Scott Izzo, Richard King Mellon Foundation

TITLE: Director

FUNDING AREAS: Conservation

CONTACT: sizzo@rkmf.org, 412-392-2800

IP TAKE: If you are working in conservation in southwestern Pennsylvania, the Izzo and the Richard King Mellon Foundation could be a great go-to source for funding. If you're working elsewhere, then keep other options open.

PROFILE: Some of Pittsburgh's civic leaders were a bit antsy circa 2006. The late Richard King Mellon's six grandchildren would soon be taking up stewardship of their grandfather's $1.7 billion foundation. And the Richard King Mellon Foundation had been a massive provider of funding for city-enhancement projects since the late 1940s. But all six grandchildren lived in far-off Westmoreland County, closer to Pennsylvania's center. The worry among local activists was that these up-and-comers might forget their grandfather's city and find other locales to fund. 

As it turns out, they had no cause for concern. Scott Izzo, the foundation's director, has held the course on Mellon's decades-old commitment to civic improvements in Pittsburgh and the surrounding southwestern Pennsylvania region. The Richard King Mellon Foundation remains the region's biggest benefactor for conservation and community development to this day.

Case in point: In 2012, the foundation gave a whopping $22 million to the Center for Energy, a University of Pittsburgh research center for renewable-energy and energy-sustainability innovations. It was one of the largest private grants in the university's history. The foundation has also given, under Izzo's leadership, $375,000 to the Allegheny Parks Foundation to build a trail around Pittsburgh's North Park Lake; $295,000 to Pennsylvania Resources Council, Inc., for its Scenic Pittsburgh series of land-conservation projects throughout Pittsburgh; and $162,000 to Carnegie Mellon University, another Pittsburgh academic institution, to support research and development of water-quality monitoring systems.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation is America's largest private foundation, dispensing just over $100 million in grants a year. Of that total, $14 million went to programs in conservation in 2013. The foundation's other areas of interest are regional economic development, community programs for youth, education, and general human services and nonprofit capacity building. With a financial outlay this vast, the foundation is able to award a very large number of grants per annum. But recipient organizations are "almost exclusively" restricted to the southwestern Pennsylvania quadrant, as the foundation's website states.

There are a few organizations outside southwestern Pennsylvania that receive grants as well. The Arlington, Virginia-based Conservation Fund has been a huge beneficiary of Richard King Mellon financing, procuring almost $6 million from the foundation from 2010 to 2013 alone. And the Conservation Fund used those grants to purchase and manage lands in states across the country, including California, Maine, New Hampshire, and Texas.

Another foundation based in Alexandria, Virginia, obtained $1.4 million in grants in that same time frame, but this was one of those exceptions that prove the rule. The grantee in question was the foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and it used the grant for conservation initiatives in western and southwestern Pennsylvania. As a general rule, organizations that work outside of the Richard King Mellon Foundation's geographic corner of the country are advised to look for other funders. Those include a multitude of conservation ventures in Westmoreland County, too, and many parts of the state far beyond Pittsburgh.

Beneficiaries and their projects run a wide gamut of causes: water management and monitoring, land restoration, youth education, acquisition of land for new parks, and trail construction, among others.

But efforts focused on waterways dominate among the biggest winners. The Mountain Watershed Association received $550,000 for restoration of the Melcroft, Pennsylvania, rivers Indian Creek and Jacob's Creek, while the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association received $550,000 for programs to manage Pittsburgh's watershed areas and problems of storm-water and water runoff. The Pennsylvania Environment Council, another big winner, received $1.1 million, most of it for efforts on water conservation throughout western Pennsylvania.

Izzo himself is deeply rooted in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region. He served as president of the Student Conservation Association, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that recruits and trains youth to serve in habitat restoration, park stewardship, and other conservation roles, from 1977 to 1996. He has also held leadership positions in Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, in addition to working in the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, which is located in Pittsburgh.