The Pittsburgh Foundation will commit $50 million over the next five years to organizations and initiatives focused on promoting racial equity and justice as part of its new strategic plan unveiled Tuesday.
Foundation leaders say their experience responding to emergency needs during the Covid pandemic — as well as data that shows vast racial and economic inequities among the region’s residents — drove the creation of the new strategy and a commitment to put money behind it.
“We all know that an inequitable Pittsburgh is a Pittsburgh unable to thrive,” says Lisa Schroeder, foundation president.
The philanthropy’s “overarching call to action,” it said in a statement, is “to build a society in which race is no longer a determinant of who thrives and who gets held back.”
Established in 1945 as a community foundation to address critical social needs in the region, the philanthropy had net assets of $1.5 billion at the end of 2021. That year, it distributed more than 7,000 grants totaling about $57 million. Final figures for 2022 were not available.
Of an average of $50 million in grants made by the foundation annually, 60% are recommended by individuals who maintain donor funds at the foundation and 40% are directed by foundation staff from unrestricted contributions. The $50 million to be directed to racial justice and equity over the next five years will come from the unrestricted grants pool, says Schroeder.
Also, at least 50% of unrestricted grants by 2027 will benefit organizations that serve minority communities and whose leaders are Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
Foundation officials selected an organization led by a Black woman as the location to announce its new strategy.
Catapult Culinary, located at the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus in Bellevue, provides a yearlong culinary business incubator program for minority entrepreneurs.
It is an affiliate program of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, a nonprofit led by Tammy Thompson, that offers resources and educational programs in finance, home ownership and entrepreneurship to assist struggling individuals and support at-risk communities.
“Tammy has been a wonderful mobilizer in sharing knowledge from her community,” says Schroeder.
The foundation cited the Emergency Action Fund it launched with other local philanthropies in 2020 for pandemic response and its Racial Justice Fund as examples of how it has already been addressing racial and economic gaps in the region.
U.S. Census Bureau data illustrates why it needs to focus its mission on racial equity, the foundation says. Nearly 13% of Americans lived below the poverty line in 2021, according to the Census Bureau. The percentage of Pittsburgh residents living below the poverty line was significantly higher at 20.2%, and was even greater for people of color, with one-third of the city’s Black and Latino residents and more than 25% of Asian residents living in poverty. The median household income in the city was $57,821, the Census Bureau said.
To help craft its new plan, the foundation held a series of “community conversations” last summer with 300 nonprofit and community leaders and residents. The aim was to get input about the specific needs of groups and individuals, to determine existing resources, and strategize on how best to deploy future grants.
“They were wonderful,” says Schroeder. “They stand on the shoulders of what I believe is a tradition here at the foundation: listening to our nonprofits, our grantees and community leaders.”
Common needs that emerged from the sessions, Schroeder says, include a desire for access to basic amenities, mentorship, disposable income to improve individual lives and communities, and knowledge around financial literacy and voting.
Such dialogues between foundations and the communities in which they invest are becoming more significant for Pittsburgh’s philanthropies.
When The Heinz Endowments refurbished a floor just above its headquarters in EQT Plaza in 2016, it created a natural light-filled space where its staff could meet with nonprofits it funds and with community groups to brainstorm and collaborate on regional issues.
Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments at the time, called it a flexible space for “out-loud thinking sessions.”
Last week, the city’s largest philanthropy, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, announced it will move later this year to renovated, energy-efficient offices in the Strip District designed to provide space where it will convene community members and grantees.
Overall unrestricted grantmaking under The Pittsburgh Foundation’s new plan will focus on five community issues, says Schroeder.
Those are basic needs such as food, housing and education; equity and social justice including civic participation and nonpartisan voting rights; environmental action including prevention of exposure to environmental risk factors; economic mobility including entrepreneurship and reducing the racial wealth gap; and arts and culture including strengthening small- to midsize arts groups and supporting individual artists.
John R. “Jack” McGinley Jr., The Pittsburgh Foundation’s board chair, said undertaking its new strategy comes “during a period when our disparities are glaring and well documented that a community foundation must demonstrate the value of building community for the benefit of all of us.”