As part of the unveiling of its merger with Bank of New York, Mellon announced the creation of a new $80 million Mellon Financial Foundation that will give out twice as much money to southwestern Pennsylvania as the previous foundation did -- $4 million a year, double the previous $2 million. It also pledged that the $1 million that it currently spends per year on area sponsorships and nonprofits will not change.
That's nice, obviously, as long as it lasts, but it raises a bigger question about the structure of local philanthropy.
Pittsburgh is legendary among cities its size for the quality of its foundation community, which I have always understood to be a legacy of the city's industrial history. The Mellon announcement underscores that belief. The not-for-profit community that is supported by those foundations, and by the elaborate fundraisers that are reported in the social section of the Post-Gazette, also strikes me as impressive. Going forward, it's clear that the not-for-profit sector of Pittsburgh has to remain vibrant and both well-supported and well-funded if the city is to have any chance of recovering and maintaining any semblance of urban vibrancy.
And yet. I wonder about the not-for-profit sector's dependence on foundation money and on big fancy fundraisers. I wonder about the sustainability of that model as big institutional donors -- individuals and foundations alike -- either leave town or decide to leave the dance, so to speak. When the checkbooks are gone, where does that leave the organizations? I don't know enough about the community to have a good sense here; I'll invite comments. Is membership and community building a strategy of choice in Pittsburgh? If it is (or even if it isn't) -- why, or why not? Does the not-for-profit sector struggle with the same inertia that characterizes so much of Pittsburgh? My sense is that it does, but I'd appreciate your thoughts.