Supporting Watershed-Wide Research, Policy, and Practice

What We Fund

We consider opportunities to:

  • Fund scientific research and analysis to provide information on surface water quality and watershed health.
  • Support media, communications, and organizing to inform key audiences on best practices for watershed protection.
  • Advance policies and practices that accelerate, strengthen or expand public and private watershed protection.

Our goal is to better understand the baseline data, progress over time, emerging threats, policies, and practices that can advance sustainable public funding and robust regulatory protection for clean water and healthy watersheds, with an emphasis on protection of forested headwaters and reduction of agricultural run-off and polluted stormwater. To accomplish this, we consider funding for:

  • Research, baseline mapping, and data analysis that will be made publicly accessible and can inform programs and policy options used to advance targeted research and advocacy.
  • Research on and analysis of innovative policies and practices with the potential to significantly affect water quality and watershed health.
  • Science and data-driven monitoring programs to inform action on behalf of the watershed.
  • Science and data-driven public and policymaker education efforts about campaigns, including targeted advocacy for effective federal, state, and regional policies and funding sources that promote protection or restoration of watershed resources.

What We Do Not Fund

  • Work that is not grounded in credible science or other relevant data.
  • Work with primary impact outside of the Delaware watershed.

Funding will not be considered to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation in policy or practice.

Evaluating Proposals and Grants

How do we select grantees?

Selections are based on the potential for a proposed project to significantly impact the essential conditions necessary for clean water in the Delaware River watershed, as well as an applicant’s capacity to implement the proposed work, secure desired results, measure change and progress, and contribute to collaborative or cooperative efforts with other key stakeholders.

How do we measure success?

We assess the success of the watershed-wide strategy in the near-term by monitoring progress toward the adoption and implementation of policies and practices that enhance regulatory protections for clean water, enforce pollution limits towards water quality restoration, and secure sustainable public and private funding sources capable of bringing improved practices to scale.


Protecting and Restoring Targeted Sub-Watersheds

What We Fund

We consider opportunities to:

  • Develop and implement conservation and restoration models.
  • Provide capital for land acquisition to promote conservation and protect water quality.
  • Provide capital for stream and upland restoration and green stormwater infrastructure to restore water quality.

In 2013, the Foundation launched the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a long-term effort which aligns the work of 65 partnering organizations within targeted sub-watersheds to address local water quality stressors and monitor pollution levels.

The Foundation also supports stormwater restoration efforts within the sub-watersheds of the City of Philadelphia's combined sewer service area. 

Funding may be used for:

  • The implementation of innovative, transformative, or model conservation and restoration projects.
  • Fee or easement acquisition of priority watershed lands.
  • Research, analysis, and communications about threats and successes in targeted sub-watersheds and their relevance to the Delaware River watershed.
  • Technical assistance for and coordination of local stakeholders, including landowners, municipalities, and watershed associations to advance plan implementation.
  • Data collection and monitoring of relevant water quality indicators to assess progress (or lack of progress) and refine interventions to more effectively restore or preserve water quality.

To further enhance successful interventions, the Foundation also considers opportunities to fund science-based outreach and advocacy campaigns supported by targeted communications strategies. The Foundation will consider funding for strategies that focus on increasing support for watershed protection and restoration, highlighting innovative practices and effective implementations, and driving replication of successful sub-watershed work locally and across the Delaware River watershed.

What We Do Not Fund

  • Work that is not targeted to specific sub-watersheds.
  • Work that is not designed to respond to specific local stressors.
  • Work that is not grounded in credible science or other relevant data.
  • Work with primary impact outside of the targeted sub-watersheds identified above.
  • Work that is not aligned with basin-wide improvements.

Funding will not be considered to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation in policy or practice.


Evaluating Proposals and Grants

How do we select grantees?

Funding for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative is supported through a structured, invitation-only process. In some select cases the Foundation may support complementary work outside of these efforts.

How do we measure success?

Grantees are responsible for tracking output metrics including acres of land protected, acres of agricultural land restored, miles of stream hydrology restored (including streambanks, wetlands, floodplains) and acres of Green Stormwater Infrastructure installed. The Foundation funds grantees with expertise in monitoring and data collection to provide technical assistance with gathering and assessing water quality data in the targeted sub-watersheds.



