Personalities of Pittsburgh: Wendy Burtner-Owens with Steeltown Entertainment Project

By   – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times on 

Photo by The Pittsburgh Business Times

Wendy Burtner-Owens worked for years in the nonprofit world before getting the lead role for one of Pittsburgh’s best-known film production promotion groups, Steeltown Entertainment Project.

For years, she lived in Virginia, working with nonprofit information clearinghouse GuideStar USA Inc., leading the CarMax Foundation and serving as COO for a bereavement camp. Her nonprofit expertise led her to Steeltown and helped land her in the top position about six months ago, taking over the role formerly held by Carl Kurlander.

A Butler native, Burtner-Owens boomeranged back to the region from Virginia to find a changed city from what she remembered. We caught up with her about Steeltown and what her favorite movie is that was made in Pittsburgh.

What prepared you the most to lead Steeltown?
The workforce and economic development. And really getting an understanding of what a region needs and is looking for. That role. But also leading a variety of different kinds of nonprofits. Steeltown isn’t your typical nonprofit, you could say. The fact that I had an opportunity to meet and work with lot of people and actually lead some different types of nonprofits I think was very helpful.

Is there a typical nonprofit?
That’s a good point. I think when people think nonprofit, they think charity, you know. And it’s helping the hungry. And animals with Sarah McLachlan, you know. Feed the Children. Those kinds of things. But obviously there are all different kinds of nonprofits. Sometimes people don’t know Steeltown is a nonprofit.

What is Steeltown today, and how does it differ from what it was in the past?
Steeltown today is really focusing on two things, but they are very related. It’s education and digital media arts, independent filmmakers, specifically. So we’re looking at high school programs, and we have a couple of adult programs under the education title. And then we are really just starting to talk to independent filmmakers again. We had the Film Factory, which was the screenwriting competition several years ago. It was before my time here. … Now we’re taking a look at (independent filmmakers) and saying, “okay what do you guys need here? As a community, what can we do for you?”

What are your biggest goals for Steeltown?
So I think right now I’m really focused on the filmmaker side of it. What can we do that we’re not doing? Is there a gap there now that these filmmakers are feeling? And then looking at the kids. I think that we’ve identified there that it’s serving more kids. And we talked to some people in different neighborhoods around Pittsburgh about coming in and doing (our) program.

Is there a void that you think you need to fill with what’s happened with Pittsburgh Filmmakers, which has cut back and faced challenges?
That’s what we want to find out. I think that’s what we’re hearing. Individuals are kind of saying to me, “hey, can you do this?” … But you have to look at again, and is it doable? If it didn’t work the first time around with another organization, then should we pick up a broken program and try to implement it? I really want to talk to the filmmakers and say what do you really need us to be doing? That we’re not doing already.

Is it common for nonprofits to get themselves in over their heads with whatever they’re trying to do?
That’s the nature of nonprofits. People who start nonprofits have missions. Big dreams. They want to eradicate diseases. They want to help people. They want to help animals. Just by their very nature of how it starts. I think the answer to your question is yes. The biggest limiting factor that you’ll see again and again is funding. I think that’s true on the business side, too, though, when you talk about entrepreneurs who have these wonderful ideas for these great products and services and they can’t convince an investor or a bank to lend them money. It’s a very similar kind of thing. And if you don’t have a good plan and you don’t have good budgeting and you’re not paying attention, then it can get overwhelming. And sometimes something happens that is completely out of your control. Nonprofit founders in particular, but most people attracted to working in the nonprofit sector, tend to dream big and tend to be kind of optimists at heart.

Title: President and CEO, Steeltown Entertainment Project
Education: B.A., human service administration, Chatham University
Residence: South Side
Family: Son, Teddy, 23
Causes: Board, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
Interests: Reading; volunteer for the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University

Just a few seats left for Excel Classes on June 27

These classes are fully-hands on and almost sold out with just ONE seat left for the full Excel Day and 3 seats left for Introduction to Excel only. We’ll also be offering “Advanced Excel” this fall, so stay tuned and brush up on those Excel basics skills now!

Instructor: Sarah Thurston, Allegheny Department of Human Services

Excel Day: Introduction to Excel
Thursday, June 27 from 9 a.m. – noon
Learn Excel basics in the morning session, including worksheet creation, formula creation, cell formatting using “mouse pointers,” absolute cell references, and printing your worksheet.

