Back to the future: The Heinz Endowments recruits an old friend

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Pittsburgh has one great advantage that many cities lack — a strong stable of philanthropic organizations, which are pivotal in enhancing the area’s renowned livability. The Heinz Endowments, second in grant making last year with $77.3 million, is one; the Pittsburgh Foundation, fourth with $40.5 million, is another.

It matters who runs them — and the news announced Monday affects both the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Grant Oliphant, 53, will become the new president of the Heinz Endowments, where he worked in various management capacities until 2008, when he left to become the president and chief executive of the Pittsburgh Foundation. The top job at the Heinz Endowments had been vacant since January when Robert Vagt left amid internal upheaval over the philanthropy’s former role in a worthy initiative, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which promotes best practices for the shale gas drilling industry.

Mr. Oliphant, once press secretary to late U.S. Sen. John Heinz, is an excellent choice to lead the nonprofit. As board president Teresa Heinz Kerry noted in a statement, three characteristics recommended him as perfect for the job: “He has a deep understanding of Pittsburgh, an informed and strategic view of philanthropy, and a close personal alignment with our family’s philanthropic and community values.” Unfortunately, the Heinz Endowments’ gain is the Pittsburgh Foundation’s loss.

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