A Public Resource Compiled by the

William Penn Foundation

Two Logan Square, 11th Floor 100 North 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-2757
501c3 nonprofit

Donor to anti-GMO causes as part of broader philanthropic strategy

Key People

  • Shawn McCaney, Executive Director
  • John Cross, Director of Investments
  • Amy Chan, Director Investment Team
  • Jessica Richards, Director of Program Operations & Planning
William Penn Foundation

Established in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, the William Penn Foundation (WPF) aims to “improve the quality of life” in the Greater Philadelphia region with investments in arts, culture and the environment. The foundation endorses “regenerative organic farming,” which it argues can replenish “natural resources like soil and water, rather than depleting or degrading them.” WPF further claims that organic food “presents a compelling case study of how market forces hold potential to drive environmental benefit.”

WPF has contributed substantial sums to several high-profile activist groups that campaign against GMOs and promote organic agriculture. The foundation is a major donor to the Rodale Institute, which bills itself as the “birthplace of American organic agriculture.” In 2017 WPF donated almost $6 million to the Rodale Institute, which helped support the institute’s ongoing study comparing organic and conventional farming systems, the only research to consistently find that organic agriculture can outperform its conventional counterpart.

In 2018, WPF awarded a $5,995,000 grant to the Rodale institute to combat agriculture runoff from conventional farms, which can “pollute streams, posing public health risks, killing aquatic life, and increasing drinking water treatment costs,” the foundation warns.

The William Penn Foundation also supported openly anti-GMO groups including the Sierra Club ($300,000) and Natural Resources Defense Council (16,000) in 2017. The Sierra Club supports “a ban on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all [genetically engineered organisms] into the environment.” The NRDC has similarly argued that the EPA’s failure to regulate GMO herbicide-tolerant crops has fueled the growth of “superweeds,” as well as the use of “cancer-causing chemicals.”


Financial Data


Annual Revenue: $433,086,905 (2017)

Total Assets: $2,514,579,177 (2017)

Major recipients (total contributions 2012-present)

Rodale Institute $11,989,500

Sierra Club Foundation $300,000

Center for Rural Affairs $150,000

Natural Resources Defense Council   $16,000

Share via

Note that there are three “levels” of both donors and recipients.

Donations to advocacy groups are sometimes designated to support a specific cause, such as organic agriculture or mitigating climate change. There is no way for us to know from publicly-available documents on what the money will be spent, as we can only see the total amount donated. When we assign the levels below to donors and recipients, we assume that all donations are available to the recipient for all advocacy, including anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Donates primarily to dedicated anti-GMO organizations
  • Level 2: A large portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations; some donations go to organizations without a position on GMOs
  • Level 3: A small portion of donations go to anti-GMO organizations
    * Most donations go to organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists

For Level 1 recipients, all donations are used for anti-GMO advocacy. For Level 2 and 3 recipients, we don’t know how much of each donation is used for anti-GMO advocacy.

  • Level 1: Dedicated to anti-GMO advocacy
  • Level 2: Involved in anti-GMO advocacy along with other causes
  • Level 3: No specific anti-GMO advocacy, but general support
    * Organizations without a formal position on GMOs but which have aligned themselves with anti-GMO activists
Send this to a friend