Director, Watershed Protection Program

Director, Watershed Protection Program


The William Penn Foundation, a nationally recognized $3 billion family philanthropy based in Philadelphia, seeks a Director of its Watershed Protection Program. With approximately $30 million in annual grantmaking, the Program is dedicated to protecting and restoring the water quality of the Delaware River, which is the source of drinking water to more than 15 million residents. The Director reports to the Foundation’s Executive Director and oversees a lean program staff of four in pursuit of three core strategies: A Watershed Wide strategy that addresses four priority threats to the watershed; a strategy focused on Targeted Sub-Watersheds of critical importance to the river basin; and a Constituency Building strategy to foster equitable public access to and engagement with the rivers and streams in the watershed.

This important role calls for a seasoned strategic thinker and a results-oriented team leader with a sense of urgency about the Foundation’s work. Very strong communication, thought leadership, and team building skills are required as is a deep, proven commitment to values of equity and inclusion. Candidates should be broadly knowledgeable about environmental and conservation issues and sensitive to the challenges of driving change on the ground.  While the direct focus of this grantmaking is regional, its influence on the field is national, and the Director represents the Foundation to partners and stakeholders within the Watershed and well beyond.

As the Watershed Protection Program approaches the end of its current 10-year strategic plan, the new Director will play a key role in stewarding Board and staff through an intensive program review and refinement, setting the stage for the Program’s next decade of impact and influence.

The Foundation is working with the national executive search firm Isaacson, Miller on this important recruitment. All inquiries, nominations, and applications should be directed in confidence to the firm as indicated at the end of this document.


The William Penn Foundation (WPF) was founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas. Otto, a founding partner of the Rohm and Haas Company, had brought the small company with him from Germany to Philadelphia in 1909 and successfully grew it into a significant American corporation. Born on the North Dakota frontier, Phoebe went on to earn degrees from Vassar and Berkeley, one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy. Originally called the Phoebe Waterman Foundation, the Foundation’s initial funding supported medical and educational institutions as well as disadvantaged children in Philadelphia. Otto left the bulk of his estate to the Foundation and Phoebe continued to make gifts to it after his death in 1960. The Haas’s two sons in turn successfully grew the family business, ultimately selling it to the Dow Chemical Company. They contributed significantly to the assets of the Foundation, establishing its regional catalytic leadership role, and themselves serving as transformative civic leaders in Philadelphia. Under their direction, the Foundation continued to work to improve the quality of life for Philadelphia’s children and families and also brought an emphasis on open green space, historic preservation, and arts and culture. In 1974, they renamed the Foundation after William Penn, the 17th century Quaker whose pursuit of an “exemplary society” had led to the establishment of Philadelphia. 

Today, WPF is one of the country’s largest private foundations with over $3 billion in assets and $125 million in annual grants. The Foundation is a vital part of the civic life in one of the country’s largest and most historic cities, with grantmaking that extends to the multi-state region that surrounds it. It continues to chart a vision consistent with its enduring focus on education, the environment, and the cultural vitality of Greater Philadelphia.

The Foundation’s current core strategies include:

  • Creating the conditions that will support and sustain clean water in the four-state Delaware River watershed;
  • Increasing the number of low-income children receiving a high-quality education;
  • Fostering a vibrant city through support of arts and culture organizations, arts education programs, and great public spaces.

A corporation composed of Haas family members governs the Foundation, along with a Board of Directors that includes both third and fourth generation family members and public directors selected for their professional and civic expertise. The Board meets quarterly to review grant recommendations presented by the Program Directors.

Since 2017 WPF has been led by Executive Director Shawn McCaney who had previously served the Foundation for a decade in various program leadership roles. McCaney oversees a staff of 40 organized under a leadership team that includes the Directors of each of the three foundation programs as well as the Director of Program Operations and Planning, Director of Evaluation and Learning, Director of Finance and Administration, and the Chief Investment Officer.  


In 2012, WPF undertook a foundation-wide planning process, which resulted in the creation of the Watershed Protection Program and a 10-year commitment to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watersheds. The watersheds are significant because they are the source of drinking water for more than 15 million people, comprise millions of acres of habitat, and significantly contribute to climate resiliency. Although the Foundation had a long history of environmental grantmaking in the greater Philadelphia area, it determined through this planning process that its greatest impact would come from a more targeted focus on water quality. At the same time, the Program expanded its geographic reach to encompass the whole of the Delaware River watershed, including not only Pennsylvania but also those parts of the watershed in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. 

Today, three strategies comprise the Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program: 

Watershed Wide

The Watershed Wide strategy supports applied research, data gathering and analysis, and advocacy focusing on four priority stressors across the basin: loss of forested headwaters, storm water, agricultural run-off, and depletion of underground water supply. 

Targeted Sub-Watersheds

This strategy supports conservation in eight action areas of critical importance in the watershed. Grants under this strategy support the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), a multi-year, multi-partner effort that focuses efforts within those action areas. The strategy area also includes the Foundation’s support for green stormwater infrastructure in Philadelphia. 

Constituency Building

The constituency building strategy supports equitable public access to and engagement with rivers and streams in the Delaware River watershed. This includes supporting the development of new waterfront trails and river access points that not only connect people to the water, but also serve as platforms for experiential environmental learning and recreation on or adjacent to waterways. Program support is designed to both cultivate and shine a light on public demand for clean water and the personal affinity thousands of people in the region have for their local rivers and streams. 

In each of these distinct but complementary grantmaking strategies, the Program seeks to increase the scale, pace, and sustainability of its work through innovative Conservation Finance mechanisms, which are also supported through the grantmaking. 

