Samuel S. Fels Fund: Philadelphia Grants

OVERVIEW: The Samuel S. Fels Fund awards grants to Philadelphia-based nonprofits working to improve the education, culture, and livelihood of residents. Most Fels grants are between $3,000 and $30,000 in size, and the foundation has sponsored a $6,000 community service internship program in the past as well.

IP TAKE: You'll have to show the Fels Fund that your organization has reached a critical turning point and that now is the essential time for funding. Send your general operating support requests elsewhere, and pitch a proposal here for new programming, experimental staffing, pilot projects, new accreditation, of full organizational overhaul.

PROFILE: What do soap and philanthropy have in common? Samuel S. Fels made his fortune in Philadelphia by manufacturing Fels Naptha household soap, and in 1935 he started a private foundation with a broad interest in education, community programs, and the arts. Like many foundations in the area, Fels sticks exclusively to organizations in the Philadelphia city limits that are devoted to local causes.

The Fels Foundation wants to promote positive social change by helping local nonprofits expand, experiment, reorganize, and advocate. Fels has a relatively small budget, with only about $2 million to spread across the next few years, so it tries to fund projects at critical junctures in the organizations' lives. It seems that the foundation simply does not have the assets to fund a steady stream of general operating support grants.

Your community grant proposal should address pertinent needs in immigration, legal aid, affordable housing, or domestic abuse. Education proposals should be focused solely on Philadelphia's public schools and further arts instruction, college attainment, after-school programs, youth development, and teacher training. Fels prefers to award arts and culture grants to small to midsize organizations with budgets of less than $1 million. It considers everything from music to theater, applied arts, dance, exhibitions, presentations, and cultural groups for these grants.

In addition to its grants in the established focus area, Fels has also run an annual community service internship program. But during 2016, this was put on hold as the foundation reviewed the impact of grants made through this program over the years. This program encouraged grantees to submit projects that could be done by graduate students in the summer in exchange for $6,000 to pay selected students and draw new talent to the non-profit sector. About 15 to 25 organizations are chosen for these yearly grants. Fels has supported photography projects that highlight social issues, such as school closings, in Philadelphia.

Most Fels grants range from $3,000 to $30,000 in size, and the foundation's website has a long list of projects and causes it is not interested in funding. It has a budget of about $2 million. Unlike many Philadelphia foundations, Fels won't consider proposals for private schools, animal causes, social services counseling, scholarships, hospitals, or environmental programs. A list of recent arts, community, education, and membership grants can be viewed on the Recent Grants page of the funder's website..

Some past local arts grants included $3,000 to the Amaryllis Theater Company, $3,000 to Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, and $3,000 to Philadelphia Film Society. Recent community grants include $100,000 to the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation and $7,500 to the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. Education grants include $100,000 to the Philadelphia School Partnership and $20,000 to the Philadelphia Writing Project. As you can see, arts grants tend to be more prevalent but smaller in size. 

General inquiries should be directed to the three-person foundation staff at 215-731-9455.


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Arts and Culture Proposals