Martha Baker, an active community volunteer and Chair of the TCF Board of Trustees, took some time to share with Caroline Brinton (’10) how philanthropy has been a part of her life since a young age and how she continues to make it an integral part of her life. Martha joined TCF’s Board in 2011, and has served on the Programs & Initiatives Committee, Strategic Planning Task Force, and Governance Committee.
In addition to her partnership with TCF, Martha serves on the boards of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Christ Episcopal Church Foundation, and the Baptist Health Foundation. She is a founding member of the Women’s Giving Alliance, a member of the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital and a member of the Beaches Habitat Advisory Council. Formerly, she served on the boards of WJCT, Episcopal Children’s Services, Museum of Science and History, Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art and The Bolles School.
Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?
A: I feel so fortunate to have lived in Northeast Florida for the past 30 years (except for the five years that our family lived in Baltimore, MD). It’s hard not to love our beautiful weather but add to that our abundant waterways and gorgeous beaches, it’s a pretty spectacular spot to call home.
I also enjoy all the wonderful things we have available to do here. We have exceptional museums, a terrific Zoo, and so many sports to play and sports teams to root for – it’s been a great place to raise a family!
Q: What challenges concern you the most about Northeast Florida?
A: Unfortunately, as with all urban areas, we have some serious challenges and concerns affecting our community in the areas of education, crime, poverty, and health care. That said, Northeast Florida’s environment is our greatest asset and driving our surging population growth. We must start addressing its protection immediately and with urgency to preserve our quality of life and economy.
Q: What are the values that inform your giving?
A: Like most, Tom and I were raised with the understanding that it’s our responsibility to “give back,” so I guess it’s a sense of obligation to help and to show our appreciation to groups and organizations whose work has been meaningful to us in our lives. I want to help ensure they can continue their good work aiding and impacting others.
Q: What is your first memory of philanthropy?
A: As children, we all had our tithing envelopes that we (often begrudgingly) put in the collection plate at church on Sunday with a portion of our allowances. I think I first realized how much fun giving could be was when my siblings and I would raise money for Veterans of Foreign Wars by selling “Buddy Poppies” on Veterans Day (our Dad was veteran of WWII). It was terrifically competitive between us to see who could raise the most money and probably where I honed my skills as a beggar. Still, we were so proud to turn the money over to the Auxiliary and felt honored we were making a difference in the lives of veterans.
Q: How do you balance giving from your head and your heart?
A: Balancing giving from one’s head and heart is difficult, but our patient financial advisor and dear friends in Donor Services at The Community Foundation are especially helpful and rational!
Q: Whom do you consider to be your role models for giving?
A: My parents were wonderful role models from the beginning and very engaged in our community. These days the generosity exhibited by some of our local philanthropists, like the Weavers, is just astonishing and making such a remarkable difference. It also serves to remind us that, while we might not have the same capacity, if we all give more than is expected of us, it can change the world.
Q: You have witnessed many milestones at TCF since joining the Board in 2011. What TCF initiatives are you most excited about in 2020?
A: We are starting work on our new Strategic Plan under the guidance of Ryan Schwartz, which is exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing what new ideas, focus, and direction bubbles to the surface in the process. We’ve had so much growth since our last plan was completed in 2015 when your father, Bill Brinton, was the Board Chair! As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.”
Q: How do you use The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida as a resource for your philanthropy?
A: Thanks to the organization’s deep knowledge of the community and its needs, The Community Foundation provides a fantastic resource for our giving. TCF plays a key role in identifying and solving community problems here in Northeast Florida. Our TCF staff members involved with Grantmaking and Community Initiatives have a discerning knowledge of the area nonprofits and their needs, allowing them the ability to help us give where we can get the most impact for our dollars. Their advice is most helpful and appreciated, and very often, there can be an opportunity for some collaborative philanthropy to take place and increase the impact.
Q: As a Founding Member of The Women’s Giving Alliance (WGA) in 2001, what strikes you about the organization’s growth and evolution?
A: I think it’s both amazing and, at the same time, I wonder why it’s taken so long! I co-chaired membership a decade ago with Sandy Cook, and for the life of us, we could not get up to 200 members. When I look at all the incredible women who are involved in WGA (over 470) and the tremendous work they are doing (having granted more than $6.5 million to 50 different nonprofits), I can’t imagine why every woman who has the capacity to participate doesn’t join! They’re missing out!
Q: Your husband, Tom Baker ’99, and six other members of your family spanning two generations, have participated in the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative. What makes The Weaver Philanthropic Initiative an integral resource for your family’s philanthropy?
A: The Weaver Philanthropic Initiative is such a treasure, and I’m only sorry that I never had the opportunity to participate. My husband Tom, his three siblings, and three of his cousins, all participated in the program and found it helped them learn more about the many needs and resources in our community. It also provided the opportunity to respectfully debate the most critical needs while listening to other perspectives and prioritizing the most worthwhile requests. It’s a wonderful opportunity to develop leadership skills while learning strategic philanthropy with peers and friends – all for the betterment of the community! I hope our children will have the chance to participate someday.
Q: What have been your most significant learning “aha moments” as a philanthropist?
A: We have always tried to support the causes and organizations we cared about. That said, before becoming involved with The Community Foundation, I admit that we were not as disciplined in our approach or as understanding of the impact our donations had on the causes we chose to support. The Community Foundation taught us the value of strategic philanthropy. I feel that with the help of the staff at The Community Foundation, we have better determined our focus and thereby become more effective donors over the past decade. We now also enjoy involving our family and discussing their interests and goals for the future.