Excel Day: Intermediate Excel
Thursday, June 27 from 1 – 4 p.m.
Learn more about Excel in the afternoon, including worksheet template creation and use, using functions, creating links between worksheets, database features, and chart creation and formatting.

Fee: $65 each or $115 for both classes. Don’t delay – register online!



Compliance with Employment Laws: Is it Time for an Audit?

Small businesses and nonprofits are increasingly faced with a laundry list of local, state and federal laws that regulate how they hire employees, how they treat employees after they are hired and how they discipline employees.  Because these laws and the interpretations given to these laws by the courts frequently change, businesses and nonprofits should engage an attorney to “audit” their employment practices to ensure they are compliant.  Such audits will decrease the likelihood of employment claims and lawsuits and, if such claims and lawsuits do occur, will increase the likelihood of a successful result.
At a minimum any employment audit by counsel should examine the following subjects:


  • Background Checks. Do your hiring practices comply with federal laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), state laws such as Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) and the Medical Marijuana Act, and local “ban the box” statutes, all of which may limit the use of a prospective employee’s criminal, medical and credit history?
  • Social Media. What limits exist on your ability to examine a prospective employee’s social media accounts when making hiring decisions?

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS. Handbooks should be updated by counsel at least every 2 years to ensure that the Handbook reflects changes in the laws relating to discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, use of personal cell phones, electronic monitoring and discipline for off-duty activities, including social media.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICIES AND TRAINING.  Despite a 10% overall drop in employment discrimination charges, the EEOC recently reported that sexual harassment claims jumped by 13.6% from the previous year and the Agency obtained a record $56.6 million in settlements and awards for victims of sexual harassment.  These figures demonstrate the lasting impact of the #MeToo movement on the workplace.  To avoid harassment claims from occurring and to best defend such claims if they do arise, counsel should audit your practices to determine:

  • Whether your Handbook unequivocally explains that harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated and whether it includes concrete examples of the types of behavior that will considered harassment;
  • Whether your harassment policy is disseminated to all employees;
  • Whether you consistently enforce your harassment policy;
  • Whether your policy provides a clear method for reporting harassment;
  • Whether you promptly investigate all harassment claims and your policy clearly states that no retaliation will result from reporting harassment; and
  • Whether you conduct annual sexual harassment training for managers and supervisors, along with separate training sessions for all other employees.

WAGE AND HOUR ISSUES. Any audit of your wage and hour practices should address the following issues:

  • Do your exempt employees meet both the salary basis and job duties tests?
  • Are the exemptions you are relying on recognized under both federal and state wage and hour laws?
  • Do your practices relating to unpaid interns and volunteers comply with federal and state regulations governing the legality of such practices?
  • Do your time-keeping practices for non-exempt employees, including rounding, meal breaks and travel time, comply with federal and state laws?
  • Are your non-exempt employees compensated when they provide services from home?
  • Are any persons you classify as independent contractors really employees due to the control you exert over such persons?
  • Do you retain payroll records for the period of time required by law?

NONDISCLOSURE, NONCOMPETES AND NO-SOLICITATION AGREEMENTS.  If employees are required to execute nondisclosure, noncompete and no-solicitation agreements as a condition of their employment, any audit should examine a number of issues, including:

  • Are your Agreements enforceable under the applicable state law, some of which severely restrict an employer’s ability to enforce such Agreements?
  • Do you include the language required by the Defend Trade Secrets Act?
  • Are your Agreements used with all employees, even lower-level workers?

The topics and issues highlighted above are just some of the employment law compliance matters that should be the subject of any legal audit.  As small businesses and nonprofits consider whether to expend the legal resources needed for such an audit, the old adage that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” must always be part of the decision-making process, since the cost of even a single lawsuit is likely to exceed the legal cost of engaging counsel to review and revise your employment policies and assist in the training of your employees.

Larry Silverman, Esq.

The 2019 Wage and Benefit Survey in the News!

The release of the 2019 Wage & Benefit Survey for Southwestern PA Nonprofit Organizations has received its fair share of news coverage. The new data was made public at the Leadership Briefing on February 1 to a full house of survey participants who eagerly discussed the results despite being greeted by a very snowy morning.

Dr. Carrie Tanctraitor chatted with KDKA’s Jon Delano on “The Sunday Business Page” on February 24.

Peggy Morrison Outon discussed gender pay disparity with KDKA News Radio host Lynne Hayes-Freeland on February 1.

Joyce Gannon covered the survey in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on February 1 with her story, “Women still face gender pay gap at Pittsburgh-area nonprofit firms.”

