About this Assessment

For nearly 70 years, the William Penn Foundation has been a philanthropic giant in the Philadelphia area, leading efforts in the arts, environment and education. While the foundation is largely seen as an effective institution, recent changes in leadership and strategy have challenged the foundation’s values of transparency and equity. Encouragingly, William Penn has signaled a renewed commitment to advocacy and organizing that engages affected communities. We also recommend that the foundation pursue more cross-issue grantmaking, exercise public leadership, build its staff capacity and practice greater transparency.

The assessment of the William Penn Foundation was conducted by Lisa Ranghelli.

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Key Finding and Recommendations

1. Continue the effective practices that have made William Penn an impactful and valued partner.

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These include the foundation’s steadfast dedication to Philadelphia, long-term commitment to its grantmaking priorities, strong relationships with grantees, helpful application and outcome measurement processes, and generous multi-year, core operating grants.

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2. Be flexible in carrying out the strategic plan and prioritize more cross-silo grantmaking.

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To realize William Penn’s vision of a thriving Philadelphia, it’s important to weave together the three strands of arts, environment and education more holistically. William Penn should build on the recent steps to support collaboration and grantmaking across sectors. A higher grant payout rate of at least 6 percent can support these new operational strategies.

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3. Maximize impact by exercising more public leadership on the pressing issues facing the city.

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Although William Penn values its quiet, behind-the-scenes leadership style, we urge the foundation to “own” its influence. As a major institution with a strong web of relationships, William Penn is uniquely poised to bring diverse and sometimes divergent stakeholders together to tackle challenging issues.

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4. Strengthen the foundation’s impact in underserved communities by funding grassroots organizing and civic engagement.

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To better support underserved Philadelphia residents, William Penn should develop deliberate and focused strategies to reduce child poverty, increase education access for low-income students, tackle the role inequity plays in its Watershed Protection and Creative Communities programs, and fund grassroots organizing by (not just on behalf of) marginalized groups.

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5. Develop board and staff capacity to more effectively implement its ambitious agenda.

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Adding more program staff and board members with diverse backgrounds would lead to better grantmaking, by informing the foundation’s strategies and practices with “on the ground” and traditionally marginalized perspectives.

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6. Practice greater transparency related to all facets of the foundation’s work.

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Survey and interview data indicate that the foundation has not consistently held itself to its standard of “clarity, coherence and simplicity in communications.” Sharing data annually on the progress the foundation is making toward its goals, as well as its investment strategies, will allow the foundation to restore and strengthen grantee and stakeholder trust.

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