Chip Wendler has made the Baltimore region his home for more than 44 years. He has worked at T. Rowe Price since graduating from college and has held several positions over the last 26 years—most recently as Vice President of the T. Rowe Price Group,. In the past, he has volunteered for both the United Way and Habitat for Humanity. Today, Chip serves on the boards of OSI-Baltimore and the Center for Urban Families in West Baltimore—a nonprofit focused on work-readiness and responsible parenting. He is also a T. Rowe Price Foundation trustee. Chip and his wife also sponsor several Teach for America teachers, and Rhona serves on their local board.
What motivated you to try to help solve Baltimore’s problems?
I have to give a lot of credit to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s LE ADER ship Program and its passionate director, Jan Houbolt. He’s done more for the city than you can possibly imagine by creating a network of enthusiastic and informed disciples—all of whom now carry a vision of how great Baltimore can be along with a pragmatic understanding of the challenges that we must overcome to get there. I learned more about the city from Jan and my classmates over that nine months back in 2001 than I had over the previous nine years.
How do you decide which organizations to give to and get involved in?
There are a lot of terrific organizations in Baltimore trying to help the city prosper. It makes it very difficult to choose just one or two. That said, I tend to gravitate toward organizations that have a focus on human services and are trying to help people who are either under contributing to Baltimore’s future relative to their potential or, even worse, are holding the city back. The Center for Urban Families, for instance, helps the unemployed or under-employed become more productive members of society and also tries to repair fragmented families. We have to make significant progress on both fronts if Baltimore is going to thrive. Teach for America is trying to help close the yawning achievement gap that we often see in the inner city schools and introduces a steady stream of bright, enthusiastic young teachers to the region.
What was the pivotal thing that convinced you to invest in OSI-Baltimore’s work?
One day I looked out my office window and imagined the city on fire—with that “fire” being all of the social ills that threaten to erase the great progress that Baltimore has made over the last few decades. Imagine if we were fighting a real forest fire, like they do in the California foothills. It is so critical that the efforts of the various fire companies are coordinated and, more importantly, that their efforts are focused on activities that will make a difference in ending the blaze. It struck me that Baltimore needed a fire chief of sorts—an organization that could thoughtfully identify a handful of key issues and could focus its attention—and hopefully the attention of policymakers, the donor community, and social service providers—on efforts to promote meaningful change. To me, OSI-Baltimore has the potential to play that sort of role in Baltimore.
Moreover, when I heard about the Soros challenge—George Soros’s commitment to provide OSI -Baltimore with an additional $10 million if the citizens of Baltimore stepped up and contributed $20 million—it was a pretty easy decision to pull out my checkbook. Mr. Soros has channeled more than $65 million to helping Baltimore understand and address its challenges over the past decade. How many U.S. cities would love to have a benevolent godfather like him? How can we not rise to the occasion?
Do you have a personal philosophy about philanthropy?
I guess my philosophy is “don’t just invest in the easy stuff.” In my experience, many donors tend to gravitate toward easy-to-love causes such as the arts, education and helping the helpless. Please don’t get me wrong: it’s great that folks give to those organizations. That said, I hope donors are becoming more sensitive to the fact that it can be difficult for certain types of organizations, particularly those committed to solving less “sexy” yet vitally important problems, to raise money. Everyone knows that it is more fun to paint the room than it is to put up the drywall, but the drywall is really important.
How do you see the city’s future?
I think the city’s future is very bright, but we can’t afford for one minute to rest on our laurels. So many positive things are happening in Baltimore, and we have to keep that momentum going. Harkening back to the forest fire metaphor, it will be easier to put the “fire” out sooner if we can focus our donor dollars and programmatic efforts on addressing the key challenges holding Baltimore back from being all that it can be. I look forward to the day when instead of seeing “Charm City” or “The City that Reads” painted on our park benches, I see “Baltimore: As Nice as Boston, with Better Weather!”