Company philanthropy for community good

As a successful entrepreneur or business leader, you build profitable enterprises that benefit workers, shareholders and consumers of your goods or services. Certainly, your company’s ability to meet payroll and turn a profit greatly benefits the community in which it operates.

Historically, the business world went beyond that basic economic function to invest in community development more broadly. The conviction was that the health and vitality of a business’s home community was key to its own viability for the long term.

A dramatic shift

In the last two decades, many companies in Southwestern Pennsylvania followed the national trend of treating shareholder value as if it were the only value. Now, they are beginning to appreciate the critical importance of other constituencies to their bottom lines.

It is evident that the economic environment once justifying limited corporate philanthropy has changed for many regions of the country. In Pittsburgh, dramatic economic shifts — good and bad — are playing out: yes, an amazing rejuvenation of much of the economy thanks to new business sectors and smart investments; and yes, an alarming gap between residents who are full participants and those who can’t get access.

That’s why we at The Pittsburgh Foundation, whose mission is to use philanthropy to improve the quality of life for everyone in our region, have made a dramatic shift in how we approach our work. We’ve created 100 Percent Pittsburgh, a new organizing principle directed to providing opportunities for the 30 percent of the region’s residents shut off from the new economy, often due to conditions connected to poverty.

Can’t close the gap alone

The 100 Percent Pittsburgh banner is a double entendre: our Foundation is 100 percent supportive of economic development that makes us a model 21st century city, and we are 100 percent committed to providing opportunities for all residents to participate in the new economy.

About 60 percent of our discretionary grant making is now dedicated to 100 Percent Pittsburgh, and other foundations in our region have pledged to be partners. But philanthropy can’t close the gap alone: We need the innovative ideas and management expertise that thrives in our business community.

We also need more business leaders to expand their constituency list and make bold investments through 100 Percent Pittsburgh for long-term community development. There are some sterling examples in our region, among them the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s $100 million contribution to the Pittsburgh Promise, a higher-education scholarship program for city public high school graduates; and PNC Financial Services’ Grow Up Great initiative, which has in the past 13 years, awarded $121 million in grants to prepare preschoolers for formal education.

Neither of these important efforts ties directly to the business sweet spots of the funders, but they do tie wonderfully to the 100 Percent Pittsburgh mode of philanthropy. We need more companies to join us — for the future of Pittsburgh families and the future of Pittsburgh business itself.

 

Maxwell King is the President and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. Maxwell joined The Pittsburgh Foundation, with assets of more than $1 billion, in 2014. His advocacy for including vulnerable groups — at least 30 percent of the region’s population — in the benefit streams of a resurgent Pittsburgh anchors a signature organizing principle, 100 Percent Pittsburgh. He also expanded the foundation’s investment in its Center for Philanthropy, which combines the charitable passions of donors with expert program staff and grantees to improve lives in the region.