being passionate about the city. Maybe it’s in his genes since his mother hails from Baltimore. Wilcox grew up in New York City. He’s lived in Boston, San Francisco and Florence, Italy.
In 2000, he arrived in Baltimore to start his job at BCF.
“I have what some people think is the best job in Baltimore,” says Wilcox, who works aside a collection of influential people who desire to make a difference in Baltimore.
Regularly, Wilcox rubs shoulders with power brokers of business. The BCF board of trustees reads like a “Who’s Who of Baltimore” with key players serving from PNC Bank, T. Rowe Price Associates, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Baltimore Ravens, Johns Hopkins University, DLA Piper, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Brown Capital Management, University of Baltimore, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Associated Black Charities, individual community leaders and more.
“I’m a big fan of Tom,” says Calvin Butler, CEO of BGE. “BCF is unique. It leverages money from others to make an even deeper difference. Forging a partnership with BCF has been very good for BGE. It impacts the communities where our employees live, and it enriches the lives of our customers.”
Gamble adds, “Tom’s a very collaborative leader and very inclusive. He’s accomplished at letting people get their thoughts and ideas out without shutting them down. He knows a lot of people in the area and is involved in so many things.”
Beyond Big Business
Wilcox knows the non-profit world, too. He praises the work of what he deems “effective” organizations, including Thread Inc., Teach for America, No Boundaries Coalition, City of Baltimore Development Corporation, Southeast Community Development Corporation, and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, among others.
He believes in the leadership of Baltimore, citing people like Catherine Pugh, Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises and Dr. Leana Wen.
“At BCF, our voice is neither conservative or liberal, but it’s about finding common ground,” says Wilcox.
“Tom and BCF advocate for the interests of the city and its residents on a very strategic level. He is a great listener and a relentless networker. He is a connector of ideas and people. BCF’s focus on neighborhoods and education has driven the community agenda forward,” says Josh E. Fidler, co-chairman at Chesapeake Realty Partners and BCF vice chairman.
“Ultimately, he and BCF are judged by results. Some legacy programs born out of BCF that have changed the landscape include Middle Grades Partnership, Healthy Neighborhoods and the Transportation Alliance,” says Fidler. Currently, BCF initiatives include School Effectiveness Review and early childhood education centers known as Judy Centers, named for Judy Hoyer, late wife of Congressman Steny Hoyer.
Making a Difference
Wilcox urges everyone to view the website BCF.org. His advice for those who want to get involved with BCF: “Do good work and tell your story,” he says. “For non-profits: Do your job well. Go to our website to learn how to interact with us.”
A visit to that website features some quick facts. They include that BCF comprises more than 700 different philanthropic funds with a total of $170 million in core assets, and $275 million in combined core and allied assets. BCF distributed $26 million in 2015 to hundreds of non-profit organizations in Baltimore, the region and across the country. It accepted $39 million in gifts in 2015. It has generated more than $438 million since its inception in 1972.
“We carry out significant accomplishments,” says Wilcox. “BCF leveraged less than $2 million in endowment income into more than $160,000,000 in co-investments in our key initiatives.”
Baltimore boasts a growing economy where all have the opportunity to thrive, says BCF’s website. That includes the disenfranchised, stresses Wilcox, who is proud of the Middle Grades Partnership, a successful coalition of public and independent schools to prepare thousands of academically promising middle school students for the city’s leading public and private high schools. “It targets kids in very tough neighborhoods,” he says.
Passion for Baltimore
“My hope is that business leaders see that investing in Baltimore is a way to enhance shareholder value,” says Wilcox.
He calls Baltimore a “hidden gem. Not all cities have our strengths,” he says. “The number of young people ages 22 to 40 years old who live downtown has soared. Even in the wake of unrest, there are low vacancies for office rentals. It’s a very strong job market for tech in greater Baltimore.”
Wilcox continues, “Have a look at up-and-coming neighborhoods, like Highlandtown. Baltimore has a rich theater scene for a city our size. We have major league baseball and national football league teams.” Also, he points to the “sheer beauty of places like the Inner Harbor and Mt Vernon.”
On days off, Wilcox enjoys bike riding along the Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls Trails. He attends ballgames and the symphony. He’s a big supporter of Everyman Theater.
Then, he’s called back to the work of BCF, making Baltimore better. Wilcox urges all to “join us reestablishing Baltimore as an economic engine. We all need to work together.”
Butler agrees. “Don’t go it alone.
Partner with BCF to make a difference,” he says. “Tom is thoroughly selfless and dedicated to improving Baltimore,” says Fidler. “What more can we ask of a community leader?” I95