BBJ: Goldseker Foundation CEO Matt Gallagher rethinks strategy

Editor’s note: The following article appeared on on February 19, 2016.

By Joanna Sullivan

Matthew Gallagher was very much on the political career path. He worked for Martin O’Malley for 13 years when O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore and then Maryland governor.

As O’Malley neared the end of this term, Gallagher found a new job in a very different industry. In 2013, he became CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, one of the city’s largest charitable foundations. He succeeded Timothy D. Armbruster, who retired from Goldseker after 34 years.

Gallagher says he’s enjoying the challenges in the nonprofit world. Those challenges became even greater after the city’s April riots exposed the crime, poverty and other deep-seated societal ills still plaguing Baltimore. He recently shared some of his views on how the city needs to solve them.

How did the foundation’s world change after April? When you have a series of events like Baltimore experienced in April 2015, it requires everyone to reassess your efforts, the level of effort, the areas you’re prioritizing. It’s important to not just acknowledge what happened but thoughtfully respond.

Did the Goldseker Foundation make any changes? Historically, the Goldseker Foundation has focused in three areas — community development, education and the third is what I’ll broadly describe as capacity building. We’ve been very active in Central Baltimore, Belair-Edison, Lauraville and Patterson Park. We had done grant-making in West Baltimore. We’ve taken a fresh look at some of the opportunities there. We made grants to BUILD and the No Boundaries Coalition [of Central West Baltimore]. In 2015, we transitioned a meaningful part of our grants budget to respond to what was happening. I think it’s something we will be doing going forward to maintain some of those new efforts.

What do you think needs to be redone to revitalize Baltimore? There’s obviously incredible need not just in West Baltimore but in many parts of Baltimore. As a foundation, we have a responsibility to really focus in on systemic change and systems opportunities to bring about change. We put a great value on community organizing, bringing engaged citizens together to try to rally a consensus around ideas and opportunities that have the support of the neighborhoods.

Are you encouraged by efforts to turn the city around? I think it’s an ongoing process. I think there’s been a candor in the nonprofit community that you can’t maintain business as usual. We had an event that was literally decades in the making. People have to reconsider their funding priorities and their actions. I think the business and philanthropic communities, rallied this summer.

What can businesses do to help improve the local economy? We need to educate businesses to the availability of goods and services locally. I think everybody has to resist that tendency to use the same people over and over again and try to diversify, to give new people opportunities. It creates a ripple effect for wealth creation.

Are the nonprofits working together well on the issues? There’s no shortage of convenings in the nonprofit community of Baltimore. I’m not trying to make light of it. There’s a healthy amount of reflection that happened. I think generally people are trying to be sensitive to the importance of coordinating. It’s a very collegial kind of attitude.

Is there any competition between nonprofits? I don’t have any real sense of competitiveness. I think the role of the nonprofit sector community — it should be to work together, it should be to collaborate. It shouldn’t be about credit. It should be about outcomes.

How do you like the job? I’m here about two and a half years. That followed 13 years working in the mayor and governor’s office. For a kid from Baltimore, a chance to lead a foundation like Goldseker, I liken it to playing third base for the Orioles.

How different is the public and nonprofit sector? You go from in the governor’s office, there were 50,000 executive branch employees, two dozen cabinet members. There were close to 90 people working in the governor. There are three of us. It’s quite a different scale. But at the foundation, you’re much closer to the ground. You have the ability to interact with every single grantee the foundation is involved with on a daily basis.

Do you miss anything about your old life? I miss the scale of government. I miss the colleagues that I had. It’s amazing to work at the foundation, be able to drive home every night and you can see the things you’re investing in. You can see your grantees at work and the issues they’re trying to make progress on. Then again, nobody sends [Freedom of Information Act] requests to read my emails anymore.

What are some of your goals? I think we underwent a transition. When I came in, I was replacing someone who was here close to 35 years. It’s been a bit of a generational shift. We have been busy reassessing some of our priorities. When I think of capacity building. I think we need more capacity — opportunities for young professionals. I think we need to make people realize this is a city where you can be a successful entrepreneur. There’s a climate and environment here that is receptive to innovation. People with great ideas can access capital even if it’s from nontraditional sources.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

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