Change and Building Trust with Havaca Ganguly of the Middendorf Foundation

Change and Building Trust with Havaca Ganguly of the Middendorf Foundation

Havaca Ganguly has dedicated her professional life to enabling funders, NGOs, and nonprofits to do their best work. After traveling and working in international humanitarian aid for many years, Havaca found herself drawn to work closer to home. She first started her own business supporting internationally-focused philanthropists and NGOs based in Minnesota and Maryland, but when an opportunity arose in Baltimore, it was a dream come true.

Today, Havaca is Executive Director of The Middendorf Foundation which was founded in 1953 by J. William Jr. and Alice Carter Middendorf. Originally a family foundation, the organization is now an independent foundation having recorded $54 million in grants since 1973 when they first began tracking. The foundation provides capital and one-time grants that support six of their grantmaking focuses: arts and culture, education, healthcare, social services, environment, and historic preservation, all with the goal of empowering Marylanders and supporting their compassion to help others.

When Havaca took over the one staff position in late 2019, the foundation had a chance to reflect on their practices and reset operations. Her onboarding happened to coincide with a board president transition and the addition of several new board members. Together, Havaca and the board spent time getting to know one another and building mutual trust. They never missed a meeting despite the pandemic, instead opting for outdoor picnics, conversations over Zoom, and the occasional masked visit with grantees. 

“Given the new energy, there’s been a huge focus on operational changes like creating a website and setting up other technologies to support day-to-day activities like grantmaking and payment processing,” Havaca said. “These were critical changes in light of the pandemic and luckily things we were already planning to do – the timeline just shifted forward.”

To further the trust building and reflection process, the foundation held a mini retreat for trustees to discuss the book Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva and worked with a summer intern on a history project to detail the foundation’s roots. This has been particularly helpful, as the board no longer has familial connections to the legacy donors. Spending time to reset and even transition some processes entirely at the beginning of her tenure now allows Havaca the chance to take on innovative projects, spend time seeking out new grantee relationships, and build relationships with other funders and partners.

With new trustees and a more accessible website, Havaca has noticed more applicants from a wider range of organizations.

"We’re listening and working more at the community level, which has been a shift that we’ve been able to track more formally using data from our new online grant portal,” she said.

When asked about a recent favorite grant, Havaca was quick to tell the story of Dawod Thomas, founder of My Father’s Plan, a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating change for inner city youth through community activism, financial literacy, and community outreach. 

She met Dawod through another grantee, The Bit Center (formerly known as the Italian Cultural Center), which helped him write his first grant to the foundation, subsequently funding a new vehicle to help transport youth around Baltimore for his program. Havaca introduced Dawod to other potential funders in Baltimore, as well. 

“This is just one example of how being involved at the grassroots level can make a huge difference,” she said. “We’re able to screen small organizations into our portfolio." 

Looking ahead, Havaca is eager to continue to engage with Maryland Philanthropy Network and strengthen the foundation’s contributions to Maryland. 

“Now that I feel really solid with our operations, I have more time to spend on larger projects that can help inform our impact and more time to devote to collaborative action with other funders,” she said.

As a member of MPN, Havaca has appreciated connecting with peers and growing her own network of colleagues, often meeting up to walk trails around Baltimore while talking strategy. Moving slowly and building trust along the way, Havaca and the Middendorf Foundation Board of Trustees remain committed to reflecting and acting to empower others in Maryland.


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