Lenfest Foundation Initiates Shutdown Sequence

After giving away a bit more than a billion dollars over a bit more than a decade, philanthropist Gerry Lenfest announced that he plans to relinquish control as chairman of his foundation earlier than expected. Gerry and his wife, Marguerite, will sit on a new governing board of eight people at the foundation, headed by Keith Leaphart for the next year and a half.

Leaphart, an osteopathic physician and business mentor, is a native of Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhood. The foundation plans to devote its coffers' remaining $80-$100 million to early childhood education, vocational education, and after school programs for urban kids.

While they will continue accepting applications, the new management does not sound enthusiastic about entertaining any long shots or radical redirections of effort.

Drexel University and Community College of Philadelphia both have good prospects as partners during Lenfest's end game. The foundation also guaranteed that their scholarship fund and their arts and culture investitures like Curtis School of Music and The Philadelphia Museum of Art will remain intact until the generously dimensioned person sings opera at Lenfest sometime in 2020.

Gerry Lenfest, who owns Philly.com, the Daily News, and the Inquirer, described the foundation's recent shuffle as part of "a logical evolution." Speculating about what made him a successful entrepeneur, at least some of it had to do with his knack for "finding people who were better at doing things than I was," Lenfest said.

Lenfest's statement pertains to the politics of his own foundation and to the face of indigenous Philadelphia philanthropy itself. The Inquirer smartly observed that Lenfest is the latest to join a conga-line of heavyweight philanthropic foundations directed out of the city. The Annenberg Foundation relocated to California after the 2009 passing of Leonore Annenberg and Pew Charitable Trusts recently absconded for Washington and retooled for "a mission more heavily concentrated on research and advocacy on a national level [rather] than pure grant-giving."

That leaves the William Penn Foundation (see Willliam Penn Foundation: Grants for Philadelphia) as the largest remaining philanthropy in the Philadelphia area. Depending on how much stock you put into allegations against the foundation by supporters of Philadelphia's public school system, the response here could range on a spectrum between "Great!" and "@!%&$!"

According to Nonprofit Quarterly, Parents United for Public Education (PUPE) has recently

gone to the ethics board for the City of Philadelphia to complain that the William Penn Foundation... [has] used large donations to gain undue access in closed-door meetings and, as a result, have over-influenced school policy. PUPE claims that the foundation... advocated for closing under-enrolled neighborhood schools while promoting charter schools. PUPE asserts that 'no such access has ever been afforded to parents and community members who had to settle for limited information and public meetings.'

If all of that doesn't put a few grays on the noggin, then neither should the news about Lenfest checking out.