Jim Denova is Vice President of Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
Interviewed by Angela Zambito Hill
ANGIE: Please share a little of the history of the Foundation.
JIM DENOVA: It was founded in 1944 by oil and gas entrepreneur Michael Benedum and his wife Sarah, both West Virginians, to memorialize their son, Claude, who died in 1918 at age 20. They expressed the wish that grantmaking be focused in West Virginia and Pittsburgh, their native and adopted homes. The Foundation has authorized grants totaling over $380,000,000 over the years.
ANGIE: What is your role?
JIM: As Vice President of the Benedum Foundation, I have primary responsibility for our Education grantmaking in West Virginia and Southwestern PA. I also administer some Economic Development grants programs in Southwestern PA.
ANGIE: What does the Benedum Foundation support and why?
JIM: Two-thirds go to West Virginia and one-third to Pennsylvania to honor our founders wishes. In W.Va., we focus on education, health and human services, community and economic development. In Pa., it’s education and economic development.
ANGIE: Since 2002, the Benedum Foundation has graciously given $1,672,979 to the WLU Foundation, making Benedum our largest all-time private foundation donor! What makes WLU appealing?
JIM: A lot of colleges have tremendous academic resources, but WLU combines academic rigor with community service in a very agile and flexible way. Part of WLU’s success with Benedum is that it’s open to new ideas and welcomes new partnerships, like recent partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
ANGIE: Can you give examples of other organizations that you fund?
JIM: Oglebay Institute, the Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Science Center represent the kinds of organizations we fund because they stretch their missions to reach students in rural Southwestern PA and West Virginia.
ANGIE: What kind of WLU programming do you fund?
JIM: Projects in the College of Education are attractive because of its strong presence in the PreK-12 educational system. Your professional development school network, in particular, is a wonderful laboratory for innovation and applied research. The WLU Center for Arts & Education is a successful model of applied research and teacher training that aligns strongly with Benedum’s integration of arts and STEM education.
ANGIE: What is the process for a grant application, review and decision?
JIM: Engagement with the Benedum staff at an early stage is very helpful. That is the best way to determine the alignment of your objectives with Benedum Foundation priorities. We are happy to meet with project managers to better understand the scope of the request, and if the project advances our mutual objectives, Foundation staff will continue to work with the prospective grantee to discuss fundability of the project, necessary modifications and level of funding. Staff recommendations are then made to the Board of Trustees for authorization. The Trustees approve staff recommendations four times per year: March, June, September, and December. Proposals are accepted anytime, but if a project is time-sensitive, we need a proposal at least eight weeks ahead of the next board meeting.
ANGIE: What’s your favorite part of your job?
JIM: Getting to meet a variety of interesting people and hear about new ideas. Since Foundation staff generally encounters a lot of organizations that may not naturally connect with one another, we have a rather unique opportunity to forge partnerships. This is particularly true for the Benedum Foundation in regard to interstate partnerships. We can connect public institutions across state lines. We try to use our funds for the kind of regional collaboration that most institutions cannot undertake with public funding.
ANGIE: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our alumni and friends?
JIM: WLU has become a remarkable center for innovation for the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and the Greater Pittsburgh region. Even though WLU is a publicly funded institution, we believe that private support is essential to an institution like yours so that you are free to experiment and test new efforts; in effect to take the research and development risks that you can’t take with tax payers’ dollars. I believe that this is the role of philanthropy: to innovate with risk capital so that institutions like WLU can sustain successful ventures with public support.
Thank You Benedum Foundation!