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William Penn Foundation Expands Areas of Focus for Grantmaking, Simplifies Grant Application Process

William Penn Foundation

Media Contact

Rebecca Morley
Director of Communications and External Affairs
[email protected]

PHILADELPHIA (June 26, 2024) – The William Penn Foundation launches today a new approach to its grantmaking. The philanthropy, which has been investing in Philadelphia for nearly 80 years, is expanding its funding areas and simplifying the process of applying for grants. It is working to connect more people to more opportunities to help improve more lives, especially for individuals and communities that have been shut out of opportunity for various reasons historically.

“As a funder, we regularly review our grantmaking strategies, but to ensure that we are being fully responsive and relevant to the needs of our region we take a much deeper look at our strategies every 10 years or so,” said Kathy Christiano, the Foundation’s Board Chair. “That timetable is purposeful; meaningful change toward a more just, equitable and vital city takes time. So, over the last year, we’ve examined the approach that’s been in place since 2013. We evaluated outcomes of funded work and talked with more than 350 people, including grantees, people served by organizations we fund, academics, and subject matter experts in the areas we’ve focused on. We wanted to understand how the needs throughout the city and region have evolved and how our support can be effective and responsive in addressing them.”

Christiano added that an outcome of this review process was establishing a set of values to undergird the Foundation’s grantmaking. They include prioritizing opportunities for communities that have long been burdened by economic inequity, racial discrimination and other forms of injustice; elevating community voice; leaning in to partnership, collaboration and transparency; minimizing and responding to the impacts of climate change; leading on important citywide and regional initiatives and responding to the region’s changing needs; and sharing learnings from the Foundation’s work locally and nationally.

From Three Funding Areas to Five
A new approach to grantmaking will manifest these values. Previously organized into three programs, grantmaking will now happen across five programs.

  • Arts and Culture – This program will continue to support expanding access to diverse, inclusive arts and culture experiences so that more people can benefit from them. Arts and Culture will work to:
    • Expand opportunities for people to create and experience performances, exhibitions, and other arts and culture initiatives, particularly in communities that have previously had limited access to the arts and with organizations that reflect the cultural diversity of their communities. 
    • Strengthen and expand arts education. 
    • Provide general operating support so that arts and culture organizations – large and small – that play important roles in Philadelphia’s civic and community life can thrive. 
    • Provide capital support to improve existing arts and culture spaces for improved access for people with disabilities and those who have been most affected by economic inequity, racial discrimination, or other forms of injustice.
  • Children and Families – This program will continue to support early learning for young children and will expand to make grants to support the wellbeing and economic security of children and their families. Given clear evidence of how critical family support and stability are to children’s academic success, this will help to enhance improved outcomes for children. Children and Families focus areas will include: 
    • Family supports, such as stable housing, access to public benefits and parenting resources. 
    • Mental and behavioral health supports for children. 
    • Early childhood learning and more out-of-school (OST) learning opportunities, including increasing the number of children in high-quality early learning and OST programs. 
    • Ensuring that schools have the teachers they need and that teachers are representative of their students’ diversity. 
    • Increased and equitable public funding for the public services that support children.
  • Environment and Public Space – This program is about helping communities reduce harmful impacts to their natural environments, improve the quality of their natural and community spaces, and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Environment and Public Space will work toward: 
    • Expanding opportunities for residents to engage with the outdoors and each other. 
    • Increasing access to more community spaces that are well maintained and supported, such as trails, rec centers, libraries and playgrounds.  
    • Decreasing harmful environmental impacts by reducing illegal dumping, untreated sewage and other pollutants in communities disproportionately impacted and by increasing the greening and resiliency of communities dealing with multiple burdens.
  • Democracy and Civic Initiatives – This program supports the power of collective and collaborative action. Part of the work focuses on building trust and participation in the democratic process so that more voices, across the city and state, are heard and represented. Additionally, grants will seek to coordinate efforts to help grow the amount of funding coming to the Philadelphia region and accelerate change when possible. Important to note is the non-partisan nature of this program; grants will not support political parties or candidates nor any lobbying efforts. 
  • Workforce Training and Services – This program focuses on supporting Philadelphia residents to successfully prepare for, secure, and retain family sustaining employment. Initial grantmaking will support reducing the barriers that prevent people from entering and completing workforce training and securing the higher paying jobs that can fuel economic mobility for themselves and their families.

Simplifying Grant Applications with RFPs
According to Shawn McCaney, the Foundation’s Executive Director, examining how organizations engage with the Foundation was as important as evaluating and refining the funding areas. “Applying for a grant should be an exciting and aspirational experience, not burdensome and stressful. Both grant seekers and our staff sought a more streamlined way to go about this work,” he said. To help achieve that and to enhance the transparency of its grantmaking, the Foundation is introducing a Request for Proposals (RFP) process. RFPs will be issued according to a published, public schedule. Each RFP will request ideas and proposals to address a specific objective in one of the five funding programs. Each RFP will identify the specific criteria on which proposals will be evaluated and the grant amount available.

Once written applications are reviewed by Foundation program officers, a cohort of applicants will advance and take part in a site visit with Foundation staff. Following that, staff members will prepare their recommendations on funding decisions for the Board. There will be opportunity to engage with Foundation staff along the way. The total process – from when an application is received to final funding decisions – should take about 90 days.

“In addition to simplifying things, our intent is for the RFPs to make the process more open to all. We will detail in an RFP the objective we’re seeking to address and the funding that’s available, and then open it up to the community to ask for their best ideas and thinking. We hope to hear from a very broad range of organizations, including those we’ve never worked with before,” McCaney said.

While the majority of the Foundation’s grant budget will be awarded through RFPs, McCaney added that some funding will be available for grants outside of that process to address a specific gap or address time-sensitive opportunities that would otherwise be lost.  

The first RFPs will be issued on July 1, 2024 with grants being awarded in October.

Supporting Grant Seekers Through New Process
Understanding that new ways of operating as a funder require guidance and support for grantees and grant seekers, Foundation program staff are hosting a series of community briefings this summer. A complete list of opportunities to learn more through webinars and in-person briefings can be found HERE.

New WPF Website & New Look Launch Today
Additionally, today the Foundation is launching a new website and branding in support of the grantmaking approach. The new website and brand reflect the evolution of the William Penn Foundation as one of Philadelphia’s largest and longest standing philanthropies dedicated to this region. For information on the programs, RFPs, Foundation staff, insights related to the work, and more, please visit

About William Penn Foundation
The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is committed to expanding access to resources and opportunities that promote a more vital and just city and region for all. We do this through funding programs in the Philadelphia region in arts and culture, children and families, democracy and civic initiatives, environment and public space, and workforce training and services. Learn more at