William Penn Foundation: Philadelphia Grants

OVERVIEW: The William Penn Foundation awards grants to education, art, and environmental causes in the city of Philadelphia. Since each of these programs has very specific objectives, you'll need to review the details before submitting a general inquiry through an online form. The foundation has more than $2 billion in assets. Letters of inquiry are accepted.

IP TAKE: The Penn Foundation is drawn to results-driven organizations with demonstrated ability and a clear plan of action. Its main education focus is on improving student outcomes - particularly for children from low-income families.There's also a lot of opportunity for local environmental conservation here, especially if you're working on watershed issues in the Delaware Valley.

PROFILE: The Penn Foundation got its start in 1945 under Otto Haas (founder of the chemical company Rohm and Haas) and his wife, Phoebe, a noted astronomer and one of the first women in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in the field. Following a good deal of financial and family changes, the William Penn Foundation emerged. Today, the foundation's name is credited to the 17th-century Quaker who used his understanding of the depths of human possibility and societal relationships to establish the City of Brotherly Love.

After the ousting of former president Jeremy Nowak in November 2012, the foundation underwent a major retooling of its grantmaking strategy, which went into full effect in 2013. Its current mission is “is to help improve education for low-income children, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creative communities that enhance civic life and advance philanthropy in the Greater Philadelphia region.” These objectives are pursued under the foundation's Great Learning, Creative Communities, and Watershed Protection programs.

Of late, Penn's Watershed Protection grantmaking has been trending toward environmental access, conservation, and stewardship. As might be expected from the program's name, environmental proposals must revolve around the Delaware watershed to be considered. Feel free to pitch a proposal for relevant scientific research, policy advocacy, land acquisition, outdoor education, and trail development. 

In terms of education, K-12 funding now comes through Penn's Great Learning program. Key goals include state-level policy work, collaboration between local Philadelphia area organizations, teacher and leadership recruitment, training, and retention, "instructional intervention" when needed, and the establishment and replication of model schools. 

Top education priorities including a focus on “children from low-income families,” “a clear plan,” a “willingness and ability” to both share best practices and work together with like-minded organizations, consistent self-assessment, and “financial management capacity.”  The success of the program, in turn, is measured in terms of an “increase the number of children from low-income families served in high-quality schools and centers” as determined by “academic performance,” “social and emotional skills,” and “school climate.”

In terms of Penn's arts funding, the foundation looks "to increase arts education, primarily in music and theater, for economically disadvantaged children," and its "funding is intended to expand, increase, and deepen the arts learning for students, through partnerships with outside providers." Arts proposals should be submitted by one of the foundation's four deadlines for consideration, focus exclusively on the city of Philadelphia, and demonstrate programmatic quality, "successful partnership with at least two Philadelphia schools during two consecutive years," scalability, and a clear plan for self-assessment.

To get a sense of its most recent funding trends, the Penn Foundation's grants database is a good start. You might also want to review its recent annual reports (available on the About Us page) does give a broad sense of the organizations it supports. 

 Your first step toward a grant is to complete an online inquiry form (note that arts organizations have a separate form to fill out). Once you've submitted an online inquiry, you'll be assigned a program officer who will be your primary point of contact. You'll only have to wait about a month to receive a response. Be aware that William Penn doesn't fund scholarship programs, discriminatory organizations, or religious or political causes. 

The foundation's newsroom is updated on a semi-frequent basis, so you can keep up with recent giving trends there. You can reach the foundation directly with general inquiries at grants@williampennfoundation.org. Also note that the foundation will occasionally award "a number of grants designed to explore new, but related areas of work" or "to support transformation in critical partners, make possible exceptional civic opportunities or advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region."

PEOPLE:

  • Andrew Johnson, Program Director, Watershed Protection 
  • Elliot Weinbaum, Program Director, Great Learning
  • Shawn McCaney, Interim Executive Director and Program Director of Creative Communities 
  • Olive Mosier, Program Director, Arts Funding
  • Staff Bios and Contact Page

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