When members of the Pittsburgh philanthropic community look back on 2011, they'll think of two words: Bill Dietrich.
William S. Dietrich, who died in October at 73, was a longtime steel executive and civic leader. Before his death, he bequeathed $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University, $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh, plus millions more to the Pittsburgh Foundation, Carnegie Museums, United Way, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other civic treasures and local schools.
Many of the checks he wrote were the largest ever received by the beneficiary organizations. In all, nearly $500 million was committed by the Dietrich Charitable Trusts in 2011, which is greater than the combined grant output of the top 10 foundations in Pittsburgh last year.
Not that the Pittsburgh's foundation community had an off year in any sense -- most of the foundations that are active in the region reported increased grant-making in 2011, a continuation of the rebound from the Great Recession during which some foundations tightened purse strings and stopped taking new grant applications.
The rebound from that challenging period began in 2010 and continued in 2011.
"We weathered the storm a little bit better than some," said Michael Labriola, of the PNC Foundation. "We have a very strong history of philanthropic giving. ... Other areas of the country might not have been as fortunate."
The PNC Foundation spread the good fortune around in 2011 to the tune of nearly $48 million. But the bigger news was the foundation's extended, enlarged commitment to its signature program, Grow Up Great, an early education fund that helps children prepare for school.
The program began in 2004 with a $100 million commitment; in 2011, the foundation earmarked an additional $250 million for the program for 10 more years.
Also in 2011:
• PPG Industries Foundation renewed its partnership with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium with $6.9 million over 10 years. It also launched a new PPG Conservation and Sustainability Fund.
• The Pittsburgh Foundation announced it had received a gift of $50 million -- the largest in its history -- from late chemical engineer Charles Kaufman, who died in September 2010.
• The Colcom Foundation awarded $900,000 in the first round of grants to be distributed from its newly created Marcellus Environmental Fund.
• Although its total grant-making was down about $4 million from 2010 to 2011, The Pittsburgh Foundation had its best fundraising year to date, "despite the continuing fallout from the economic downturn," said John Ellis, vice president of communications for the foundation. In 2011, the foundation raised $60.4 million, compared with $52.1 million in 2010, an increase of 16 percent.
Nationally, according to various polls of the foundation community, 2011 grant-making was scheduled to exceed 2010 giving by a "modest" amount.
However, according to the Foundation Center, based in New York, "It may take several years for giving to match the peak level recorded in 2008."
Bill Toland: email@example.com or 412-263-2625. First Published March 20, 2012 4:00 AM