Jim and Sue Petru can’t recall the moment they met Duggan Cooley, CEO of Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF). Yet, the encounter stayed with them, as did a subsequent discussion with their financial advisor.
Crossing paths with PCF was inevitable. The Petrus have spent decades getting to know and supporting local charities, especially those helping the homeless, hungry, abused, and medically underserved. PCF is the only charitable foundation of its kind solely dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all Pinellas County residents.
That’s why their encounter was predictable, as was — and still is — the Petrus’ desire to make their charitable contributions count. The couple’s long history of philanthropy taught them the value of supporting high-impact organizations. Thus, they support efficiently run nonprofit organizations where a large portion of the contribution goes directly to serve individuals in need rather than organizations where the expenses associated with raising the funds are high.
Having been in business, Jim and I know that giving is about relationships and trust. Sue Petru
Sue, a retired health care system chief financial officer, and Jim, a retired university business school dean and professor of finance, are accustomed to giving wisely. They are drawn to organizations they hear about from golfing friends, friends of friends, or friends that they make while attending charitable events.
“Having been in business, Jim and I know that giving is about relationships and trust,” said Sue, who believes in doing business and giving locally. They prefer to see the impact of their contributions firsthand and in their own community. It never surprises Sue to learn, sometimes after their gift is made, that the charities they support are highly rated when it comes to funds raised versus costs of raising the funds. “It’s a gut feeling I get when I get to know an organization and the people who run it.”
While the Petrus continue to donate to organizations individually and on a case-by-case basis, a recent change in the tax law that raised the amount taxpayers can claim as a standard deduction opened an opportunity they and their financial advisor found helpful. “We had known about making contributions through our required IRA distribution for some time,” said Sue. The new tax law gave them incentive in 2019 to include donations from their IRA distribution as another avenue for supporting their favorite charities because it reduced their taxable income.
Using this retirement asset is the approach they chose for their contributions to PCF. “Not everyone is in a position to do this, depending on their tax bracket and sources of retirement funds,” said Sue. “If they are, it can be a worthwhile option.”
This is where confidence comes in, said Sue. “I asked Duggan if he had a specific need, and, if not, we knew the donation would be used for a good purpose,” she said. They trust him to direct the money where the need is the greatest. “That’s a lot of trust, but that is how we feel about every organization we support.”
Often, there is a specific project for which PCF is raising funds. “Generally, PCF supports some of the same charities we support, so we are comfortable with the giving choices the foundation makes,” she said.
While Sue grew up in Shawano, Wisconsin, and Jim grew up in the farming community of Raymondville, Texas, both learned the value of giving to their communities from their parents. Jim’s father helped build the parish church in Raymondville, and Sue’s father, a dentist, supported the Salvation Army. “When someone came to town needing a place to stay, he was the one they called for an overnight housing referral,” she said.
Before making Clearwater their permanent home in 2004, both Jim and Sue had visited the Clearwater area during the 70s and 80s after Sue’s mother and father moved to the area. Meanwhile, their careers took them to Chicago, St. Louis, other major cities, and finally to Florida. Their philanthropy accompanied them along the way, whether paying for planting flowers to enhance a healing environment at an Illinois hospital, supporting local Rotary Club projects or donating to a homeless shelter in St. Louis.
With Florida as their retirement choice, Sue said Clearwater is where they intend to stay. “I have been all over Florida, and would not live anywhere else,” she said. The charities here are the better for it.