Lenfest Ocean Program: Grants for Marine Conservation

OVERVIEW: The Lenfest Foundation established the Lenfast Ccean Program in 2004; it directs its the program through Pew Charitable Trusts. The couple are rapidly spending down their wealth and wrapping up the ocean program in 2020.  

IP TAKE: The Lenfest Ocean Program supports marine research, specifically research about the impacts of fishing with a goal of impacting policy. Pew runs the program, which receives $2 million from the foundation annually. The program does not accept unsolicited proposals.

PROFILE: Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest are primarily known as Philadelphia media tycoons and local philanthropists. H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest’s early career involved working with Walter Annenberg’s Triangle Publications, but he would go on to form his own cable company, Lenfest Communications. The couple signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, but Gerry Lenfest has said he does not believe in perpetual foundations. As a result, Lenfest will be winding down its grantmaking by 2020. The Lenfast Ocean Program is committed to "finding solutions now for a life-changing impact for generations to come." It does so through programs that addresses youth and education, predominately in the Philadelphia area, and separately run ocean program. 

Lenfest’s ocean program launched in 2004 in conjunction with Pew Charitable Trusts as a way to channel some of the foundation’s money into ocean conservation work. Lenfest invests over $2 million during most years, and Pew staff decides who receives funding.  The program funds "scientific research on policy-relevant topics concerning the world’s oceans and communicates the results of the supported research to decision makers and other interested audiences." In doing so, the program addresses the "environmental, economic and social impacts of fishing, fisheries management and aquaculture." The program includes a range of 14 topics including marine mammals, sea birds, sea turtles, climate change, and economics. 

As part of Lenfest’s spend down, the program will continue to receive funding from the foundation until 2017, and cease operations in 2020. In the past, it has funded Renee Sharp of the Environmental Working Group for a study her team conducted on fisheries subsidies in the United States and many others. 

To read more about Pew Charitable Trusts’ marine conservation work and funding, see our IP Guide: Pew Charitable Trusts: Grants for Marine and Rivers.

The Pew staff oversees the Lenfest Ocean Program. The team meets with scientists and other stakeholders to develop the research questions it will fund, and then they “canvass the scientific community to identify experts within their fields to formulate and conduct informative projects.” One of the most important factors in deciding what projects receive funding is whether they will have direct relevance to ocean policymakers. As a result, being a Lenfest Oceans Program grantee requires communicating one's findings. The Pew team works with the scientists to disseminate the information through easy-to-understand summary materials and fact sheets, media coverage and briefings. While not all scientists feel comfortable advocating for their research in policy, researchers involved in the program clearly must be very comfortable preaching the gospel of their work to a wide range of parties. 


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