Over the long term, the goal is for these efforts to make significant progress in protecting water quality by securing strong policies; testing and scaling up innovative conservation practices, including nationally significant green-infrastructure work in Philadelphia; permanently protecting thousands of acres of critical watershed land; decreasing flows of polluted storm water and agricultural run-off into priority streams; and substantially growing a diverse constituency for watershed protection.

In line with the strategic plan that established the Watershed Protection Program in 2012 and associated 10-year commitment to the Delaware River watershed, the Program will soon undergo a new strategy review with the Board of Directors. In advance of that comprehensive review, the Program is currently undertaking initial assessments of the Watershed Wide strategy and the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.


The Watershed Protection Program Director reports to the Executive Director and directly oversees a team of four professionals. The Director is responsible for the Program’s approximately $30 million in annual grantmaking to more than 180 grantees. The grants range in size from hundreds of thousands of dollars to multi-million-dollar awards over several years. 

In addition to overseeing ongoing grants and initiatives, as well as leading annual program planning and portfolio reviews, the Director leads the team in identifying innovative new streams of work within the Program’s strategic framework. The Director is the primary contact for the Foundation’s Evaluation and Learning program, and participates in RFP development, candidate selection, and meetings with both internal and selected external research and/or evaluation teams. The Director is also the primary contact for the Foundation’s Communications department, working closely with a dedicated communications officer and serving as the principal spokesperson for the Foundation on behalf of the Program. 

The Director also works with senior colleagues across the Foundation to explore crossprogrammatic linkages, identify and understand overarching trends, challenges, and opportunities, and ensure successful foundation-wide operations and collaboration. 

The incoming Director will have the opportunity to become immersed in and bring creativity and thought leadership to the Watershed Protection Program’s current activities over the first year or so of their tenure. They will then play a pivotal role in helping to design and shepherd the Program’s next comprehensive strategic review, working closely with the Watershed Protection team, Evaluation & Learning, Communications, Foundation Leadership, and the Board of Directors. The review is expected to result in an updated strategic plan for the Program, and the Director will in turn then lead the team’s implementation of that plan. 

The key responsibilities for the Watershed Protection Program Director include:

  • Oversee Watershed Protection Program strategy development, refinement, and implementation. Ensure that the Program advances work that is racially, economically, and socially inclusive and equitable.
  • Lead the Program team in developing and administering grants and initiatives and preparing quarterly briefing books for Board consideration. Represent the grant recommendations at Board meetings.
  • Oversee the Program’s grant and operating budgets.
  • Manage a select number of key grants directly and promote and model responsive and respectful relationships with grantees and partners.
  • Represent the Foundation in diverse communities, including through speaking engagements, attending conferences, participating in key meetings, and working, as appropriate, with the media.
  • Build productive, mutually reinforcing collaborations with other funders and partners regionally and nationally within the Program’s areas of interest. Convene stakeholders across sectors to drive investments and results.
  • Promote team cohesion and continued high performance and rigor. Reinforce strong collaborative relationships with colleagues across the Foundation. 
  • Serve as a key member of the Foundation’s senior leadership team, including participating in decision making of Foundation-wide significance and serving as a direct advisor to the Executive Director.


The successful candidate will bring many of the following professional qualifications and personal attributes:

  • Resonance with the WPF mission, values, and legacy.  The highest level of personal and professional integrity. 
  • 10+ years of relevant professional experience in conservation, rivers and watersheds, environmental public policy and planning, regional land use, or related areas.  Breadth of environmental experience and thought leadership is preferred over narrow, highly technical expertise. Grantmaking experience would be helpful but is not required and grant-seeking experience would also be valuable. A track record as a hands-on practitioner preferred above someone with experience only within academia. 
  • Excellent strategic and intellectual abilities and analytic skills. Confidence and sound judgment. Willingness to challenge conventional thinking and take well-reasoned risks. 
  • Exceptional presentation and communication skills. The ability to convey complex technical information clearly and concisely to non-technical audiences both orally and in writing.
  • Outstanding management and team-building skills, including the ability to inspire, mentor, and retain a strong staff, set clear priorities, and delegate effectively.
  • Demonstrated commitment to the values of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness. Strong interest in working in an organization that is committed to becoming fully inclusive, diverse, and equitable in its programming, personnel, policies, and practices.
  • Deep respect for the grantee community and for the importance of their strong partnerships with the Foundation. Sensitivity to the power dynamic inherent in a grantmaker role. 
  • Experience building and participating in successful, sustained partnerships, including cross-sector collaborations. 
  • Interest in public policy, the ways outside forces impact government, and the role of media and social communications in driving change. 
  • An outgoing and optimistic personality.  Strong interpersonal skills to work with the full range of stakeholders.
  • The ability to work both autonomously and collegially, with limited administrative support. Excellent organizational skills including careful attention to details, deadlines, and high-quality standards.
  • Approachability, tenacity, flexibility, humility, and good humor.
  • Advanced degree in a relevant discipline preferred. Scientific and technical fluency is important and experience with evaluative research methods preferred. 
  • Knowledge of the Delaware Watershed region and its relevant stakeholders would be an asset.


The William Penn Foundation has retained Isaacson, Miller to assist in this search. Please direct all inquiries, nominations, referrals, and applications in confidence to:

Karen Wilcox, Partner

Andy Marshall, Associate

Isaacson, Miller 263 Summer Street

Boston, MA 02210

The William Penn Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer and strongly encourages applications from individuals underrepresented in the philanthropic sector, including people of color, and persons with non-traditional work and educational experience. All who believe they meet the stated qualifications are invited to apply.