Q&A: Giving back in the Pittsburgh Region
According to a recent report, charitable giving was on the rise in 2015, with a record-setting $373 billion in donations. Rebounding from recession figures in 2008, charitable giving has continued to trend upward over the years, indicating that donors deeply value their philanthropic commitments to causes of personal importance. As we approach the holidays and the end of the year, charitable giving tends to be a popular topic with our clients. Today we are joined by our partners at The Pittsburgh Foundation, a local organization that works to improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region by evaluating and addressing community issues, promoting responsible philanthropy, and helping donors achieve their charitable goals. We sat down with Director of Development Jennie Zioncheck (JZ) and Senior Vice President for Program and Public Policy Jeanne Pearlman (JP) to chat about giving efforts this season and how our Pittsburgh-based readers can focus on philanthropy from a regional standpoint.
Q: What is noteworthy or different about Pittsburgh and its philanthropy trends?
JZ: Pittsburgh is unique in its “big small town” feel, where there is very much a hardworking, blue collar mindset where everyone helps their neighbors and gives back to the community. These values have created a culture of philanthropy that, relative to Pittsburgh’s size, is highly visible and influential. The city’s foundations have been crucial to the area’s revitalization. This spirit of generosity is a point of pride for Pittsburghers—so much so that The Pittsburgh Foundation is now the country’s 13th largest community foundation. We also run one of only two community foundation-based Centers for Philanthropy in the country, helping donors understand their options and connect with other like-minded people.
Q: For those looking to give back to a regional cause, what tips would you recommend for getting started?
JZ: The start of any charitable effort begins with truly understanding an organization. Use resources like PittsburghGives.org, Charity Navigator or GuideStar, which give you a snapshot of individual nonprofits, including information on boards and executive members, 990 details, and revenue and expense data. Second, know that anyone can be a philanthropist, and it’s not just about donating money toward a cause. Volunteering time can be just as meaningful. If you get involved in an organization that you trust and stand by their mission, then your personal commitment to the organization is equally as powerful. If you’re not sure which organizations to support, the Center for Philanthropy is an excellent resource for connecting deeply to nonprofits doing good work.
JP: The third tip is to consider the most pressing needs in our immediate area. As with any city or bustling metropolis, we have a few select challenges, and charitable efforts in these spaces can go a long way. The lack of affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues in the community. It’s great that we continue to expand our market and create wealth opportunities in the city, but as demand drives up rental and home prices, lower-income families can no longer afford to live in certain neighborhoods. Organizations like ACTION-Housing, Inc., Neighborhood Allies, East Liberty Development, Inc. and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation are all local nonprofits that provide assistance and meaningful programs to meet the needs of this population.
Children face especially high risks from poverty in our region. Homewood Children’s Village and Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg are two organizations that provide a variety of programs for families – after-school care, employment training for young parents, medical education, etc. – that can inevitably set a child up for developmental and educational success.
Q: How can an individual or family decide how much to donate to a charity?
JZ: Individuals or families establish charitable funds with us that range anywhere from $10,000 all the way up to $40 million. Our concierge-level services through the Center for Philanthropy help donors identify their philanthropic passions and develop personalized plans for achieving their goals. But donors should know that any monetary commitment or time spent volunteering at an organization will make an impact. If families want to introduce charitable values to young children, they can start small by considering options such as collecting food for The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, volunteering at the Animal Rescue League Shelter to help pets get adopted, or participating in local fundraisers. For example, the Foundation just hosted a regional Day of Giving, during which donations of $25 or more went toward local charities. That event, combined with another event in May, raised nearly $6 million.
JP: It depends on what your own philanthropic mission is, but from the donors that we have worked with at The Pittsburgh Foundation, it’s been a joy to see that no matter their wealth level, it’s more than just charity – it’s about making a difference in our community.
Jennie Zioncheck is the Director of Development at The Pittsburgh Foundation, where she works closely with donors, financial advisors, CPAs and estate attorneys in identifying strategies and solutions for charitable giving. Jeanne Pearlman is Senior Vice President of Program and Policy at The Pittsburgh Foundation, where she oversees grant-making.