The Pittsburgh Foundation

Front-porch philanthropyFinancial advisors have long partnered with The Pittsburgh Foundation to help their clients establish charitable funds. Now, inspired by the Foundation’s array of services, many advisors are becoming donors themselves. And at one Beaver County firm, the spirit of giving is contagious.

Financial advisor Sam Spanos (right) confers with colleagues Jerry Marsico (left) and Mark O’Leary (center) at McGuire Memorial, a nonprofit serving people with mental and physical disabilities. The charity is a favorite of the group.

Ryan Rydzewski

By Ryan Rydzewski

Ryan Rydzewski is a former communications officer at the Foundation.


SAM SPANOS WAS STUMPED. He was 14 years old, crisscrossing Beaver, in the southwestern Pennsylvania county of the same name, just a few days before Christmas. “My mother took me to Kmart to buy presents, to the grocery store to buy food, then to buy a tree,” he remembers, retelling the story more than four decades later. “I didn’t know what any of it was for. We’d already done our family’s shopping.”

His mother drove from store to store in silence.

“Every time I asked what we were up to, she’d just tell me I was asking too many questions,” he says, laughing. “Finally, she pulled over and answered me. She said, ‘Do you see that house? Take this stuff and put it on the front porch. When you set it down, hit the doorbell and run like hell back to the car. Do not look back.’ ”

Spanos asked his mother who lived there.

“She just said, ‘Does it matter?’ Eventually, I found out that the father of the family living there had died, and that they wouldn’t have had Christmas that year if my mother hadn’t done that.” 

The memory of that anonymous act of charity stayed with Spanos. It was on his mind as he washed dishes at his immigrant father’s restaurant in Beaver, where he earned money for college. It was with him during commencement at Duquesne University. He remembered it when he became a financial advisor, and when Barron’s—an influential financial news publication—named him one of America’s best. It stays with him now in his sunlit office, where his dishwasher’s uniform hangs on the wall—a reminder of where he comes from.

“My parents never had a lot of money, but that didn’t stop them from sharing what they had,” says Spanos, senior vice president of the Beaver-based Spanos Group of Raymond James, a team of six financial advisors who manage more than $431 million in assets through Raymond James & Associates Inc., a member of the New York Stock Exchange and Securities Investor Protection Corporation. “We all need a given amount of money to take care of ourselves, our families and basic necessities,” he says. “But I believe that excess wealth is truly best used for making memories and for giving to worthy causes.”

This belief, he says, guides the work of advising and philanthropy. 

And perhaps nowhere is his charitable commitment more evident than in the Spanos Group’s remarkable relationship with The Pittsburgh Foundation. In addition to referring charitably inclined clients to the Foundation, Spanos and two other financial advisors—Jerry Marsico and Mark O’Leary—have established donor-advised funds of their own.

It’s rare to find three advisors with charitable funds working under the same roof. But for the Spanos Group, a firm concerned with long-term financial planning and multigenerational wealth management, the Foundation is a perfect fit. “Personally, I wanted to create something that would live beyond myself,” says Marsico. “Leaving a pot of money to charity when you pass away is nice, but I wanted something that I could establish now, contribute to and watch grow over the years. Through the Foundation, I’ve been able to earmark and grow certain assets that I can give to charity during my lifetime.”

O’Leary, who began his career as an intern for Spanos, agrees. 

“I’m in the business of growing and investing funds,” he says, “and I grew up learning that we’re all part of a broad community and that we have a responsibility to give back.” His fund at the Foundation allows him to do both, he says. “I’ll watch it grow over time, and will eventually use it to support my church and issues related to conservation.”
For Spanos, starting a fund was both a natural extension of his philanthropy and a practical consideration. “I’d been thinking about starting my own foundation, but I didn’t want the accounting and tax nightmares that come with that,” he says. Instead, his donor-advised fund at the Foundation will allow him to give to causes he cares about—such as supporting people with severe physical and developmental challenges—without the hassle of setup costs, maintenance fees and excise taxes.

Do you see that house? Take this stuff and put it on the front porch. When you set it down, hit the doorbell and run like hell back to the car. Do not look back.
Sam Spanos' mother 

In short, it’s efficient, straight-to-the-point philanthropy—not unlike dropping Christmas presents and a holiday meal on the porch of a neighbor in need. “I may not have grown up wealthy,” says Spanos, “but I’ve been blessed beyond belief. My parents taught me the value of giving and of treating the people around you like family. That’s how I look at my team and our clients—they’re family.

And I’m lucky enough to work with them every day.”

Original story appeared in the 2015-16 Report to the Community