Increasing Engagement with Waterways

What We Fund

Under this strategy, we support efforts to:

Ensure equitable public access to rivers and streams, particularly those that are recovering from more than a century of impairment and where historically there have been physical or other barriers to access. Funding is provided for:

  • The Circuit Trails, Greater Philadelphia's 800-mile regional trail network (325+ miles currently built). More than half of the Circuit Trails parallel or cross rivers, streams or canals, providing significant opportunities for visual and physical access to waterways.
  • Strategically located docks and boat ramps designed for kayaks, canoes, and other human-powered small craft. Most docks we fund are accessible via the Circuit Trails.

Engage a diverse array of people in experiential environmental learning and outdoor recreation on waterways and trails, particularly people who have been left out of the conservation movement, including communities of color. This funding area includes support for:

  • The Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE), a network of 23 environmental education and outdoor recreation centers on waterways and Circuit Trails or trails that connect to the Circuit.
  • Experiential programs, offered by AWE centers and others, that make use of trails and rivers and directly reach community members with information about the watershed.

What We Do Not Fund

  • Work with primary impact outside of the Delaware River watershed.
  • Environmental education or outdoor recreation programs not tied to watershed protection.
  • Environmental education that does not have a significant outdoor, experiential component.
  • General operating support, except as it supports targeted constituency building initiatives.

Funding will not be considered to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation in policy or practice.


Evaluating Proposals and Grants

How do we select grantees?

We select projects based on place-based and other criteria including:

  • Potential to increase access to previously degraded urban rivers, especially where it supports increased and more equitable access for local communities or people who have had limited access, such as communities of color.
  • Potential to grow, strengthen, or diversify constituency for protection of the Delaware River watershed.
  • For Circuit Trails projects, potential to complete gaps in the approved trail network, enhance connections between trails and adjacent waterways, diversify and increase the use of the network, or support for its completion.
  • For trails that are not within the Circuit, but connect to it: potential to enhance connections between those trails and the Circuit Trails and adjacent waterways, diversify and increase the use of trails, or increase support for their completion.
  • For programs, potential to diversify and increase use of outdoor spaces, environmental centers, and waterways, and to deepen knowledge about the Delaware River watershed, sense of connection to it, or sense of responsibility to protect it.
  • Organization and project commitment to principles of equity and inclusion.

How do we measure success?

Grantees are responsible for tracking the number of people who participate in their programs and their attitudes, knowledge, or behavioral intentions related to the Delaware River watershed. Where appropriate, grantees may also collect voluntary demographic data about who attends programs to help them be more inclusive in future programming. We also track the number of miles of Circuit Trails constructed, funding secured to advance the trails, and ongoing user data on the Circuit Trails to gauge community use and access to trails and nearby waterways.



How to Apply to Watershed Protection

Please note: the following information is only for Watershed Protection program. If you are seeking funding through the Creative Communities or Great Learning programs, please click the corresponding hyperlinks to visit each webpage.

The Foundation welcomes grant submissions from the community and actively seeks opportunities for funding partnerships. We rely on our expert staff to research and recommend grant proposals that offer creative and measurable solutions to community challenges aligned with Foundation interests. Our program team evaluates the strategic fit and benefits of the proposed work and guides applicants through the application and grant development stages. Funding will not be considered to any organization that discriminates based on race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation in policy or practice.

Prior to contacting Foundation staff about a funding request, we ask interested grant seekers to thoroughly review the What We Fund  sections of our website to learn about the Foundation’s strategic areas of interest, eligibility guidelines, process for selection, and to meet our program staff. Applicants may contact relevant program officers via email to discuss projects for which you are seeking funding.

General questions about portal navigation, or the grantmaking process may be directed to

The following links provide an overview of what to expect during the grant development process:


Review of Foundation’s Strategic Priorities and Guidelines

William Penn Foundation staff are interested in hearing about new projects and ideas to potentially support. Prior to making an inquiry, we ask grant seekers to please visit the What We Fund pages of our web site to better understand the Foundation’s strategic priorities and consider how projects for which they are seeking funding align with these priorities.


