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Pittsburgh Foundation raises $3M less last year despite donation record

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, 1:42 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Foundation brought in nearly $3 million less in 2015 than it did in the previous year, a decline of 5.6 percent in total gifts.

The foundation — the third largest in Western Pennsylvania — raised $50.6 million last year, down $2.9 million from 2014.

Foundation officials attributed the dip in revenue to a decline in bequests, or gifts made upon a donor's death.

They touted a parallel trend, however, as promising: Individual gifts climbed by $3.1 million, for a record-setting total of $24.5 million in 2015. That's 14.5 percent higher than what individuals gave during the previous year, and it marks the third consecutive year that individual giving climbed.

The increase reflects a national trend: Individual giving climbed by 7.1 percent in 2014 to $258.5 billion, making up 72 percent of all charitable contributions, Giving USA Foundation 2015 data show. Bequests made up just 8 percent of contributions.

“Most of the community foundations are doing a lot of donor-advised fundraising, which is kind of the opposite of bequests,” said Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of Jenkintown-based National Philanthrophic Trust. “Bequests give you money from deceased people, and you usually have a lot of discretion over where it goes. With donor-advised funds, you have advisers who are alive and invested.”

Last year brought The Pittsburgh Foundation the largest individual donation in its 70-year history: A $15 million gift from a Boston couple with Pittsburgh ties: Richard Hunt, 89, grandson of Alcoa founder Alfred E. Hunt, and his wife, Priscilla, 86.

“The needs in the community now are so great that we decided we just didn't want to wait any longer,” Priscilla Hunt told the Tribune-Review in late December. The Hunts chose their three children as advisers of the fund, which they intend to use to help groups such as Southern Poverty Law Center and Carnegie Mellon University.

Foundation President and CEO Maxwell King said the uptick in individual giving signals a “strong vote of confidence in the value of the community foundation model.”

The Pittsburgh Foundation, headquartered in PPG Place, Downtown, is one of the nation's oldest community foundations. With $1.14 billion in assets, it was 13th largest among community foundations in America in 2014.

Its mission is to improve the quality of life in Greater Pittsburgh by identifying and responding to community issues, promoting responsible philanthropy and connecting donors to critical needs.

Last year, The Pittsburgh Foundation doled out 5,516 grants totaling $35.3 million for efforts in areas such as education, human services, community improvement and arts and culture. More than half of those grants were from donor-advised funds.

In 2015, individuals established 68 new funds, 45 of which were donor-advised. The foundation provides donor advisers with guidance and subject-matter experts.

As a community foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation is a public charity built through the contributions of many individuals, families and corporations. Private family foundations, such as The Heinz Endowments ($1.6 billion in assets) and Richard King Mellon Foundation ($2.3 billion), have more freedom over how they spend their money but less attractive tax perks.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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