FRANKLYN BAKER, President & CEO of United Way of Central Maryland
UWRA: Please introduce yourself and take us through your journey with United Way.
Franklyn: I’m Franklyn Baker, President and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland in Baltimore. I have dedicated my career to the nonprofit sector. My previous experience encompasses leadership roles for both local and national organizations,including Greenpeace USA, Volunteers of America, and Children’s National Medical Center.
I joined my local United Way in 2016 and was thrilled to be able to build upon its strengths and successes, especially its “from every angle“ approach to driving family stability and broadening and deepening our impact across central Maryland. This position is a perfect fit for me—I am deeply committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion in community building and breaking down barriers to drive positive change.
What energizes me most about my job is the constant change. Shortly after I started, we moved our headquarters from downtown Baltimore to an office building located in a community of need in Southwest Baltimore. The move was intentional—it provides significant savings to our operations that we can direct back to our residents and neighborhoods and places us directly in one of the many communities we serve.
Since coming aboard, we’ve evolved both our program model and business model. We’re incubating new ideas and accelerating best practices that address root causes of poverty. We target hardworking families that may be working two or more full-time minimum wage jobs, but who still struggle to afford basic needs. We’ve added more family stability sites that provide homelessness prevention and shelter diversion services to families in locations across central Maryland, expanded our Neighborhood Zones (resource and service hubs for challenged communities that address education, income, housing and health), and expanded our On Track 4 Success early intervention education program that helps children succeed in school with the goal of graduating. Our first ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report was released early in my tenure. I am a staunch advocate of sharing its findings with our partners, donors, legislators, corporations, foundations, and the media to increase awareness of and remove obstacles for hardworking families who cannot afford the basics in life. I’m also passionate about exceeding goals: In addition to our annual fundraising campaign, we also surpassed our target of raising an additional $4.5 million to help struggling families and individuals and to improve the effectiveness of our operations.
UWRA: Describe what the past 12 months have been like for you, your community, and your United Way.
Franklyn: Where to start! It’s been a year unlike one that any of us has ever experienced, and it’s taken its biggest toll on those who were already struggling. I’m proud of the United Way team here and how quickly we pivoted to respond to the cascading needs resulting from the pandemic. We immediately established a COVID-19 Community Fund, which to date has raised nearly $3 million to help our neighbors, neighborhoods, and other nonprofits and organizations impacted by the pandemic. The ever-increasing need—and the new needs that emerge every day—have certainly been challenging. Still we have mobilized all of our resources and worked closely with State government and new and existing partners to provide more of what’s needed, where it’s needed, and when it’s needed. You can read more about our response here: uwcm.org/covidresponse.
UWRA: What keeps you going?
Franklyn: My team keeps me going! They are an incredible group of talented, mission-driven professionals whose deep and abiding commitment to serving others aligns well with my own ethic, sustains me during challenging times, and is reaffirmed with each one of our successes. 2020 was certainly a rollercoaster ride, but seeing the outpouring of support from our community and the incredible dedication, commitment, and around-the-clock work of our staff, volunteers, board members, and others to address the ongoing and emerging challenges facing our region gives me hope and is truly inspirational.
What accomplishments are you most proud of for 2020?
Franklyn: There are so many 2020 accomplishments to celebrate, and you’d need an entire newsletter devoted to them. Still, I’d say I’m most proud of the fact that when the pandemic hit, we were already in a position of strength and could quickly and effectively respond to the challenges of the pandemic and rapidly make a measurable difference for those in need.
I’ve also been proud to launch robust Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives that support our team and the community. And the cherry on top? An unsolicited and undesignated $20M gift—the largest individual gift in our 96-year-history—from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Our strategy and proven ability to deliver positive, meaningful results, and our strong and thoughtful plan for our future work, were driving factors in her decision to award this transformational gift, which will significantly amplify our ability to help even more people.
UWRA: United Way of Central Maryland has been a long-time supporter of UWRA (thank you!). Why has it remained a priority to provide that annual gift?
Franklyn: While I’m newer to the United Way family, the careers of so many of my team members and colleagues have been shaped by mentors who are now part of UWRA. We want to support the success of those who have supported our professional success. We value the wisdom that exists in abundance within the UWRA membership.
UWRA: Can you talk about your efforts to engage retirees in your own community?
Franklyn: So many times, our minds gravitate toward traditional campaign engagement opportunities for retirees. On the other hand, we have a cadre of the female pioneers who initially shaped our Women United membership group. These seasoned “alumnae” and leadership givers are retired C-suite professionals who are still connected to us and serving in multiple ways, from giving to mask making and mentoring.
UWRA: Anything else you would like to add?
Franklyn: I know I mentioned that one of our greatest accomplishments of 2020 was being well-positioned to help families and individuals to respond, recover, and rebuild from the pandemic. But on a personal note, one of my wife and I's most significant achievements is rearing a lovely daughter who is a well-mannered, bright 18-year old freshman at Loyola University, Maryland. Young people like her offer great hope for our future.