The Pittsburgh Foundation

A perfect fit for philanthropy

Karen Sadaka, a 2020 New Philanthropic Leader cohort, stands on a sidewalk in downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo credit: Josh Franzos.)

Interview by Christian Pelusi. 

Christian is the senior communications officer at The Pittsburgh Foundation.


Finding where to begin is often the toughest part of any journey. Karen Sadaka was looking for a way to help underserved communities in our region but couldn’t find an opportunity that fit. Then her friend, Bethany Barefoot, spoke highly of her 2020 experience in our Foundation’s New Philanthropic Leaders program and invited her to the capstone event, the “pitch party.” 
Created in 2018, NPL was designed to introduce a group of up to 25 young professionals in the 25-40 age range to philanthropy, the grant-making process and how they, as a group, can improve the Pittsburgh region’s community.
Sadaka, a transition specialist representative with Paycom, a payroll and human resources software located Downtown on Grant Street, was eager to take part and shares her experience.

When you first learned about the NPL program, what hooked you?

I was interested in the opportunity to get involved and…I thought this program sounded great because it was being led by members of The Pittsburgh Foundation, had access to the Foundation’s knowledge and resources, and followed a structured process. I also loved that it was going to be a collaborative program with like-minded individuals.

How did everyone get acquainted?

I originally was going to be a part of the 2020 cohort, which was postponed due to COVID, so our first official meeting as a group was in May 2021. Our first meeting was virtual, and we had the chance to do introductions and start getting to know each other with ice breakers and breakout rooms. We also went through a presentation to understand the structure of the cohort for moving forward.

So how does the cohort work?

The program was structured with educational sessions, reflection activities, collaborative planning sessions and collaborative review sessions to determine the focal point for our giving. We were provided articles regarding issues impacting Pittsburgh communities and we met with a guest speaker from a nonprofit. We also learned about the various types of funding that nonprofits can receive and challenges that nonprofits face when receiving funding. We completed activities to assist with narrowing our scope and had open discussions on which nonprofits would ultimately be a part of our pitch party.

With so many smart people from different professional backgrounds and lived experiences, how did you come to a consensus on areas to address?

We held a session where we ranked and voted on various issues in the community to narrow our focus. With racial injustice being extremely relevant, we all agreed we wanted to focus on the Black community. Narrowing our scope to a more specific issue was initially a bit more challenging. I think what surprised me most was that there were issues others felt very passionately about that were much lower on my list.  We developed cohesion by giving everyone the opportunity to speak to why an issue was important to them and why they believed it should be addressed. The group was very open and welcoming to discussing viewpoints and this ultimately led to agreeing on a topic: youth mentoring and OST or however she or Emmie would characterize?

How did these issues speak to you personally? What inspired you about those organizations after hearing them speak and/or meeting their representatives?

These organizations – 1NationBible Center Church and ARYSE – spoke to me because their representatives were so passionate about their work. The individuals they serve are systemically disadvantaged and these organizations strive to make a positive impact on the outcome of so many lives through their programs. I was so inspired by the desire, determination and care that these organizations have toward making a difference for their communities. 

As you learned about the program from a friend, what would you want other young professionals in our area to know about as they consider this program?

I would say that it is an awesome and effective way to get involved, give back, gain knowledge and meet others who want to do the same. My advice would be to be open and curious and to take advantage of being in a room with like-minded people who want to positively impact our community.

Interested in joining our NPL group? Read more about the cohort and our 2022 schedule of events, a testimonial from recent NPL participant Jeremy Suschak and apply today. And read more about the 2018 NPL launch that appeared in a previous publication.