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Heinz Endowments names Chris DeCardy as new president

Chris DeCardy, the new president of The Heinz Endowments
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
The Heinz Endowments named Chris DeCardy as its new president following a 10-month national search.

The Heinz Endowments named Chris DeCardy as its new president on Monday, following a 10-month national search.

DeCardy has worked as a senior executive with several major U.S. foundations and currently works as a consultant for nonprofits with a focus on climate change advocacy and policy, according to a press release announcing his hire.

DeCardy said he has a lot to learn from Heinz Endowments staff, board members and the community as he transitions into the new role. But he told WESA that the general direction of the foundation has been strong and he wasn’t hired to take it in a totally new direction.

“I see myself entering into an organization that has focus, has direction, and has shown that it knows how to make a difference,” he said. “This is absolutely building on what we're currently doing and the lessons that we've already been learning.

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DeCardy comes from a single-parent home in Illinois, he said. And so many of the issues that he will be addressing in Pittsburgh, he told staff today, will be issues that resonate with him. “I was the only son of a single mother who was an artist and an art teacher and a bit of a community activist on environmental issues, working to protect rivers in the region where I grew up,” he said. “So these three issues have been very close to me from the beginning.”

“We have found a leader whose values align with our long-standing commitment to serve our region in ways that not only help sustain the invaluable work of our nonprofits, but which help them to develop, flourish and maximize their impact," said André Heinz, board chairman for the Heinz Endowments, in a release.

DeCardy has worked on environmental issues for years. DeCardy was the acting CEO of the ClimateWorks Foundation in 2021, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that aims to mitigate climate change and reduce carbon emissions through philanthropy. He founded an environmental communications firm and served as its leader from 1995 to 2002.

DeCardy has posted fewer than 100 times on Twitter, but one of those posts showed support for an effort to ban natural gas from new construction in his hometown of Menlo Park. DeCardy believes that climate change science shows that everyone needs to move away from fossil fuels, like natural gas, as fast as possible. But he understands that the context for this transition will be different in Pittsburgh and says he’ll need to work with local partners to understand how to advocate effectively here.

“California has been a leader for decades and is in a position where it can continue to push so that at the local level,” he said. “There is absolutely the need in [The Pittsburgh] region to do the same thing over time and to meet this region and the people and the companies and the dynamics of energy markets here where it is. And then to help do the same thing, which is try to move as swiftly and as responsibly as possible.”

From 2002 to 2020, he served as the vice president and director of programs at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations focused on conservation, science, reproductive health and rights, children’s health, and education.

During DeCardy’s 18 years at the Packard Foundation, he helped oversee more than $340 million in annual grants split between 1,600 active grantees, according to the release. He also led the development of new programs, including expansions of regional grants focused on the visual and performing arts, early childhood education and out --school youth programs.

DeCardy thinks family foundations like Packard and Heinz have an important role to play. “The family commitment to the legacy and the connection to their community helps with their potential to take on riskier efforts to do things that aren't necessarily popular or to stick with programs for the long haul, even when they may not be going particularly well in the short term,” he said.

DeCardy currently lives in Menlo Park, Ca., where he serves as the chair of the city’s planning commission. He is also on the advisory board of Menlo Spark, a nonprofit that focuses on making the city carbon neutral by 2030.

He will move to Pittsburgh to take the position in April.

Last year, The Heinz Endowments awarded $92 million in grants, mostly to nonprofit organizations in western Pennsylvania, and currently has assets of approximately $2.1 billion.

Previous president Grant Oliphant left the organization in February 2022 for a similar position with the San Diego-based Conrad Prebys Foundation.

WESA receives funding from the Heinz Endowments.

Updated: January 9, 2023 at 4:29 PM EST
This story was updated with comments from Chris DeCardy.
Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.
Jakob Lazzaro is a digital producer at WESA and WYEP. He comes to Pittsburgh from South Bend, Ind., where he worked as the senior reporter and assignment editor at WVPE and had fun on-air hosting local All Things Considered two days a week, but he first got to know this area in 2018 as an intern at WESA (and is excited to be back). He graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 and has also previously reported for CalMatters and written NPR's Source of the Week email newsletter.