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Pittsburgh Foundation’s new plan embraces advocacy

Resource type: News

Pittsburgh Tribune Review | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Bill Zlatos

The Pittsburgh Foundation is broadening its grantmaking — delving into the environment and advocacy — so it can become more of a community leader.

“The public face of The Pittsburgh Foundation has been youthful, curious, positive, optimistic and exuberant — a kind of we-can-do-it message has been conveyed,” said Peggy M. Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. “That’s a positive way for a community foundation to present itself, especially at a time when people are fearful and hunkered down.”

The new strategic plan was developed after Pittsburgh Foundation representatives met during the past 15 months with 100 community leaders, including donors, other foundation heads and nonprofit executives.

For several years, the foundation has awarded grants in five target areas: achieving educational excellence and equity, supporting families and youth development, reducing disparities in health outcomes, fostering economic development and advancing the arts.

Foundation officials believe the new target areas — self-sufficient individuals and families, healthy communities and a vibrant democracy — give them more room to maneuver.

“Especially for community foundations, it’s harder for them to be too narrow,” said Matthew Nelson, assistant vice president of constituency services at the Washington-based Council on Foundations. “The community will push back and want a broader array of support.”

Nelson said it is not unusual for a community foundation to develop a new strategic plan when it gets a new leader. Grant Oliphant was hired as president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation in February 2008.

Oliphant said the public was generally positive about the foundation but unclear about what it stood for.

“The general feeling was the foundation had narrowed its scope of activities so much over time, there were lot of people who wished it would become more broadly representative of the community,” he said.

Oliphant said the new areas of giving might allow the foundation to make environmental grants such as for transforming the riverfronts and to advocate on such issues as better government. Foundations can’t endorse specific candidates but may give grants to groups that take positions on issues.

“The foundation is an amazing bully pulpit, and we want to use that power responsibly and we want to use it for our community,” Oliphant said.

He cited Minneapolis and Boston as cities where the communities’ foundations have used the bully pulpit well. The Boston Foundation advocated for school reform and The Minneapolis Foundation, for racial tolerance of Hmong immigrants.

Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Rebecca Flora, then executive director of the Green Building Alliance, were among the community leaders who took part in the forum with The Pittsburgh Foundation. They both support its changes.

“The idea that this gives them flexibility to meet a range of demands in the community as they come up and they’re not fixed in a rigid set of silos is a very good idea,” Coleman said. Flora, senior vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, said any of the three areas offers opportunities for environmental grants.

“This direction for The Pittsburgh Foundation is very positive, and the focus areas provide flexibility to respond to the most urgent community needs as they tend to change from year to year,” she said.

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advocacy, community engagement, Foundations, Pittsburgh