The 2019 survey is available for purchase. The cost is $200 for nonprofits with budgets under $2M, and $300 for nonprofits with budgets over $2M.  Visit our research page on our website to find out how to purchase the survey, and to see previous iterations of the survey for the last ten years.

Join PACE and BCNM for our free “Daring to Lead” series

The “Daring to Lead” research conducted by Building Movement Project and introduced to Pittsburgh by the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise (PACE) asks provocative questions about equity access and justice in our social justice sector. Join PACE and The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management as we explore this research further in this series and seek to bring greater opportunities to Pittsburgh nonprofits by insisting on practices that promote fairness.  Both sessions are FREE, but RSVP is required and space is limited. Register online today!

Picking Up the Gauntlet: The Board’s Role in Achieving Greater Racial Equity in Leadership
Tuesday, March 5 from 4 – 7 p.m. at Co-Lab 18
In 2018, the Nonprofit Quarterly magazine challenged Pittsburgh’s nonprofit sector to use the impending retirement of nonprofit executives (who are primarily white) to increase the numbers of leaders of color. In this hands-on workshop, we will examine the cause as well as the effect and craft a Pittsburgh response to the challenge.
Instructor: Luci Dabney, Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise  

Working with Our Foundation Allies: Equity in Grantmaking
Friday, April 12 from 9 – 11 a.m. at The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management
The pursuit of equity in grantmaking is crucial in our community. Many generous gifts from foundations have often secured the future for nonprofits in our region, but how do they ensure that they are using a racial equity lens to determine their grantmaking? In this discussion, we’ll talk to foundation leaders who pay disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while still analyzing problems, looking for solutions, and defining success for an excellent return on investment.
Conversationalists: Peggy Outon, Bayer Center; Carmen Anderson, the Heinz Endowments and Michele Cooper, McAuley Ministries


Applications are OPEN for “Ready to Compete” cohort two!

February 12 launched the BNY Mellon “Ready to Compete” project, with 11 nonprofits making up the inaugural cohort. Our second cohort will launch in April, and we’re looking for 14 more nonprofits who are looking to address two key areas of nonprofit management: finance and human resource (HR) management.  Applications are currently being accepted! The deadline to apply is March 15.

Like all work at the Bayer Center, this program will employ best practices and be custom to each organization. Thanks to the generosity of BNY Mellon, the cost of these engagements valued at $6,500 are just $500 per organization.

This thoughtful application and selection process will ensure selection of organizations to create a cohort ready to make full use of the expertise offered.  Consultants will work carefully to identify the most significant challenges and put the right tools and team to work to resolve them. Each agency in the cohort will begin by completing a comprehensive assessment and be provided consulting support to analyze the findings. One or two urgent issues will be identified and resolved by our consulting team. The product of each engagement will be a roadmap of the particular issues facing the agency, ordered in priority, and a concrete solution to one or two of the most urgent.

Since we also believe in peer learning to lessen the isolation endemic to small organizations, each cohort will convene twice to share their lessons learned and to forge relationships.

Possible issues in finance may include

  • Developing a cost-centered budget
  • Better management of cash flow
  • Creating necessary internal controls
  • Assessing financial risks and equipping the board to provide proper oversight
  • Working with board and staff to review annual audits and 990s

Possible issues in HR may include:

  • Developing a performance management system that fosters values and culture
  • Writing job descriptions, screening and interview guidelines
  • Compensation studies or help with total employee rewards systems
  • HR’s role and ensuring appropriate functions in supporting the board facing

The outcome of this investment will be twenty-five more capable, stable organizations that are equipped to deliver high quality services because their internal house is in better order. In short, this program will help to insure that these agencies are Ready to Compete!  Apply today!

Volunteers: Enhance, Empower, Engage

Thursday, Nov. 29 from 9 am–noon with Stacy Bodow and Julie Strickland-Gilliard, Global Links

For most nonprofits, the real challenge lies not in finding volunteers, but in keeping them. Volunteer engagement can be the key to making this link! In this session, we’ll explore how to:

  • Enhance the volunteer experience so that your volunteers enjoy their time with you and feel it is well spent
  • Empower your volunteers so they can take on important tasks that you need done and their time makes a real difference
  • Engage your volunteers in ways that speak to them and that help them feel appreciated, vested, and connected to your mission

Learn different strategies and techniques for achieving these goals, including focusing on why people choose to volunteer with you, storytelling, personalization, social media tools, and well thought-out systems.

Fee: $65 Register online today!