What Makes Us Tick?

Our mission is to transform nonprofit environments through design. We describe what we do as design and recycling with a heart.

Philanthropy By Design (PBD) is an award-winning 501(c)(3) organization of design industry professionals who volunteer their talents to renovate the interior environments of community service organizations. PBD’s pro bono work benefits thousands of underserved Bay Area residents; at-risk youth, abused women, seniors, AIDS patients and the homeless, bringing them hope, inspiration and comfort.

PBD has channeled more than $3.5 million in products, labor and services to over 700 community service agencies in the Bay Area. Our volunteers transform drab, inefficient facilities into attractive, workable environments, in some cases representing “home”. These transformations enhance the self-esteem and productivity of the agencies’ clients while boosting staff morale. Joanne McDowell, PBD Founder, stated: “Our physical environment has the power to inspire and comfort us. It directly reflects our attitudes and motivation, our behavior, even our health.”

PBD has been ‘green’ for over 20 years! We have diverted over 1,000 tons of furniture from the landfill. We warehouse and reuse donated high-end furnishings in our design solutions.

Here are some of our top accomplishments:

  • Honored with Award of Excellence By the International Green Industry Hall of Fame

  • 1996 Golden Rule Award, JC Penny Company

  • Grant from San Francisco Solid Waste Management Program to support the creative “recycling” of products that would otherwise occupy landfill space.
  • 1991 Presidential Points of Light Award

  • 1990 Design for Humanity Award, ASID

  • Designer Magazine – Honors

  • City and County of San Francisco – Commendations

  • California State Senate – Commendations


Philanthropy By Design (PBD) originated in 1987 as the Philanthropy Committee of the Hospitality Industry Association (HIA) to create inspiring interior environments for not-for-profit community service organizations. This visionary group mobilized the talents of architects, interior designers, property development and manufacturing professionals into a team that would provide pro bono work using the furnishings from hotels and manufacturers, such as desks, chairs, lighting fixtures and carpets as the raw materials for this creative recycling process.

Over the next four and a half years, these volunteer professionals completed the refurbishment of more than 30 nonprofit facilities, leveraging more than $1.6 million in donated labor, products and financial contributions, at no cost to the benefiting community agencies.

The Hospitality Industry Association (HIA) recognized that this philanthropic work was outgrowing their capacity to manage as a committee. In 1990, the Board voted to establish a separate not-for-profit corporation, and in January 1991, Philanthropy By Design received federal nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. Since then we have helped thousands of under-served people in the Bay Area.