Hands-on approach to philanthropy sparks new initiative for Pittsburgh Foundation

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While establishing a $1 million charitable fund to be used on initiatives that could lead to innovations in public school education, Joe Ballay, 74, knew he wanted to be closely involved in how the fund was set up, how it grew and how it was distributed.

He also wanted the fund to be managed in a way that his son and daughter, both in their 40s, could have regular input and eventually carry on its mission of education reform.

"I thought that was the sensible, intelligent way to provide resources," said Mr. Ballay, who with his wife, Sue, launched the Ballay Family Fund about a year ago through The Pittsburgh Foundation.

The Ballays' approach to hands-on management of their charitable gifts and plans for their children and grandchildren to continue the tradition of giving is a model for how the Downtown-based foundation hopes to work with families and individuals through a new initiative, the Center for Philanthropy.

The foundation is rolling out the program to respond to what it sees as growing demand from new generations of middle-aged and young donors -- especially baby boomers, Gen-X and millenials -- for more hands-on involvement in where their money goes and how it impacts the community.

"There's a world change in donors," said Grant Oliphant, president and chief executive of the community foundation that manages $800 million in assets and made gifts of $36.4 million in 2011.

"They are much more interested in being engaged in their philanthropies directly."

Among the center's offerings are one-on-one consulting with experts in targeted giving areas such as education, youth and families, the environment and the arts; research and personal visits to nonprofits that donors may be considering for gifts; and advice on how to involve family members in the giving strategy.

"People want more information and guidance in co-creating ideas to bring about change in their communities," Mr. Oliphant said.

The Ballays are among four families with whom the foundation piloted the center, which will roll out formally next year.

The foundation also hopes it will be a value-added tool to help compete with a growing number of giving options, including online sites that allow donors to contribute to charities worldwide simply by entering their credit card numbers. (The foundation sponsors the PittsburghGives resource for online giving, but nonprofits on that website are located in the Pittsburgh region.)

The Center for Philanthropy "is sort of the other end from online," Mr. Oliphant said. "It's high touch, working in person with donors."

Foundations and charitable-giving organizations continue to feel the effects of ongoing economic uncertainty. A survey of more than 1,000 large and mid-size U.S. foundations released in June by the New York-based Foundation Center said foundation assets remained flat in 2011 and below the pre-recession peak in 2007.

"Foundations would like to ramp up giving, but that is unlikely to happen absent consistent economic growth," Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center, said in a statement.

The survey projected that foundation giving would increase 1 to 3 percent this year, not accounting for inflation, and would grow only modestly in 2013.

The one-on-one relationship he developed with foundation staff members helped sell Mr. Ballay on establishing his fund at the foundation, he said.

"He came to us with an idea for an education program, and we facilitated their strategy and helped them devise a mission statement," said Yvonne Maher, vice president for development and donor services.

Mr. Ballay, an industrial designer who co-founded and is a principal at Downtown firm Maya Design, is a professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University where he formerly headed the design department.

The first allocation from his family fund, about $11,000, was made to help support an upcoming symposium for K-12 teachers at the Ford Academy in Dearborn, Mich., where the topic will be design-based learning. The Ballays plan to attend the event and hope to organize a similar program in Pittsburgh sometime in 2013, he said.

"We'll come back to Pittsburgh and debrief and build on what's happening in Detroit."

He and his wife, whose career was in early childhood education, now split their time between Pittsburgh and Atlanta where their son, Jamie Ballay, 49, lives. Their daughter, Kate Cline, 44, resides in Hawaii.

The Ballays have three grandchildren.

Right now, "Our children are not as directly involved as Sue and I, but we keep them informed" about the family fund, Mr. Ballay said. "They shoot us ideas, and we expect they will get more involved. We see this [as an] ongoing fund that will outlive ourselves."

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette


Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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