Authentic Community Engagement 

by | May 12, 2023 | News | 0 comments

Call & Response

After this past week’s Call For Community Solutions, thanks to your active participation and engagement on a weekly basis, The Forbes Funds has now hosted/facilitated more than 4,686 virtual engagements with more than 39,442 participants. 

“When I think about Michelle and her work, it reminds me that we all may play different instruments, but when we have a shared vision of how we move forward, we can make music together.” 

– Fred Brown | President & CEO | The Forbes Funds 

As most of you know, the focus for our Call For Community Solutions conversations last month centered around systems change. This theme received such an overwhelmingly positive response from our network that we added some bonus coverage on this sector hot topic as we turned the corner for May, featuring a presentation from Mayada Christiansen with Partner4Work.  

This week, we made a natural pivot from systems change to begin our series on community engagement. We were joined by Michelle McMurray, VP of Program & Community Engagement for The Pittsburgh Foundation to kick things off with an interactive discussion on authentic community engagement and power sharing.

Michelle is responsible for the strategic direction, development, and management of The Pittsburgh Foundation’s core grant-making programs. She joined the Foundation in 2014 and has served in multiple roles of increasing responsibility, including senior program officer and director of grantmaking. Over her tenure, she has led the creation of innovative initiatives, which include Small and Mighty, the Social Justice Fund, and the Grantmaking for Racial Justice Fund, all of which increase access to funding for small, community-based nonprofits and Black and Brown-led organizations.   

Michelle is a seasoned leader with more than 15 years of professional experience, including academic research, clinical practice, policy advocacy, and organizational leadership. Throughout her career, she has been committed to serving low-income communities, working to eliminate racial inequities across systems, and strengthening the capacity of small, community-based nonprofits.  

Community Foundation With Global Implications 

In terms of our dual frameworks, the transformative work of The Pittsburgh Foundation aligns right down to the individual donor level with all of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This week’s presentation was most clearly aligned with goals #1 (no poverty), #8 (decent work and economic growth), #9 (industry innovation and infrastructure), #10 (reduced inequalities), #11 (sustainable cities and communities), #16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions), and #17 (partnerships for the goals).  

The City of Pittsburgh has been recognized as a leader in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the local level, and a big reason for that is community foundations such as The Pittsburgh Foundation, with supporting organizations like The Forbes Funds, given their deep roots in the regions they serve and broad reach across interest groups. As a community philanthropy, The Pittsburgh Foundation has committed to ramping up its convening power to develop partnerships with stakeholders, including thousands of donors who reflect many of the SDGs in their personal giving. 

In this regard, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Forbes Funds have been early adopters, playing a critical role in advancing our city and region in the application of the UNSDG’s framework. This was evidenced in 2019 at the UN General Assembly, recognizing those efforts during a “Spotlight on Pittsburgh” panel discussion showcasing the best of American leadership and innovation to achieve the SDGs. The foundation is a community leader in efforts to ensure that all residents are able to benefit from a strong economy. As a public charity with advocacy power, the foundation has committed to achieving systems changes in its social justice work that will address the goal of promoting peace in communities and more responsive institutions. 

Given the far-reaching impact The Pittsburgh Foundation is making through funding, program support and partnerships on the overall quality of life and well-being of individuals and communities, the work has equally broad alignment with the Social Determinants of Health. 

Key Considerations 

Our speaker this week left participants with four, key considerations: 

  • What is the power that you have been given over others?  
  • Who defines the problems, solutions and success for your organization?  
  • What harm have you caused?  
  • How can you shift power to allow the people most impacted to be the ones who make the decisions that impact their lives? 

Key Takeaway – The Adaptive Framework For Philanthropy 

When it comes to authentic community engagement and power sharing, our speaker presented an adaptive framework for philanthropy to promote systems change through a critical, racial equity lens, highlighting examples of the foundation’s participatory grant making process, including their Social Justice Fund and Small & Mighty program. 

“In order to foster greater levels of self-determination, the people who have the most to lose or gain, should be making the decisions,” she said. “We can’t program or fund our way to liberation. It is a myth that the charismatic leader is coming and going to make all of the change. It is hundreds of thousands of people working together that creates systems change.” 

There are four, key areas to the Adaptive Framework for Philanthropy 

  • Truth Telling 
  • Reconciliation 
  • Redesign 
  • Equity Practice 

To elevate our understanding of correlative nature of applying the adaptive framework for authentic community engagement, Michelle underscored that, without the courage to make room for truth telling first and sitting with the structural impact we’ve made historically, there is no discussion about reconciliation. Ultimately, when looking at the inverted pyramid of the 6 Conditions of Systems Change, transformative systems change only occurs when mental models shift. Michelle shared two videos to further these points:

Call & Response Episode Two: Bandz to Make Them Dance 

: Authentic Community Engagement Part 3 (w_TL_New Profit) 

View the full recording from this week’s call with Michelle HERE

You can get involved/learn more about The Pittsburgh Foundation, please visit:

For more information on the new Strategic Plan please see:

Please join us the following Monday, May 15th as we continue our Community Engagement theme from the perspective of grassroots organizing and are joined by Roy Blankenship of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) and Shayla Holmes with the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence. 

As always, feel free to reach out to or  with any questions! 


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