Our Most Generous City

America's Most Livable City also tops the charts for charitable giving.

(page 2 of 2)

As nonprofits struggle through a lingering recession in a slow-growth city with constrained public revenue, charitable giving has never been more important. Responding to a survey by Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, local foundations said that funding requests from human-services organizations alone were anticipated to increase by 75 percent this year.

Bob Nelkin, president of the United Way of Allegheny County, calls the effect “the triple whammy.” As he explains, “There’s increased need. Meanwhile, charitable contributions to human-service agencies are down 20 percent nationwide since 2007. And government is now contracting.”

Moreover, while Pittsburgh’s United Way campaign outperforms its peers nationally, raising nearly $32 million last year, Nelkin says more communication about the long-term effect of  human-service programs is necessary. The Pittsburgh Foundation has helped fund an advocacy project to retain those public investments: Last year’s Why Cut What Works campaign urged legislators to retain budgets for human services.

Growing need—plus some battering of their endowments by the gyrating stock markets—has led foundations to encourage more individual giving. “We do a lot of matches—as a piece of incentive,” says the Heinz Endowments’ Vagt. “If people scoff—if they say, ‘Why would I give? They’ll never raise a million’—well, if we give $750,000, that other $250,000 is a possibility.”

The Pittsburgh Foundation is also trying to boost grass-roots donations. “Our experience is that this is a tremendously generous town,” says Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. But he acknowledges that the region’s Charity Navigator ranking is “both accurate and potentially misleading, in the sense that on some measures, there’s a low level of individual giving.

Nonprofits automatically go to where the pot is biggest, so historically, it was easier to go to bigger [foundations] than to go after individual donors. We have a treasure trove of nonprofits in everything from the arts to feeding the hungry. But building a broader giving base in really important. If you can spread the cost of an organization over 10,000 people, it begins to be not too expensive.”

That’s why local charities and foundations are working together to make giving easier and more meaningful for a new generation of donors.

On Oct. 4 at 12:01 a.m., The Pittsburgh Foundation will once again host an online Day of Giving through PittsburghGives online program, which offers matching funds for every contribution made during the 24-hour challenge. A click and a card number send a donation to the donor’s choice of approximately 650 registered nonprofit organizations, from A+ Schools (a nonprofit advocate for Pittsburgh Public Schools) to local YMCAs. The Pittsburgh Foundation is anticipating to add $750,000 to the match pool; the WestmorelandGives campaign will make a $100,000 match in that county. All of the charities on the PittsburghGives site will be eligible to receive contributions from donors, and this in turn will qualify them for equal pro-rated shares of matching funds.

“Methods of raising money from individuals, like phone banks and direct mail, have been difficult and expensive,” Oliphant points out. “Technology has already changed that. These days, you can make a $1 gift to anywhere around the world.”

The Day of Giving events make it as simple to support a local organization as an international one. The idea, adopted from Columbus and Minneapolis and then tweaked as time went on, was almost an immediate success. In fact, the Day of Giving servers were so overwhelmed by the response to the first 24-hour campaign in 2009, that the system crashed. The event still managed to generate $1.5 million; in 2010, bolstered by online improvements, it more than doubled that take. Over the span of two years, giving events have raised $7 million for local nonprofits. A separate Day of Arts Giving in May raised $1.9 million, including matching funds.

Pittsburgh Social Venture Partners offers nonprofits not only cash but also expertise. Some of the 46 partners (a mix of individuals, spouses and associates) commit two years and $4,000 apiece to organizations that serve children; included in the group are eight associates who pay $1,000 per year. The Pittsburgh Social Venture Partners, chaired by John Denny of the Hillman Co., attracts individual philanthropists.

“Some of them are recently retired entrepreneurs looking for a different kind of meaning to their work,” says Denny, one of PSVP’s founding partners. “Others are experienced, successful women under 40 who are currently stay-at-home moms.” Since 2001, PSVP has donated $900,000 to grantees, who “pitch” their ideas to the partners at three annual events.

“Writing a check feels good, but PSVP offers a way to have more depth,” says Tessa Nicholson, a longtime member from Point Breeze. “It offered me the possibility of leveraging money with time and talent.”

Other local grant-makers shine a spotlight on specific communities. The Poise Foundation supports projects that address the needs of the local African-American community, particularly in education. The Women and Girls Foundation advocates for gender-related changes in corporate and public policy, pooling funds from donors across the community.

“Anyone can invest, from a dollar to a million dollars,” says Heather Arnet, CEO of the community-based foundation. The group has highlighted disparities in economic issues such as wage parity across the state. Arnet says its efforts in school sports funding and reproductive rights have resulted in measurable progress. Support from “several hundred” donors has changed 12 government regulations and has substantially increased the number of women serving on local boards of directors. Two types of funds—donor advised and donor designated—allow givers to tailor giving to specific programs; they can form giving circles to boost support of common causes.

Even smaller neighborhood groups can pool resources for fundraiser. A group of nine South Hills women meets once a month for “dinner, drinks and donations,” dubbing itself D3. Mt. Lebanon’s Michelle Pagano Heck, senior consultant at nonprofit consulting firm Dewey & Kaye, founded a local “giving circle” in 2009. Members pool their monthly contributions and identify charities worth their support. Last year, D3 made a donation of $5,000 to Lydia’s Place, which supports incarcerated mothers and their children.

More casual alliances of donors combine socializing and philanthropy. Party With a Purpose creates networking events for young professionals: The Oct. 22 event at East Liberty’s Shadow Lounge will benefit GTECH Strategies, a nonprofit devoted to “green” economic development. Since Carnegie Mellon graduate students founded PPP in 2006, the group has raised $30,000, benefiting 16 organizations in the region.

“We wanted to provide young professionals a chance to network and to get to know other non-profits,” says Vanessa Veltre. The 30-year-old co-director of the group states its mission simply: “It’s an excuse to have fun and contribute at the same time,” she says.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

Grenier on playing the dream role of Willy Loman, coming to Pittsburgh and performing at the renowned Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Enjoy a Cocktail to Help Preserve Pittsburgh's Historic Murals

Enjoy a Cocktail to Help Preserve Pittsburgh's Historic Murals

The nearly 80-year-old murals by Maxo Vanka show an immigrant's’ perspective on important issues.
‘The Chainsmokers’ Forgot Spellcheck for Pittsburgh Concert

‘The Chainsmokers’ Forgot Spellcheck for Pittsburgh Concert

A mistake at the end of the duo's sold-out show earned them some good-natured teasing on social media.
So Where are the Best 'Burbs in the Pittsburgh Area?

So Where are the Best 'Burbs in the Pittsburgh Area?

Pittsburgh-based Niche crunched a whole lot of data to rank the best suburbs in the country, the state, and around here.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

‘The Good Wife’s’ Zach Grenier Appears on the Pittsburgh Stage

Grenier on playing the dream role of Willy Loman, coming to Pittsburgh and performing at the renowned Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Brandon Blumenfeld introduces an American gastropub menu at the Troy Hill bar.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

The latest outpost of the small, Wexford-born chain isn't flashy, but offers good beer and grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

Delivering the Homily at Rooney's funeral, Cardinal Donald Wuerl acknowledged a longstanding Rooney philosophical belief: “You can get anything done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

Reviews of "Free Fire," "Unforgettable" and "The Promise," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

This couple’s proposal story really takes the cake.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Hosted by the Penn State Master Gardeners, the free event, which includes the local daffodil society’s annual show, features exclusive and hard-to-find flowers, shrubs, fruit and vegetable plants and other garden accessories from a variety of vendors.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Alex Rodriguez also is one of the league's more controversial stars.

Comments