By Rob Garretson  |  Posted 12-06-2006 Print Email

Well Endowed

Private foundations are one nonprofit group that aren't whipsawed by volatile revenue streams, or hamstrung by strict accountability guidelines. Unlike public charities, or community foundations that live off contributions from a broad base of donors, private foundations are typically endowed by a single individual, family or corporation—such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or the Avon Foundation—and distribute grants supporting various social or charitable causes using the income generated by those endowments.

The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, established by the Henry J. Heinz family (yes, the ketchup fortune), has net assets of $1.4 billion and distributes about $55 million annually throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Its five programs—arts and culture; children, youth and families; economic opportunity; education; and the environment—attempt to use the region as a laboratory to find "community-managed solutions" to problems that are national in scope.

With a staff of only 32, the Heinz Endowments shares with its smaller nonprofit siblings the lack of dedicated IT resources. Cheryl Dabat, operations manager, is responsible for the computer systems and network, along with other facilities and operational functions. On average she spends roughly 40 percent of her time managing IT, including the contract techie who is onsite two days a week.

But unlike Dance Theatre of Harlem and other small nonprofits, the organization has state-of the-art hardware and the latest version of most of its software, largely Microsoft Office, Exchange and SQL Server. Heinz Endowments uses Gifts for Windows from New York City-based MicroEdge Inc., the most popular commercial application for grant management, and is eagerly awaiting the new version of its online grant application module. "We're looking at products to help us work better with technology and use it to its fullest," Dabat says, citing non-tech-savvy users as more of an obstacle to IT deployment than top management buy-in. "Probably the biggest challenge in the organization is that we have different levels of users. Some are very computer literate, very computer knowledgeable. Others prefer the status quo and don't like change," she says.

"There is a core group here that thrives on technology and is interested in what might come along to help them do their jobs better," agrees Heinz Endowments Communications Director Douglas Root. "There's probably a slightly larger group that is very comfortable with what they have. They make do, and they're not as proactive."


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