Lenfest Foundation plans to spend all of its assets

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Lenfest Foundation, one of Philadelphia's last remaining powerhouse philanthropies, has undertaken a series of changes that will dramatically alter its leadership and mission, and effectively maps out a path to its end.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest has long said the foundation he and his wife, Marguerite, founded would spend itself down and cease to exist within 10 years of their deaths.

But Mr. Lenfest, 82, has decided to step down now as chairman. Philadelphia entrepreneur Keith Leaphart, 38, will complete Mr. Lenfest's term as chairman through June 2015, heading a new eight-member board on which the Lenfests will remain members.

"We've decided to put the foundation into an independent board of directors, which I no longer control," Mr. Lenfest said.

"I'm not in ill health. I don't believe in perpetual foundations. We've given away the bulk of our wealth already, and I will have a diminished role in the future. My success in business was finding people who were better at doing things than I was. It's a logical evolution."

Since 2000, the Lenfests have given away slightly more than $1 billion through the foundation and personally, a foundation official said.

New faces around the board table signal programmatic changes, as did the foundation's recent move from a suburban corporate park to slightly smaller downtown offices. Mr. Lenfest has transferred $80 million of personal money into the foundation, which will spend down that principal over the next 15 years on programs to benefit disadvantaged youth, mostly in Philadelphia.

The college scholarship program started in 2002 for students from rural Pennsylvania will continue, spending down $25 million over the next 20 years.

The Lenfest Oceans Program, operated with the Pew Charitable Trusts, is slated to receive funding through 2017, then close in 2020.

Mr. Lenfest -- an owner of Interstate General Media, which publishes The Philadelphia Inquirer -- has no current plans to add to the principal of the foundation, whose market value stands at about $100 million, executive director Bruce Melgary said.

The changes at the foundation are concurrent with other shifts in the Philadelphia philanthropic scene.

The Annenberg Foundation has moved its focus to California since Leonore Annenberg died in 2009, and the Pew Charitable Trusts has shifted the bulk of its operations to Washington.

That leaves the William Penn Foundation and others guided by the Haas family as the largest remaining force in Philadelphia philanthropy.

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