Who Are Pittsburgh's Young Philanthropists?
Nonprofit organizations are finding that Next-Gen donors crave opportunities to give of their time and talents as well as their dollars. Meet 12 young givers who are doing just that in Pittsburgh.
Maybe it’s a bad rap. Maybe headline writers are taking too many liberties by calling them the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Maybe the next generation of Pittsburgh philanthropists is giving, in its own way.
In Pittsburgh and elsewhere, nonprofit organizations and foundations are discovering that traditional vehicles of fundraising once key to their survival — mailings, face-to-face solicitations, exclusive formal events — have fallen out of favor with Next-Gen targets of those appeals. Tried-and-true techniques that once convinced Baby Boomers and their parents to open their wallets no longer are sure things to evoke a similar response from their Millennial (roughly, those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) and Gen Z, or post-Millennial (born in the late 1990s/early 2000s) offspring.
So how do charitable groups today convince new generations to put their money behind the causes or programs they support?
“Older generations were raised on the belief that philanthropy was simply part of being a good citizen,” says David Swisher, president of Animal Friends in Ohio Township. “That concept is not quite as ingrained as it once was. Finding an active way for [young donors] to participate is key to beginning to grow and cultivate a relationship.”
The problem has been studied and documented by numerous notable think tanks, among them the New York-based Foundation Center. In its 2013 Millennial Impact Report, it wrote: “The top takeaway: Millennials first support causes they are passionate about (rather than institutions), so it’s up to organizations to inspire them and show them that their support can make a tangible difference on the wider issue. The question for nonprofits becomes then: How can we fully invest in this generation, immerse them in the cause, and maximize the impact of their interest, time, and giving?”
Millennials give in order to make an impact, and they prefer to share information about causes rather than organizations, the Foundation Center report adds. They rely on peer influence, and they prefer to connect and give through social media, mobile platforms and social networks or events, according to the report.
Locally, those findings are echoed in a study released earlier this year by Campos Inc., the Downtown-based research and strategy firm. It, too, suggests that Millennials aren’t likely to whip out their checkbooks in wild abandon or measure the value of charitable giving with regard to exclusive access to events and member discounts. A large number of young donors, however, are very willing to tap into philanthropic spirit when they strongly believe in a cause, researchers conclude in “Membership Reboot,” a Campos 2016 Consumer Behavior Trends report.
“Millennials are a very important cohort that is already in play, with an increasing percentage of them now in their 30s and their median household income surpassing $70,000. They are optimistic and cause-oriented,” while members of Generation Z are more cautious and pragmatic, says Alice Greene, Campos vice president, secondary research.
They supplement their financial donations with those of time and talent, whether by serving at a soup kitchen or teaching illiterate adults to read. They place more value on memorable experiences than they do on things, and they want to serve and participate in order to feel enriched and that they have shared holistically.
In part, those qualities inspired Signature Financial Planning president Scott Tobe to create the SteelTree Fund. It embodies a “Shark Tank” format to support next-generation innovators with an eye on strengthening continuity in the Jewish community.
If you want to see younger donors line up to get involved, you must change the game so they are able to participate actively and assume decision-making capabilities — and you’ll turn them off with rubber-stamped committee decisions, bureaucracy and pay-to-play events, Tobe says.
“They will only become part of an institution if they feel they can have a direct impact,” he adds.
And maintaining that engagement and charitable commitment requires continual effort and finesse, particularly in persistent evaluation of the ways in which organizations reach young audiences. Active social media accounts are crucial, says Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety – The Children’s Charity — although he adds one caveat. “We need to also focus on other community-based events to reach this population that allows them to have fun and learn about our cause,” he says.
When an organization does that successfully, it will tap into a hands-on, passionate group motivated by a strong sense of duty for public service and a deep desire to establish a connection with a cause. From that group, we introduce a dozen young professionals and students who embody an outstanding spirit of local giving.
photography by douglas duerring
Bonnie M. Mangold  & Jay R. Mangold Jr. 
Bonnie is an associate at Reed Smith LLP; Jay is an associate at Cohen & Grigsby, P.C.
Philanthropy means writing million-dollar checks and seeing your name on the side of a building, right?
No way, say Jay and Bonnie Mangold, founders and chairs of the Children’s Trust of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation. Monetary support plays a part, they say, but so does giving of your time and talents.
Now at 150 members and growing, the trust engages emerging leaders in the Pittsburgh region through volunteerism and pooling funds to support talented, locally based researchers with annual research grants. In 2015, the trust at the end of its first year awarded a $40,000 grant to Dr. Dennis Simon of the Pediatric Critical Care Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for research into traumatic brain injuries.
“People from this city — and the city itself — are world class,” says Jay. “We want to make it the best place it can be.”
People would be most surprised to know that the couple … met at an SAT and college prep program at Northeastern University while both were in high school; they’ve been together ever since.
Steve Sokoloski 
Advertising Sales, Comcast Spotlight
It’s never who you think it is.
That’s the thing with illiteracy, especially among adults: The image you’ve conjured up rarely matches the reality.
“[People lacking literacy skills] live right next door to you, or they work in your office,” says Steve Sokoloski, whose tenure as a Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council board member began in 2009 and inspired him to spearhead the development of Thrive, its Young Professionals Advisory Board.
Now nearing 30 members strong, Thrive embraces the council’s motto of “Better lives through learning” via fundraising and hands-on involvement.
“Everyone has a role in helping people in their community have access to education,” he says.
The book I will read over and over … “Onward” by Howard Schultz. It’s the story of how Starbucks bounced back, but it also shows you that if we don’t make mistakes, we really don’t advance.
Vanessa Thompson 
Grant and Community Outreach Manager, Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania
Vanessa Thompson says she found walking into the Allegheny County Jail for the first time to be really intimidating.
