For more than a half-century, The Pittsburgh Foundation has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes player in local philanthropy.
But under the leadership of William E. Trueheart, its president and chief executive for the last year, the foundation has taken a bolder, more visible stance.
Trueheart, 60, of Squirrel Hill, demonstrated the foundation’s greater visibility by holding a news conference Monday to roll out its new strategic plan and admit that the needs of the community are greater than what the foundation can underwrite.
Trueheart joined the foundation amid an economic downturn and international tension. The foundation’s assets peaked at $538 million in 1998 and have dropped to $468 million now. As of 2001, the foundation ranked third in the region in the amount it gives to other charities.
Since then, its grantmaking has declined from $13 million in unrestricted money last year to $11 million this year.
“The critical needs of the community are much greater than we can support,” Trueheart said.
With its portfolio declining, the foundation launched a yearlong process of meeting with community leaders, donors and grantees to better focus what it will support.
As part of the plan, Trueheart said, the foundation will focus on programs that:
These areas will govern how the foundation will spend its $11 million in unrestricted money. The foundation gives out another $13.3 million directed by its donors.
He cited gaps in the health of different groups, not just along racial lines, as important issues to address.
“As we have an increasingly aging and mobile population, he said, “we’re going to be facing greater and greater disparities in health outcomes.”
Trueheart made his biggest splash in July by joining the leaders of The Heinz Endowments and the Grable Foundation in temporarily cutting off funds for Pittsburgh Public Schools because of squabbling between the administration and the board.
The move was bold not just because the foundations cut the funds, but because they held a news conference to announce it.
“It’s a change in style for all foundations because usually foundations prefer to stay in the background and work behind the scenes,” said Doreen Boyce, president of the Buhl Foundation.
“This was a very public event to try to stimulate change. You have to be very convinced that what you’re doing is in best interest of the community.”
Trueheart was later appointed to co-chairman of the Mayor’s Commission on Public Education. It will make its recommendations by late May, he said.
Trueheart joined only a handful of blacks running foundations here.
He was president and chief executive of Reading is Fundamental, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes family literacy. He also served as president of Bryant College in Rhode Island and taught at the University of Connecticut and Harvard University.
Trueheart’s arrival here signals a change in style for foundation leaders, said Maxwell King, executive director of The Heinz Endowments.
“To some extent it’s a trend in philanthropy throughout the region and the nation for foundations to be less reactive and more proactive,” he said. “Bill’s leadership reflects that, but it also reflects his strong character.”