You Can Help Give Away $1 Million of the Philadelphia Foundation’s Money

It’s philanthropy with a twist: The organization has selected 15 grant finalists, but you get to choose the winners.

philadelphia foundation

The 15 community groups that are finalists for the Philadelphia Foundation’s grant program fall into three categories: financial equity, career training, and community engagement. (Photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Foundation.)

It’s not very often that you get the chance to spend someone else’s money, but the Philadelphia Foundation is encouraging just that with a new initiative that will let the public — normally shut out of the large-scale philanthropy process — select the winners of $1 million worth of grants.

It feels appropriate that the Philadelphia Foundation, which also maintains a charitable fund established by the original Benjamin Franklin, would be the group to crowdsource its donations — the democratically inclined Franklin would surely be proud. The foundation has still done some vetting, of course, selecting 15 finalists for its Key to Community grant from a pool of nearly 200 applicants. (Giving the public full autonomy could have been dangerous; just ask the British government about Boaty McBoatface.) But from there, the foundation truly is, well, handing over the keys.

As for the logistics: Grant finalists have been separated into three focus-areas — financial equity, career training, and community engagement. Voters will ultimately decide who receives the first-place grant of $200,000 in each category. Second and third-place winners will also receive grants of $100,000 and $33,000, respectively.

There’s a wide range of initiatives covered by the various groups here, from training former inmates to work on HVAC systems to teaching computer programming. In the community engagement category, Bartram’s Garden is a finalist; so, too, is the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

This isn’t the only clever philanthropic initiative happening in Philly. The Eagles also have a new model for their autism research, in which the team vets prospective recipients with the rigor of a full-blown research institution. It’s something of a different approach — establishing full control, whereas the Philadelphia Foundation is relinquishing it — but the end goal in both cases is effectively the same:  to pull back the curtain on giving and let the public know exactly where and how the money is being spent.

Voting for the Philadelphia Foundation grants runs from July 8th through 26th. This isn’t a political enterprise, so here you really can vote early and vote often — or at least once per day. Even though you’re technically helping to give money away, you won’t get a tax deduction. (Nice try.) But it will make you feel good. Check out a full list of the finalists and vote for your favorites here.