For nearly two years I lived on Ontario Road in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. I was just a couple blocks away from the administrative headquarters of Mary’s Center. During the entire time I lived there, I was active in the nonprofit world and yet I had very little understanding of all the great work being done by Mary’s Center, a community health center that has been serving Washington, DC for over three decades. Their services are essential to many and are still being provided in the middle of a global pandemic, amidst protests that have elicited disruptive responses ranging from the tossing of water bottles, to rioting, to heavy-handed responses by federal law enforcement. During these tumultuous times, the professionals in charge of Mary’s Center’s half-dozen or so healthcare facilities throughout the District have made countless difficult decisions as they do their best to provide healthcare to the most vulnerable residents of my city. Most of their centers are currently focused on COVID-related care for those who need it most. Check their website for up-to-date information about the many services they provide.
Mary’s Center grand opening of their Ontario Road building in 1993.
Mary’s Center is currently paying nearly $5 million per month in additional expenses related to increased need for protective gear, technical costs related to the fact their staff is now 80% teleworking, and considerable revenue loss from canceled appointments and lower insurance payouts for telehealth appointments. They have also performed 7,000 COVID assessments since the pandemic began and administered 2,000 free tests. As one of the larger nonprofits in the District they have 625 employees, above the 500-employee cap to receive federal assistance. So when you read (perhaps with anger) that one recipient of funds spent them on a Lamborghini, remember that Mary’s Center received no federal assistance at all.
First Lady Hillary Clinton visits Mary’s Center in 1995.
First Lady Michelle Obama visits Mary’s Center in 2009.
On the positive side, there have been new opportunities for fundraising as a result of increased generosity in response to the pandemic. Mary’s Center has been able to bring in new grants from new funders. As an established healthcare nonprofit, Mary’s Center maintains strong relationships with their supporters and those strong relationships are crucial during times like these. Just as health-related decisions at Mary’s Center are being made by experienced professionals, fundraising decisions are also guided by a talented team with decades of experience.
Sarah McIntosh is the Associate Director of Foundation Relations at Mary’s Center. Nearly a decade ago, Sarah completed a summer fellowship focused on fundraising under my supervision at a different organization. I am proud that she has continued in the field of fundraising where she excels as a member of the development team. Unfunded List is also proud of the small role we play in the operations of this team – for the past few years, they have regularly submitted proposals to us for review and discussed our feedback reports as a team. Sarah is also a regular evaluator for us, providing her expertise and thoughts to dozens of other nonprofits. In February of this year, she spoke at our Evaluator Summit at George Washington University. After reviewing their Spring submission, we have chosen to honor them with the only spot on this summer’s Unfunded List update.
Mary’s Center’s founder Maria Gomez was recognized by President Obama in 2013.
I recently had a chance to speak with Sarah and her current supervisor Heather K. Morgan. Sarah is incredibly lucky to work in a fundraising office run by someone with Heather’s experience. Mary’s Center’s Chief Development Officer has been raising funds for social causes for 30 years and is responsible for raising money from foundations, corporations, and other donors who support Mary’s Center’s mission. Heather has been a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) since 1993. Prior to Mary’s Center she was chief development officer for the Partnership for a Healthy America (PHA) and worked with First Lady Michelle Obama (Fun fact: At a previous position, I also provided support to the “Drink Up” campaign which was run by PHA and the First Lady’s Office). While the various health centers of Mary’s Center earn revenue from insurance payments and other non-donated sources, the fundraising office that Heather leads in my old neighborhood is essential to the budgeting strategy of the organization whose annual budget is over $60 million.
The development team at Mary’s Center mostly teleworks, but Heather comes in every few weeks to collect checks from their donors which arrive in the mail. Photo by: Andy DelGiudice
Normally, our focus at Unfunded List is on smaller nonprofits that are looking for their first grant, and we continue to welcome submissions from organizations of any size. But as our program and capacity have grown, we have expanded the pool of proposals we are willing to review. We have been reviewing for Mary’s Center ever since Sarah asked me if she could submit a proposal at our Evaluator Summit in 2018. Mary’s Center has core programming but they are always innovating and looking to expand and launch new programs. Our evaluators have greatly enjoyed reviewing their efforts and hope they will continue to look to us for feedback on their new initiatives long after we have recovered from the pandemic. And if we are to recover from this pandemic, it will be because of the hard work of people like Sarah and Heather and all the frontline workers who make up the staff of over 500 people at Mary’s Center.
Heather takes a break from fundraising to pose for a photo at the corner of Ontario Road and Kalorama. Photo by: Andy DelGiudice
We hope that this Mary’s Center profile will serve as inspiration to our many other applicants, all of whom deserve recognition and respect for their hard work trying to solve social problems. Over thirty years ago, Maria Gomez was in a position familiar to many of our unfunded applicants. She was a nurse specializing in maternal health who saw a problem in her community when it came to healthcare delivery. Her hard work, combined with the hard work of hundreds of other professionals like Sarah and Heather, has led to the creation of a center that is providing vital health services to 50,000 District residents who might have otherwise been left untreated.
The CARES Act was not all bad news for nonprofits like Mary’s Center. Another aspect of the federal COVID-relief act passed earlier this year is that all donors, whether they itemize or take the standard deduction, can reduce their tax burden by up to $300 by making a charitable contribution to eligible nonprofits like Mary’s Center or Unfunded List.