The Pittsburgh Foundation

Focus on Westmoreland: Convening for a Stronger WestmorelandThe Community Foundation of Westmoreland County is spurring nonprofit leaders to leverage their collective knowledge and resources for big quality-of-life gains.

In Westmoreland County, nonprofit leaders are sharing their struggles and their success stories as they work together to boost the region.

Christopher Whitlatch

By Christopher Whitlatch

Christopher Whitlatch is the former manager of marketing and communications at the Foundation.

THERE WAS A NOTICEABLE GAP IN WESTMORELAND COUNTY, and The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County (CFWC) set out to fix it. 

The gap was not physical, but rather a mindset: Many community leaders believed there were few opportunities for the county’s nonprofit organizations to learn best practices from their peers and from outside experts.

“There’s a strong foundation of development opportunities and organizations in Allegheny County to assist nonprofits in developing their skills,” says Phil Koch, the CFWC’s executive director. “Nonprofits in Westmoreland County have far fewer resources.”

The CFWC’s Board of Directors realized the need to provide strategic leadership resources to the nonprofit community several years ago, and committed to convenning nonprofits for a variety of workshops and events. Under Koch, the CFWC has expanded its calendar to feature professional development opportunities every other month. 

“We surveyed our nonprofit organizations and began looking for new topics that would benefit the community,” Koch says. “We also worked to identify the best advocates for those issue areas.”

An event in July, for example, featured artist and advocate Darrell Kinsel of BOOM Concepts. Kinsel spent the day touring and meeting Westmoreland County nonprofits before presenting a social media workshop to 27 organizations. 

“Being able to bring dynamic individuals like Darrell to the county creates excitement and encourages participation,” says Koch.

Locally, the CFWC has worked with The Forbes Funds — a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation that works to the management capacity and impact of community-based nonprofits — and the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, a coalition of 500 nonprofit organizations across the region.

Also, the CFWC has sought partnerships with regional and statewide organizations that provide educational resources. In the Harrisburg offices of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO), which provides advocacy, collaboration and learning resources to the state’s nonprofits, an idea had been germinating for some time, says Executive Director Anne Gingerich. PANO had surveyed its 876 members and found that many organizations were unable to travel to the annual meeting. “We decided it was time to design regional events across the Commonwealth to provide a higher level of service and increased engagement opportunities,” Gingerich says.

The CFWC and PANO share a board member in Jordan Pallitto, vice president of the Hill Group, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting company. Through this connection, PANO brought its first regional gathering, “Courageous Conversations,” to the CFWC’s Greensburg headquarters in May.

“We were delighted to host PANO, and our nonprofit organizations benefited from a variety of education and networking opportunities during the daylong event,” Koch says. “More area organizations attended this event than any other in our history.”

The excitement and engagement that came out of the CFWC workshops also spawned an additional benefit: bringing people together in a casual environment generated discussions on community issues and promoted the sharing of ideas.

Pallitto sees great value in this kind of event. “I believe we have the ability to solve nearly every intractable community issue by working collectively,” he says.

PANO surveyed the attendees of the “Courageous Conversations” meeting and found that 75 percent of respondents had met someone with whom they could collaborate in the future. “The event created a space to think about things in different ways,” says Gingerich. “The relationships formed here will benefit the community in the future.”

Koch wants to build on the momentum that the event created. “As a community foundation, we are in the primary position to steward the development of the nonprofits serving our county. By coming together, we can improve the lives of each and every resident in Westmoreland County.”

Original story appeared in Forum Quarterly - Summer 2016