If you think your project is a strong candidate for funding consideration, please reach out to the Watershed Protection team to schedule a time to connect with a team member to discuss your idea further as a first step.


Process to Submit a Concept or Full Proposal

The process listed below pertains to submissions for the Watershed Protection program. Information on the Creative Communities and Great Learning application processes can be found on that program’s corresponding How to Apply webpage.

Grant development is an iterative process between the Foundation and applicant organization and may take up to four months before a request is considered for approval. Program staff may invite either a concept document or a full proposal from the applicant organization to gain a deeper understanding of the proposed work.

  • Concept: Concept documents are short pre-proposal questionnaires that broadly summarize the scope of a proposed project, its projected cost and duration, and the anticipated funding amount. The Foundation uses it to determine the strategic fit and appropriate next steps in the grant development phase.

Program staff send to the applicant an invitation email that provides the link to access the portal, an explanation of the submission process, and the due date. Concepts must be submitted by the due date, and an email confirmation is sent when the concept is submitted. Once submitted, the applicant cannot edit concept content. 

Submission of a concept does not guarantee that Foundation staff will invite a full proposal for funding consideration. 

Grant ideas must be discussed with a program team member prior to submitting a concept through the Foundation’s online portal. 


  • Full Proposal: A full proposal provides program staff with a detailed description of the proposed work, the chosen approach, the projected use of funds, and the amount requested. It includes the following sections:
    • Proposal Narrative – responses to questions describing the proposed work and chosen approach, organizational capacity; financial information, research, and evidence to support the work; and risks.
    • Result, Milestones, and Activities (RMAs) – an anticipated result that the grantee expects to achieve through successful completion of the grant, as well as the key activities and milestones that will be critical to achieving that result.
    • Project Budget – how the grant funds will be used to complete the project.
    • Funding Sources – description of other committed or prospective sources of funds toward the project 
    • Contacts – a list of people relevant to the proposed project, including consultants, project implementers, communications, and administrative personnel. 


  • Required Documentation to be Attached:
    • Audited Financial Statement – for the most recently completed fiscal year
    • Internal Financial Statements – Current Year-to-Date Statement of Financial Position/Balance Sheet and Statement of Activities/Income Statement
    • IRS Form 990 – most recent
    • Operating Budgets – current fiscal year and one year previous
    • Board of Directors list
    • Additional Documentation as determined by program area requirements or relevant to the proposed work.

Full proposals are by invitation only following discussion of a grant request with program staff and can only be submitted through the Foundation’s online portal. Program staff will send to the applicant an invitation email that provides the link to access the portal, an explanation of the submission process, and the due date. Proposals must be submitted by the due date, and an email confirmation is sent once the proposal is submitted. Once submitted to the Foundation, the applicant cannot edit the proposal content.

Submission of a full proposal does not guarantee funding will be awarded or awarded at the requested level.    


Communicating with Foundation Staff Post Submission of a Full Proposal

Applicants can expect to communicate several times with Foundation staff once a concept or proposal is submitted. Communications occur primarily with program staff to refine or clarify programmatic content or objectives of the proposed work, anticipated results, milestones, and activities intended to be achieved through the successful completion of the grant or to finalize the expected project budget. Because this is an iterative process, the application may require edits and resubmission. In addition, staff may “reopen” the application record so changes or updates can be made. Applicants should make the needed changes as advised and resubmit the application promptly.   

Other Foundation staff may also contact applicants for information about the request.   


Proposal Review Timeline 

Any funding request over $110,000 requires approval from the Foundation Board of Directors at its quarterly Board meeting. Below are the board meeting dates for 2023* and the related due dates for proposal materials to be submitted for the request to be considered at that meeting. Applicant organizations are encouraged to abide by these deadlines. Requests at or below $110,000 do not require board-level approval and are reviewed on a rolling basis.

April 28, 2023
January 27, 2023
July 21, 2023
April 21, 2023
October 27, 2023
July 28, 2023

* Board meeting dates for the next year are finalized in Q3 of the current year. They will be posted on our website as soon as final dates are available.  

