Philanthropy Fellows in the Field: Tenneh Kemah, The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation

Tenneh Kemah is currently serving as a Philanthropy Fellow with The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation while she completes the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership at the University of Maryland. She shared with us a bit about the skills and experiences she gained from her time at Cafritz.

Talk a bit about your background in the nonprofit field. How did it lead you to become a Philanthropy Fellow?

My background is in clinical social work, and I have spent my whole career developing and implementing programs for vulnerable families and children in the nonprofit sector. After years in that sector, I am confident that if you give me a pressing issue, I can help figure out a solution! But after starting my own nonprofit called Child Steps International, I realized that I was missing executive management skills, especially those related to board governance and financial management. That realization inspired me to pursue a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management at the University of Maryland, and learn more about grantmaking and leadership styles through my internship at the Cafritz Foundation through the Philanthropy Fellows program.

What are you currently working on at the Cafritz Foundation? How does it relate to your coursework at UMD?

I’m currently developing a report that summarizes the key lessons learned from the nonprofit mergers supported by the Cafritz Foundation in the last 15 years. In order to learn how the Foundation can best support nonprofit mergers in the future, I have spoken with staff and executive management at more than 20 organizations that have been supported by Cafritz Foundation grants.

This work is the perfect compliment to my Graduate Certificate coursework at UMD. Through my interviews, I have been able to compare managerial styles of nonprofit executives, apply leadership theories from my classes, and incorporate those lessons into my own leadership style at Child Steps International. My coursework and the Fellows program have given me so many ideas on how to improve my organization!

What are some of the knowledge and skills you’ve gained from your experience at Cafritz?

The biggest takeaway from my time at Cafritz is the fact that grantmakers and nonprofit direct service providers really are partners. I didn’t really understand the structure of nonprofit and grantmaker relationships, and I had no idea that grantmakers have such strong social missions. By working at Cafritz, I realize now that an important role of nonprofit leaders is to closely engage and build relationships with grantmakers. By doing so, we truly can work together to accomplish our shared missions.

At the same time, I have learned so much about board governance and the importance of financial health for nonprofits. In my Nonprofit Financial Management course at UMD, I am learning more about 990s than ever before! I’ve learned how an organization can present itself externally to grantmakers through its 990 form.

After all my experience on the ground implementing programs, the coursework at UMD and my time with Cafritz has been filled with ‘a-ha’ moments that I can’t wait to use during my future work in the nonprofit sector.

The Philanthropy Fellows program was created in partnership between WRAG and the University of Maryland Do Good Institute in 2011. The program matches qualified students with high-impact projects at WRAG member organizations. If you are interested in learning how you can host a Philanthropy Fellow for the 2019-20 academic year, please contact Rebekah Seder.

The UMD Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership was launched in Fall 2018. The four-course certificate, which can be completed in two semesters, is designed for professionals who want to join an elite network of nonprofit and philanthropy leaders and hone their skills in (1) leadership and management, (2) strategy, (3) fundraising and (4) financial management. Applications are being accepted for the Spring 2019 semester. You can learn more here or contact Charlie Cummings.