How Pew Grew to Recognize the Power of Partnerships


As The Pew Charitable Trusts has expanded over the past seven decades, it has increasingly embraced partnerships with like-minded philanthropists to increase the impact of its work—for the benefit of all.

Editor’s Recommendation

Pew: 70 Years of Committed Public Service

by Howard Lavine

Winter 2018

If an issue is important, it’s almost guaranteed that it can’t be accomplished by any one individual or institution. Partnerships and collaboration are crucial. People bring different things to the table in order to achieve success. Rebecca W. Rimel, Pew President and CEO
Trust Magazine Winter 2018

The founders of The Pew Charitable Trusts: J. Howard Pew, Mary Ethel Pew, J.N. Pew Jr., and Mabel Pew Myrin.

On April 3, 1948, J.N. Pew Jr. and his sisters, Mary Ethel Pew and Mabel Pew Myrin, gathered in the office of their brother J. Howard Pew, in the Art Deco style Sun Oil Building at 1608 Walnut St. in the heart of Center City Philadelphia.

It was a Saturday, clear but chilly for spring, and the meeting marked the first time these founders of what has become The Pew Charitable Trusts would decide where they wanted to direct their giving. Like many fledgling philanthropists, they had a general sense of the topics they were interested in supporting—the siblings wanted to honor their parents, Sun Oil Co. founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. Although each was new to philanthropy, all four brought causes dear to them to the discussion. 

For J. Howard Pew, it was democracy, religion, and education, especially his alma mater, Grove City College. Mary Ethel Pew had long been interested in public health and better medical care, and had volunteered at the Philadelphia area’s Lankenau Hospital. J.N. Pew Jr. also believed education was critically important, and he championed historically black colleges, engineering, and science. Mabel Pew Myrin, the youngest of the four, was unwavering in her support for art and culture, soil conservation, and healthy food, as well as hands-on learning—taught through the Waldorf school curriculum in particular. The four knew they wanted to honor the ideals of American liberty and democracy that their parents had so deeply imbued in them, and they envisioned an organization that was rooted in solid facts and unbiased research and not swayed by political ideology or momentary fads. 

They also knew that transparency and accountability were important—but so were results. Perhaps most importantly, they wanted their support to remain relevant with the times, so the siblings envisioned an organization as adaptable, creative, and entrepreneurial as the country itself. In the early years, the work centered around the family’s home city of Philadelphia and helped to launch facilities such as the Scheie Eye Institute and the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Along with other local philanthropists, the Trusts provided early and ongoing support to Lankenau Hospital. The nation’s historically black colleges were other early grantees, and these institutions of higher learning received sustained support over several decades.

As time went on, and the Trusts grew and expanded its grant-making across the country, the organization’s leadership began to realize that these efforts could have an even greater impact if they were carried out in partnership with like-minded organizations. To assess this thinking, Pew would launch one of its earliest partnerships—the Health Care for the Homeless Program—in 1985, alongside the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Despite a strong national economy, homelessness had become a rampant problem in American cities in the mid-1980s, with many homeless people lacking access to health care. Recognizing this unmet need, Pew and RWJF joined forces and supported an effort to address health care for the homeless through a new and aggressive outreach process and also by offering targeted, flexible services able to vary by region. For example, in New York, health care was offered at soup kitchens, while in Philadelphia the program linked hospitals to homeless shelters. 

This program also encouraged community organizations and agencies to work together to solve the problem of homelessness. It started in five cities but expanded over the course of its four years to serve a total of 19, with work that ultimately documented that homeless people were more susceptible to health problems and that innovative outreach methods were successful in serving them. The initiative is largely credited with helping to forge a persuasive case for federal action: In 1987, Congress passed the first significant legislation authorizing federal assistance to the homeless, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

The measurable success of this partnership would lead Pew to seek out additional collaborations in an effort to amplify its work, maximize its impact, and promote tangible, long-lasting results in areas such as governing, public health, and the environment.

One leading example is a partnership called Results First, launched with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2010, which works with states to implement an innovative evidence-based policymaking approach, including a customizable cost-benefit analysis model, that helps them identify and invest in policies and programs proved to make the most of limited taxpayer dollars.  

In New Mexico, for instance, Results First helped the state assess the costs and benefits of its programs in early education, child welfare, and adult criminal justice. Since completing the analysis in September 2012, New Mexico has directed $104 million into evidence-based programs shown to deliver high returns. The majority of the funds have been dedicated to child welfare and early education programs, including pre-K, early literacy, improvements to early childhood programs, and evidence-based home visiting. Results First has worked in 27 states and was expanded in 2016 with additional support from RWJF to begin addressing state health care programs as well.

Pew’s work to protect the world’s oceans has also been grounded in philanthropic collaboration. The Global Ocean Legacy project, a decade-long project founded in 2006 in partnership with several foundations and individual philanthropists, recognized the important services that healthy oceans contribute to the planet, and the dangers the oceans face from exploitation, illegal fishing, and declining predator stocks. With research showing that very large, fully protected marine reserves are key to rebuilding the abundance and diversity of species and protecting the overall health of the marine environment, the project set out to protect the oceans for generations to come by establishing parks in the sea. 

So far, 2.4 million square miles of ocean have been successfully safeguarded across nine reserves. In 2017, Pew and its longtime partner, the Bertarelli Foundation, recommitted to the project—now called the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project—with an aim to increase the number of fully protected parks to 15 by 2022.

These partnerships, and others like them, have been a critical component of Pew’s success, and they continue to infuse much of the organization’s work today.

“If an issue is important, it’s almost guaranteed that it can’t be accomplished by any one individual or institution,” says Rebecca W. Rimel, Pew’s president and CEO. “Partnerships and collaboration are crucial. People bring different things to the table in order to achieve success. The real ‘secret sauce’ to a creative and successful partnership is understanding the various players’ strengths and weaknesses, because we all have both, and how then to make sure that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.”

For more information about philanthropic partnerships at Pew, please contact Senior Vice President Sally O’Brien at 202-540-6525 or sobrien@pewtrusts.org.