The Lenfest Foundation: Philadelphia Grants

OVERVIEW: The Lenfest Foundation was established by media mogul Gerry Lenfest, who received a handsome profit for the sale of Lenfest Communications in 2000. Grants tend to be on the modest size, and mainly in the education area. 

FUNDING AREAS: Career and technical education, early childhood education, after school programs, scholarships.

IP TAKE: This Philadelphia-focused foundation has a limited shelf life. It will spend all its principal over the next 15 years. Getting in the door here isn't easy. 

PROFILE: Gerry Lenfest is the media mogul who founded Lenfest Communications in 1974 and received $1.2 billion for its sale in 2000. He’s a big deal in the city of Philadelphia and holds a lot of power in the local news scene as owner of Philly.com, the Daily News, and the Inquirer.

Lenfest has a scholarship program primarily for students in rural Pennsylvania and a grantmaking program primarily for disadvantaged youth in Philadelphia. The grantmaking program encompasses career and technical education, early childhood education, and after school programs.

In a past year, the Lenfest Foundation reported just over $103 million in assets and almost $7.5 million in total giving. Through his foundation and personal giving, Gerry Lenfest has given away about a billion dollars over the past 10 years.

However, change is a way of life at the Lenfest Foundation today. The 83-year-old philanthropist put his foundation in the hands of a board of directors that he no longer controls, and as Philly.com reported, he recently transferred $80 million of personal money into the foundation, which will spend down that principal over the next 10-15 years.

"We've decided to put the foundation into an independent board of directors, which I no longer control," Lenfest said. "I'm not in ill health. I don't believe in perpetual foundations. We've given away the bulk of our wealth already, and I will have a diminished role in the future. My success in business was finding people who were better at doing things than I was. It's a logical evolution."

Lenfest’s college scholarship program will spend down $25 million over the next 20 years. The foundation’s ocean program, a collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts, will receive funding through 2017 and close in 2020. Looking forward, most Lenfest grants will be between $5,000 and $25,000. Gerry Lenfest entrusted local entrepreneur Keith Leaphart to complete his term as chairman through June 2015.

“Gerry Lenfest has long been a mentor of mine and someone for whom I have had the utmost admiration, Leaphart told Philadelphia Style. “The opportunity to work together began in 2008, when I worked with the foundation to help people with criminal histories reintegrate back into society.”

At this point, Lenfest grantmaking is  operating on an invitation-only basis for planning, general operations, and program grants. Within the city of Philadelphia, Lenfest plans to provide ongoing funding for one to three high-impact programs, most likely in the areas of career and technical education. The foundation also plans to provide multi-year grants to a few high-performing organizations that impact the welfare of an entire neighborhood or region of Philadelphia. A few organizations that run youth development  programs will receive three-year grants and be eligible to renew for an additional two years. All of these grants will also be made by invitation.

Lenfest’s scholarship program has been open to students in the past in their junior years at select Pennsylvania high schools. The program provided up to $12,000 a year for four years at a private college and up to $7,500 a year for four years for a public college. The foundation awarded around 24 new scholarships annually.

The process for obtaining general operating support and program grants may soon be changing, so check the foundation website frequently for updates. General nquiries can be emailed to lenfestfoundation@lenfestfoundation.org or mailed to the physical address at Two Logan Square. 

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