Benedum Foundation a Force for Good in West Virginia

Sixty-five years after it was established, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation continues to be a major philanthropic force in West Virginia, the West Virginia State Journal reports.

Michael L. Benedum, a Bridgeport, West Virginia, native who established an oil and gas business in Pittsburgh, founded the Benedum Foundation with his wife, Sarah, in 1944 to provide scholarships in both communities. Today, the foundation awards grants in five areas — education, economic development, civic engagement, health and human services, and community development — with two-thirds of the funding directed to West Virginia organizations and one-third to southwestern Pennsylvania organizations, said Benedum Foundation president Pat Getty.

Recent Benedum Foundation efforts have focused on technology-based economic development and helping nonprofits in the Mountain State to develop other sources of funding and compete for federal stimulus money. And although the foundation supports a wide range of projects, it looks for those with the broadest impact, Getty said. "We look for projects that will have an impact across a whole area of activity. We look for organizations with good collaborative and cooperative skills — organizations that value cooperation....We can stretch our impact that way."

Like many foundations, Benedum has seen the value of its assets fall over the last year or so. As of July 31, the foundation had about $322 million in assets, which is more than it reported at the end of 2008 but significantly less than the $450 million it reported the year before. The foundation will distribute about $13 million in grants this year — down from $20 million in recent years — to organizations such as the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway and the Charleston-based West Virginia Housing Development Fund.

As for the future, Getty said he doesn't see any drastic changes on the horizon. "I've been here eleven years, and the grants process is different but the grants program is still the same. In ten years, I would say we'll see about the same amount of change. We'll probably still have the same focus, but we'll probably do things in different ways."

Paul Darst. "Sowing the Seeds." West Virginia State Journal 09/03/2009.