Philly's biggest funder has a big diversity problem - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 31, 2016 9:54 am

Philly’s biggest funder has a big diversity problem

William Penn Foundation ED Laura Sparks became the fourth leader to depart the foundation in five years last month. Nonprofit Quarterly points to the board's lack of diverse perspective.

William Penn.

(Photo by Flickr user raymondclarkeimages, used under a Creative Commons license)

People of color make up the majority of Philadelphia’s population. Yet, the board of the $2.4 billion William Penn Foundation, the city’s biggest funder, is all white and two-thirds male.

That foundation’s board is not reflective of the city. As Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) points out, it’s hindering the foundation’s ability to execute on mission.

In addition to “volatility among the [Haas] family” (which downgraded the powers of executives two years ago), that lack of diversity might be contributing to the foundation’s leadership issues.

Executive Director Laura Sparks‘ departure last month marked the fourth leadership mix-up in the past five years. David Gould, a program officer with the foundation and rising leader of color, told Generocity last month that he has also departed.

NPQ notes William Penn’s role as top funder in Philadelphia: With the “waning local presence” of Annenberg and Pew Charitable Trusts, many of the city’s institutions and organizations have become reliant on the $100 million in grants the foundation deploys annually.

It might be time, NPQ states, for the Haas family to “cede power to others in the family,” return powers to executives and recruit diverse perspectives to their board. Those three changes might stabilize the foundation and establish equilibrium. Philadelphia is counting on it.

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