One foundation that always comes up in conversations about philanthropy and journalism is the Philadelphia-based Lenfest Foundation. Not long ago, the foundation pledged an additional $40 million to the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a nonprofit designed to develop and support sustainable business models for improving local journalism. Gerry Lenfest created the institute in 2016 as a nonprofit that owns the Philadelphia Media Network, an entity that encompasses the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, and philly.com. It’s the first nonprofit of its kind and, as we've reported, has demonstrated surprising success in securing donations from other funders besides the Lenfest Foundation. That's important, since the foundation is spending down and entering its final phase as a grantmaker.
Quite apart from being a savior and steward of local newspapers, the Lenfest Institute is also a grantmaker. Last month, it announced $2 million in grants to support local innovation in Philadelphia and beyond. For example, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook received a $50,000 grant to make a high school guide mobile-friendly and interactive for students and parents. The digital guide is aimed at leveling the playing field and making quality high school information more accessible to underserved families from diverse backgrounds.
Half of Lenfest’s new journalism grant money is going to Philadelphia Media Network projects, but other grants are going to entrepreneurs and companies that are developing new business models and software technologies. Even with these local news efforts, the focus is on Philadelphia.
The Lenfest Institute for Journalism received over 350 applicants and narrowed the pool down to 12 nonprofit and for-profit companies, as well as five “entrepreneurs in residence.” Local innovation grants also went to the Center for Investigative Reporting with WHYY, Philadelphia Solutions Journalism Project, Technically Media, WHYY Creating Culturally Competent Newsrooms, and WURD Radio on Violence. Aside from Philadelphia, Lenfest also supports journalism in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Austin, San Diego and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
With its venture philanthropy approach and focus on innovation, Lenfest's grantmaking has some strong similarities with what the Knight Foundation has been doing for years in the media and journalism space.
These new grants were the first the foundation awarded from the first open call for applications. The following donors made contributions to the institute to make these journalism grants possible, and each donation was matched dollar-for-dollar by Gerry Lenfest.
- Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation
- Graham Company
- Kopelman Foundation
- Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden
- Henry L. Kimelman Family Foundation at the request of Donald Kimelman
- Brian P. Tierney and Brian Communications
- Dilworth Paxson LLP
- Renuka and Terry Egger
- Ethelyn Leaphart Foundation of the Philadelphia Foundation
- Fashion District Philadelphia
Besides the journalism institute, the Lenfest Foundation is currently most interested in the issues facing Philadelphia’s children and the organizations who serve them. However, the foundation is not currently accepting new grant applicants, and all proposals are initiated by invitation only.