The Board of Directors of the William Penn Foundation (W.P.F.) announced on Thursday, February 6, 2014 that Peter J. Degnan, Vice Dean of Finance & Administration at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania will be the WPF’s new Managing Director effective Monday, March 3, 2014. Prior to his seven-year tenure as Vice Dean at Wharton, Degnan held two other positions at Wharton – Executive Director of the Aresty Institute of Executive Education from 2005 to 2007 and Director of the MBA Career Management Office from 2002 to 2005.
Otto Haas, co-founder of the chemical company Rohm & Haas (which Dow Chemical Company acquired in 2009), and his wife, Phoebe Haas, established the William Penn Foundation in 1945. Degnan, a Philadelphia resident, will lead the WPF’s core areas of Philanthropic Programs and Investments in order to realize the WPF’s strategic grant-making goals. He will oversee the broad scope of the WPF’s operations, including research-based evaluation, community engagement, and the Foundation’s financial and organizational management.
David Haas, Chair of the Board of Directors, explained that the WiPF has grown over the years to address increasingly difficult issues facing the region. The WPF currently devotes its energy and resources to protect the region’s water supply, help Philadelphia’s children from low-income families obtain quality educations, and support regional cultural institutions and great public spaces. “In this very important time for our region, it is essential that we have a strong leader to take us forward,” said Haas.
Haas stated, “We are excited about Peter coming on board. He will not only bring his strong management skills and experience, but will be the ideal leader to work with the board and the family to sharpen the Foundation's vision and carry our mission with greater impact.” Haas said that the WPF’s leadership structure will allow the Managing Director to focus on aligning interconnected organizational functions, including strategic grant-making, knowledge-building, and community engagement.
The WPF stated, "With a distinguished background in developing and managing key areas – including Information Technology, Human Resources, and Operations – over the course of his career in higher education and in the financial sector, Mr. Degnan has implemented major programs and initiatives that have markedly enhanced effectiveness and institutional performance."
“I knew when I first spoke with William Penn leadership that the needs of the Foundation dovetailed with my experience and skillset and desire to have real impact,” Degnan explained. “As the array of organizational and philanthropic possibilities afford new horizons of opportunity, they also become more complex and difficult to synchronize effectively. The role of leadership increasingly is to help foster disparate ideas and initiatives and then to bring them in concert with one another. I have had the privilege throughout much of my career to lead teams developing systems that integrate multiple areas of an organization; I look forward to joining the stellar staff at the William Penn Foundation in confronting some of the most difficult issues in the region.”
The WPF stated, "The Foundation extends its heartfelt appreciation to Helen Davis Picher, Interim President of the William Penn Foundation, for her many contributions to the Foundation and the Philadelphia community over the past 30 years. We wish her well as she continues to work with philanthropic and other nonprofit organizations to enhance their effectiveness and impact."
Last September, the WPF donated $6,000,000 to the Philadelphia Zoo. The grant will be applied in part to the new animal trail system.
This spring, the Philadelphia Zoo - the oldest zoo in the U.S. - will open what it calls the "first-in-the-world animal trail system – including Big Cat crossing, an overhead passageway allowing the Zoo’s big cats to travel and explore far from their usual habitats scheduled to open in spring 2014 – the Zoo continues to enhance the area through endeavors that have national and international impact."
“This new trail system and other improvements will redefine what it means to be a ‘world-class’ zoo,” said City of Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “As the Philadelphia Zoo’s national reputation rises, it continues to anchor the historic West Fairmount Park neighborhood and serve the citizens of our city by providing a unique learning experience for youth and adults.”
According to the WPF and the Philadelphia Zoo, "Other initiatives funded by the grant include: Development of an earned revenue/guest experience master plan that aligns with the innovative, new animal experience and grows earned revenue capacity to support continued excellence and innovation; creation of a plan to expand, diversity and drive engagement of the Zoo’s donor base while also increasing internal capacity to support this growth and transformation; and completion of the fundraising campaign for KidZooU, the Zoo’s recently opened $32 million state-of-the-art Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Faris Family Education Center."
“We are delighted to continue the transformation of Philadelphia Zoo,” says Zoo President & CEO Vikram H. Dewan. “This is the most exciting and dynamic time, with as much potential for innovation, accomplishment and impact, as at any time in our recent history. This transformative contribution from the William Penn Foundation supports our vision of offering one-of-kind animal exhibits, strong conservation leadership and outstanding guest experiences making Philadelphia Zoo THE zoo of the future,” said Dewan.
“As the Zoo and the city’s stature continue to rise, this new, imaginative Zoo experience will also contribute toward realizing a long-term vision for West Fairmount Park as a dynamic public space and destination,” added Laura Sparks, Chief Philanthropy Officer at the WPF. “We are proud to partner with the Zoo in developing a vision of a more active West Fairmount Park.”
According to Shawn McCaney, Senior Program Officer at the WPF, the grant to the Philadelphia Zoo represents a key element in a broader investment strategy in West Fairmount Park that includes support to the Fairmount Park Conservancy for planning recreation amenities adjacent to the Parkside neighborhood, funding to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for planning to rehabilitate the Welsh Fountain, and support through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to develop the Mantua Walking Trail that will better connect the neighborhood to the Philadelphia Zoo and the West Fairmont Park. “These investments aim to ensure that we develop high quality park-wide amenities oriented to the play and recreation needs of neighborhood residents that are also welcoming to all visitors. All will benefit from increased activation of the park through maximizing community use and regional visitation.”