Please direct any general questions to


Using a Fiscal Sponsor

Applicants may use a fiscal sponsor for fiduciary oversight of a grant with these considerations:

  1. The fiscal sponsor must submit the full proposal and associated required documents.

  2. All Foundation records will be in the name of the fiscal sponsor.
  3. The grantee for the project is the fiscal sponsor; they will be responsible for all terms and conditions of the grant and will be expected to execute the Grant Agreement, a legally binding document.
  4. The fiscal sponsor will be responsible for all reporting required. Payments are made directly to the fiscal sponsor. 


If a fiscal sponsor will be used, please contact before starting a concept or full proposal so our records can be adjusted accordingly.


General Operating Support

It is Foundation policy not to fund more than 25% of an organization’s operating budget. The Foundation rarely makes exceptions on a case-by-case basis under limited circumstances, subject to approval by its Board of Directors.  


Overhead/Indirect Costs 

The Foundation’s Watershed Protection program provides funding for projects rather than general operating support. Direct costs can include funding for staff, materials, and other organizational costs related to the project. We also encourage organizations to include funding to support related indirect costs (or overhead). The percentage allowed for indirect costs to support a project cannot exceed 25% and is determined at the discretion of the Program Officer; program staff work with applicants on a case-by-case basis to determine what is reasonable and appropriate and in proportion to the organization, scope of work, and level of reporting required under the intended grant. The amount of indirect expenses should be allocated over the term of the request and entered as part of the Project Budget.  


Additional Reviews Done on Every WPF Application

  • Financial Review – The Foundation conducts an in-depth financial review to assess the financial health of each applicant organization to ensure the prospective grantee has the business capacity to carry out the work during the grant period. The assessment identifies potential risks and determines the level of WPF financial exposure. Finance staff uses the financial statements provided to make this assessment. In addition, the Foundation’s finance team members may contact the applicant organization directly to clarify or request further information if needed.
  • Legal Review – Proposals may require comprehensive legal review, especially for advocacy requests or if lobbying activities are included in the proposed work. (Please refer to our Advocacy and Lobbying Guidelines). The legal review may also be necessary on more complex grants such as those with unusual grantee structures, recoverable or expenditure responsibility requirements, supporting organizations, or grants of a very significant amount. These may require communications with our legal representatives or the grants management team to ensure potential grants align with IRS requirements.



Advocacy and Lobbying Guidelines

If a funding request supports advocacy efforts and/or lobbying activities included in the project, please follow these guidelines.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prohibits private foundations from earmarking grant funds for “lobbying.” However, the IRS allows private foundations to fund projects undertaken by section 501(c)3 public charities that include lobbying activities so long as the private foundation demonstrates that its grant funds are not earmarked for any lobbying activities and the grant satisfies the “Project Grant Rule.” The Foundation uses the Project Grant Rule as set forth in the IRS Regulations. Under the Project Grant Rule, the total grant requested from the Foundation cannot exceed the total non-lobbying portion of the project.

The Project Grant Rule pertains to lobbying as defined by the IRS in section 170(c)(2)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code. Using the IRS definition of lobbying, applicants should estimate the cost of lobbying and non-lobbying activities for the proposed work and provide the expected lobbying budget for each project year. The full project should be considered to determine lobbying costs, not just the portion of funding to be requested from the Foundation. The Foundation cannot fully and appropriately review the proposal until this information is provided.

If lobbying activities are included in the project, the Foundation cannot be the sole source of funding for the project. Therefore, adequate sources of other committed, pending, and anticipated funding should be available and indicated on the "Other Funding" tab of the application form. This support must reflect donations or pledges of cash; the IRS will not consider in-kind support for Project Grant Rule purposes.

To use the Project Grant Rule, applicants must have enough non-WPF funds to cover the full amount of the lobbying allocation before the request is considered for approval. Program staff will work with applicants to resolve any issues if enough funds are not available by this time.

Also note that under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

If your organization has questions about how the Project Grant Rule or Campaign Intervention regulations apply to your project and organization, please contact your organization’s legal or tax advisor.