Here's why William Penn Foundation doesn't describe its grantmaking as 'social justice' - Generocity Philly

Funding

Feb. 14, 2017 12:22 pm

Here’s why William Penn Foundation doesn’t describe its grantmaking as ‘social justice’

The single largest grant in the foundation's history is its recent $100 million investment in parks, rec centers and libraries. It's an 'investment in equity,' said Interim ED Shawn McCaney.

William Penn.

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

With over a quarter of its population living below the poverty line, Philadelphia continues to be the most impoverished American metro. Yet, when one of the biggest foundations in the region announced it was making the largest grant in its 70-year history in late 2016, the funding wasn’t funneled into programs and services that directly impact the cycle of poverty.

But the ways in which funders move their money can reveal more about mission than words ever could.

On the surface, William Penn Foundation‘s (WPF) $100 million investment in Rebuild looks like an investment in parks and playgrounds. The unrestricted grant covers 20 percent of the total cost of the public-private initiative, which seeks to revamp parks, rec centers and libraries in low-income communities.

It’s a departure from the foundation’s previous investments in public space. Over the past decade, WPF has spent approximately $25 million on improving public spaces in Center City, according to Interim Executive Director and Program Director Shawn McCaney.

“There was a sense those investments we made in Center City were transformative,” said McCaney. “All of our public space funding [now] is targeted toward underserved and under-resourced communities.”

"All of our public space funding is targeted toward underserved and under-resourced communities."
Shawn McCaney

According to a study published by the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy this past December, WPF is far from alone: Between 2003 and 2013, only one in 10 of the largest U.S. foundations devoted 50 percent or more of their grant dollars to underserved communities.

NCRP’s study slams foundations during that time period for failing to fund social justice. “Social justice philanthropy,” the center argues, funds organizations working toward long-term system change or immediately providing access to opportunity for those who are “the least well off politically, economically and socially.”

From our Partners

That change can be accomplished through education, health care, climate change, civic engagement, law, open data and more. But not public spaces. That’s not social justice, according to the center.

It doesn’t bother McCaney. Functionally, Rebuild is providing the infrastructure for what NCRP would call social justice programming.

“We’ve never used the term ‘social justice,'” said McCaney. “We would call this an investment in equity. Our sense is that parks, libraries and rec centers are the public assets that low and moderate-income communities use every day.”

The foundation is working on the services end, too. Rebuild and the mayor’s pre-K initiative are designed to work in unison, and WPF has continually invested in city initiatives in hopes of attracting new funders. Earlier this month, the foundation put up $1.8 million for an evaluation of Mayor Jim Kenney’s universal pre-K initiative. Last spring, the foundation made a $15 million grant to the Fund for Quality, which provides capital and services for the pre-K expansion.

“We don’t own that space,” said McCaney. “We are just trying to be a major part of it.”

Philadelphia’s biggest foundation is putting its money where its mission is: Creating equitable access to high-quality education, inclusive spaces and clean drinking water.

Want more richly researched and deeply sourced community reporting?  Become a Generocity member for $10 per month -30-
LEAVE A COMMENT

From our Partners

How Philadelphia plans to advance racial equity in the civil service sector

Sustainability work can be as diverse as Philly’s residents: SustainPHL 2018

How Benefits Data Trust will use $4 million to increase food security across the U.S.

SPONSORED

Generocity Philly

Nonprofits and startups can win up to $360K at the WeWork Creator Awards

Coatesville, PA

Brandywine Health Foundation

Brandywine Health Foundation Strategy Officer

Apply Now
Philadelphia

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

TreePhilly Program Specialist

Apply Now
Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Grants Manager – Read by 4th!

Apply Now

Girl Develop It ED Corinne Warnshuis will compete in WeWork’s Creator Awards

YallaPunk founder Rana Fayez: ‘The work is just beginning’

Engage with culture, identity and ability at the Philadelphia Inclusive Arts Festival

SPONSORED

Generocity Philly

12 Philly immigrants who are ready to mobilize

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Science History Institute

Web Content Manager

Apply Now
Philadelphia

Fairmount Ventures Inc

Part-Time Project Coordinator

Apply Now
Philadelphia

Fairmount Ventures Inc

Project Manager – Fundraising

Apply Now

Sign-up for daily news updates from Generocity