The Strategy Behind William Penn’s Arboretum Grant

The William Penn Foundation recently announced a two-year, $300,000 grant to the Awbury Arboretum in Northwest Philadelphia. The arboretum calls itself a "green oasis in a densely-populated urban environment," and its mandate is to reconnect people with nature. Visitors can learn about plants, go birding, or simply enjoy the public green space. However, the William Penn Foundation (see IP's profile) doesn't plan to give money to the Awbury Arboretum for long; actually, the grant was made to ensure the institution becomes self-reliant and can keep operating without outside assistance.

In 1852, before Awbury was an arboretum, it was the summer home of a Quaker shipping merchant. Victorian and Colonial Revival homes were built on the estate, giving the area a unique cultural flair. In 1916, the arboretum was established to allow family members to enjoy nature, and in 1985, the landscape was transferred to a not-for-profit corporation charged with maintaining the area for the benefit of the community. This is often easier said than done, especially when funding is lacking. In recent years, the arboretum has received zero funding from the city and the state.

The grant from the William Penn Foundation will help ensure that the Awbury Arboretum can become self-sufficient. As Mark Sellers, the chairman of the Awbury board, says, "The purpose of this [grant] is to help us get into a position where we don't need grants in the future. It's to help us develop the arboretum in a way that we can stand on our own." The arboretum has a few plans in the works to make that happen. These plans include attracting more visitors, selling firewood and wood chips, and continuing to offer landscaping services around town.

Other grantees should take note of the William Penn Foundation's strategy in granting to the Awbury Arboretum. The foundation is looking for an investment that will pay off. It's also hoping to help a grantee that won't need assistance in the future. Organizations looking for awards from the foundation should demonstrate a current project's future ability to stand on its own two feet.