The Hole in Philadelphia’s Philanthropic Donut

Jeremy Nowak makes the case for a more robust Philadelphia Foundation.

There’s a gaping hole in the middle of Philadelphia’s philanthropic donut. That’s the thrust of a nuanced Jeremy Nowak critique of the Philadelphia Foundation, which is the city’s community foundation. What are community foundations? They’re grant-giving charities that pool resources from a wide array of donors (in contrast to the Pew Charitable Trust or William Penn Foundations, which endowed by single families). They’re also, critically, intently focused on local grant-giving. This second component is particularly important for a city like Philadelphia whose biggest foundation, Pew, is increasingly national in focus.

And yet, the Philadelphia Foundation is a relative piker compared to some community foundations in other cities. The foundation has an endowment of $365 million. Compare that to the Cleveland Foundation, which boasts an asset base of $2 billion. Writes Nowak:

Philly Foundation’s small asset base has always been a bit of a mystery. Is it a question of leadership over many decades, long before the current President? Is it a question of the interests and capacities of the trustees? Why is the place so seemingly sleepy and content in comparison to others around then nation?

These are important questions to be raising now, because the foundation is looking for a new president to replace longtime chief Andrew Swinney. Nowak, who, let’s remember, had a short-lived run as executive director of the William Penn Foundation, argues that the “Philadelphia Foundation needs to make a more dramatic change than just a new President if it wants to keep pace with a city that has a new attitude about growth and stature. It needs a new operating strategy and a different brand.”

The whole thing is worth a read. Check it out.