In fact, it remained intimidating for the first few times she went as part of a ministry outreach through her church, Living Way Christian Fellowship in East Hills.
“Now I love it,” she says. “It’s really empowering because I was able to overcome my fear and [know] that I’m giving someone else the gospel and hope,” she says.
As an alumnus of the first graduating class of The Pittsburgh Promise, volunteering is something she can’t imagine not doing.
“There’s been so much that has been given to me, I just feel a need to give back.”
When I look in the mirror, I see … An endless amount of opportunities, many waiting to be explored.
Christopher Amar (37)
Of Counsel, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP
Christopher Amar and his wife, Cheryl David, have Wikipedia to thank for bringing them to Pittsburgh.
“We started looking at the largest metro areas in America and realized Pittsburgh was the biggest of the small towns and smallest of the big cities, and [we] thought it would be a nice middle ground,” he says.
Fast forward six years, and you’ll discover a philanthropic track record that’s included being a donor, community advocate and active proponent of The Pittsburgh Promise.
He credits his immigrant parents — his father is a native of India; his mother is a native of China — with instilling a desire to advocate for the underprivileged and underserved. He also sits on the boards of Pressley Ridge, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures and the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Success is … waking up every day and doing something meaningful. If I do, I believe that I will leave the world in slightly better shape than when I arrived.
Claire Senita 
Pittsburgh Advocate, Journey Forward
A spinal-cord injury has yet to get in the way of Claire Senita.
Following a gymnastics injury in eighth grade that left her paralyzed from the neck down, there wasn’t so much of a “why me?” as there were confusion and anger that a common move during her routine had gone terribly wrong.
But it never stopped the former Pine-Richland student from learning how to drive or from attending Curry College in Boston. While there, she became involved with Journey Forward, which uses an intense exercise program to enhance the lives of those with spinal-cord injuries. Now back in Pittsburgh, she’s on a crusade to establish a local branch, having helped to raise $50,000 towards the $350,000 needed for equipment, training for staff and other related costs.
“Every time I want to give up, I have to remember how many other people could benefit from this,” she says. “I almost feel selfish if I would stop trying.”
I am most afraid of … Knowing that I could have helped someone else but was unable to because I couldn’t find the resources.
Anna Yaksich  and Sydni Henley 
Students, Springdale Junior-Senior High School
It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 50 — if you see something wrong in the world, then it’s up to you to change it.
That mentality has driven best friends Anna Yaksich and Sydni Henley since they attended grade school.
“My mom was watching Oprah when I was 7, and they started talking about puppy mills, showing how mistreated [the animals] were,” says Anna. “I remember being really astonished and confused as to how something like that could exist.”
Immediately, she and Sydni started to raise funds as ambassadors for Animal Friends, with a goal of raising $25,000 by the time they graduated from high school.
By the eighth grade, they’d shattered it.
Now at $28,000 and growing, their “For the Love of All Animals” fund continues to help all of the shelter’s residents in various ways.
My spirit animal is … [Anna] A dog. They are so pure, innocent and trusting, always loving, looking for the good in situations. Dogs are really honorable, and I think that’s something people should try to aspire to be.
My spirit animal is… [Sydni] A bear. They reflect the qualities of inner strength, fearlessness and confidence in themselves. Bears stand against adversity, taking action and showing leadership.
Rosalind Chow  and Jeff Galak 
Rosalind is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Carnegie Mellon University; Jeff is Associate Professor of Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University
With a deep-rooted sense of responsibility, Jeff Galak and Rosalind Chow say they believe that helping others is something their family always should do as a matter of course. It’s one of the reasons they created the Rosalind Chow and Jeff Galak Charitable Fund to celebrate the birth of their first child.
“As our daughter gets older, we’d like her to be more engaged with deciding where charitable funds go and see the impact that such donations have,” says Jeff.
Focused on alleviating poverty and promoting education, the fund supports the Comprehensive Rural Healthcare Project, which creates positive female role models for young women and low-caste members in India, and The Neighborhood Academy, serving underprivileged local students in grades 8-12.
The superpower I would most like to have … The ability to heal myself and others. (Rosalind)
Taylor Tekulve 
Student, Independence Middle School, Bethel Park
Born 17 weeks premature and weighing a mere 1 pound, 4 ounces, Taylor Tekulve endured breathing problems, multiple infections and two eye surgeries to save her vision as she spent her first four months fighting for life in a newborn intensive care unit.
“Giving back to the March of Dimes is important because I want them to be able to keep helping babies the way they helped me,” she says.
To date, Team Taylor Tekulve has raised nearly $43,000 via the March for Babies 5K walk. In 2013, she served as the organization’s Pittsburgh Ambassador Child.
“Just because we are young doesn’t mean we can’t have influence in our community,” she says.
My dream job would be a … Respiratory therapist in a children’s hospital.
photo courtesy rachel tobin
Rachel Tobin 
Medical Student, Duke University
Two hundred bucks. That’s what Churchill native Rachel Tobin hoped her handmade jewelry would raise for JDRF following her diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes at age 12.
“I never dreamed that I would raise more than $85,000,” she says.
Her website, rachelscurebydesign.com, recently launched a new online fundraising program that will continue raising money for JDRF and 40 other organizations. For every online purchase at regular price, $10 per piece will be donated to the organization of the buyer’s choice.
“We like to say, ‘Fundraising never looked so good,’ ” she says.
My hero is … My mom. She has been such an inspiration to me and has helped me through difficult times in my life. Without her, I do not think that I would have been able to accomplish everything that I have.
Kate Benz is a Pittsburgh Magazine columnist and freelance writer whose work regularly appears in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and other publications. She is the author of an “Images of America” volume on the history of Cranberry Township.