The Heinz Endowments' longtime director of environmental programs is leaving her post Aug. 8, part of an apparent shake-up at Pittsburgh's second-largest philanthropy and grant-maker.
Caren Glotfelty is one of the state's top environmental advocates, and her sudden departure caught many in the conservation community off-guard.
In a statement emailed to the Post-Gazette, Ms. Glotfelty, 66, said: "The board has indicated that it is moving in a different direction with regard to the Environment Program, and it is clear to me that this is the right moment to leave. I have been privileged to be part of the Heinz Endowments and very proud of all the grantees and partners who have worked so hard during my tenure to make the Pittsburgh region a better place."
In an email announcement being circulated to colleagues and grant recipients, she wrote that "changes are taking place at the Heinz Endowments, and one of the results is that I will no longer be employed there. ... I apologize for the abruptness of the news, but I only learned about it late last week. ... While the news will naturally create feelings of uncertainty for the future of your individual and collaborative efforts, [Heinz Endowment employees] have your best interests at heart."
She learned of her departure in mid-July, according to the email, just days after Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and chairwoman of the endowments, was hospitalized in Massachusetts.
The Heinz Endowments had no comment on the reason for the departure, according to a spokesman.
While not a household name, Ms. Glotfelty was described by those who have interacted with her professionally as one of the rocks in the Pittsburgh philanthropic community, a top-notch program officer skilled at navigating the system, balancing the needs of the grant recipients with the foundation's mission and eventually steering money toward important projects.
She also was the driving force behind the Tom Ridge-era 21st Century Environment Commission, a group that studied ways to improve Pennsylvania's environment.
The findings and recommendations of that commission resulted in the creation of the state's Growing Greener fund in 1999, which has doled out billions over the years to conservation and reclamation efforts.
"She's a great asset, somebody that understands the challenges that folks within the environmental community face," said Grant Ervin, the Pittsburgh-area regional director of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a community-building nonprofit.
"It's a big surprise. [They] have some big shoes to fill," he said.
The Heinz Endowments' environment program, one of five major program areas at Heinz, issues air quality reports, advocates for green construction, invests in sustainable communities and environmental education and seeds various community nonprofits such as 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Land Trust and Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future.
"It came as a great shock," said R. John Dawes, executive director at The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, another grantee. "I don't understand it. ... The citizens of Pennsylvania owe her a big debt of gratitude" for her work, particularly her work as co-chair of the 21st Century Environment Commission.
Program directors come and program directors go across the philanthropic and nonprofit landscape, and directors and trustees can make personnel changes at their prerogative, but when someone departs the Heinz Endowments -- which distributed $75.1 million in grants last year -- people take notice.
"Changes there are significant, because they have a significant footprint," said Marijke Hecht, director of education at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
Sudden departures, mid-grant cycle, can create uncertainty, especially when board members say they want to take a program in a "different direction," as Ms. Glotfelty suggested in her emails.
"You always hope that the projects that our organization sees as really critical [will continue] to intersect with what the Heinz Endowments intends to fund," Ms. Hecht said. She said the Heinz Endowments was, and continues to be, "an incredible leader" in the Pittsburgh nonprofit world.
Ms. Glotfelty has led the environment program at the Heinz Endowments since 2000.
One of her major undertakings was a new air quality initiative.
Before coming to the Heinz Endowments, Ms. Glotfelty worked in Pennsylvania and Maryland state government on land use and water quality issues, eventually becoming the first deputy secretary for water management at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, under Gov. Robert P. Casey.
She also held the Maurice K. Goddard Chair in Forestry and Environmental Resources at Penn State University.