To our colleagues working to improve the quality of life in Greater Philadelphia:

We are writing today to share information about work we are starting at the William Penn Foundation to update our grantmaking strategies.

Our grantmaking has been guided by priorities and strategies established in 2013 when we last conducted a comprehensive review of our work. At that time, we committed to evaluating our approaches and their impact after 10 years. That timing was intentional. Meaningful change takes time. And, over the past decade we have seen many positive changes happen because of the work and leadership of the grantees we support.

Having reached the 10-year point, we are beginning a process to understand how our grantmaking should evolve to meet the changing needs of communities across the region. Our aim is to complete this process by the summer of 2024 and establish the strategies that will guide our work for the next 10 years.

While the Foundation overall will be clarifying and revising priorities and processes, the Creative Communities program will not be part of this work at this time since its strategies were revised following the completion of a comprehensive review in 2021. The Creative Communities program will continue to operate under its current guidelines.

Over the last year, we have spent significant time reviewing the implementation and impacts of the Foundation’s grantmaking. We sought to better understand what has worked well and where we can be more effective in helping to improve opportunities for residents of our region.

These learnings informed the set of draft values that we are sharing below and will guide our strategy development and our work going forward. We will reflect on and further refine them as we continue our process of revising our strategies to better support children’s learning and development, ensure access to natural and built assets in our communities, and cultivate an inclusive and vibrant arts and culture sector. We are also looking at some new areas of work that we believe are vital for the success of our region and its residents.

Our Values

As we identify specific areas of investment for the future, our work will be guided by a set of core values:

  • Prioritizing and creating opportunities for under-served communities
  • Conducting our work in ways that minimize and respond to economic and racial inequity and climate change
  • Engaging and honoring community voice
  • Being flexible and responsive to changing needs of the city and region
  • Promoting transparency in our decision-making and embracing well-informed risk taking
  • Using our civic voice and leadership to advance citywide and regional initiatives
  • Sharing our learning locally and nationally

As we think about the future, we will be eager to hear your insights. Your perspectives as valued partners will be integral to shaping the future direction of our grantmaking investments. Later this year and early next year, we will be conducting stakeholder engagement to ensure that a diverse range of voices informs and guides our work.

Exploring Priorities for Future Work

We still have many months of research, learning, engagement, and planning to do, and the questions below are an example of what the Board has asked the staff to explore to inform potential new areas of grantmaking focus:

  • Are there non-academic services and more holistic approaches that the Foundation can support to strengthen early learning for children from birth to age 8 in Philadelphia, including expanded support for the role families play in early learning and development?
  • Building on our past support for public parks, regional trails, and open spaces, are there ways for the Foundation to support more equitable access to recreational opportunities in the natural and built environment, especially for nature-deprived communities?
  • Are there ways the Foundation can promote more environmentally resilient communities, including providing refuge for residents from the growing impacts of climate change?
  • Given the high rate of persistent poverty in Philadelphia and the fact that incomes in the city are inequitably distributed, are there ways that the Foundation can help people enter the labor force or progress into careers that provide family-sustaining wages and build and sustain wealth?

What’s Next

We know many organizations rely in part on William Penn Foundation funding. We understand that shifts in our grantmaking create concern among grantees and others. We are committed to being transparent about changes that emerge from the strategy revision process. In the coming days, long-time Foundation grantees with active grants will be hearing from their program staff to discuss ways we plan to support organizational stability during this interim period.

As mentioned above, you will hear from us in the coming months with information about our stakeholder engagement efforts and then with more detail about the strategies that are developed. By the summer of 2024, we plan to introduce our new goals, strategies, criteria, guidelines, and applications.

Your partnership has been invaluable to us and to the collective efforts to create a vibrant and equitable Philadelphia region.

Do not hesitate to reach out to our program staff with any questions or if you would like to engage in further discussions about the strategy review and its implications.

In partnership,

Katherine Christiano, Chair, William Penn Foundation Board of Directors
Peter Haas, Vice Chair, William Penn Foundation Board of Directors