The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, which with affiliates pumped $8.6 million into neighborhood-services and affordable-housing nonprofits in mostly poor communities in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware in 2019, will stop making new grants next year while it reviews priorities.
“We are pausing new Wells Fargo Regional Foundation grantmaking in 2020, while we ensure its programming aligns" with the banking giant’s new charitable focus on "housing affordability, small-business growth, and financial health,” said Aishah Miller, who took over as the foundation’s executive director in January. She expects the pause will last the year.
Major beneficiaries of the regional foundation in recent years, which can receive $400,000 or more in a given year, have included Nueva Esperanza, a federal-subsidized-housing provider; Impact Services, a Kensington agency that offers mental-health services and youth sports among other programs; the New Kensington Community Development Corp.; and the People’s Emergency Center. The Enterprise Development Center in West Philadelphia, the Chester County Economic Development Corp., and other business-related groups got smaller grants in some recent years.
Miller said multiyear grants would continue to be paid as promised, but no new grants will be approved until the reorganization is complete. Since it can take six months to approve a grantee, the “lag will be felt more in 2021,” she added. Miller, who replaced the foundation’s founding executive director, Denise McGregor Armbrister, on her predecessor’s retirement, reports to a local board headed by John Thurber, head of public affairs at Thomas Edison University in Trenton.
Three of the four staff members listed with Miller on the foundation’s website have departed, according to a person familiar with the foundation. Miller declined to talk about them, citing privacy concerns. Anyone leaving the foundation “may move to other Wells Fargo divisions,” Miller added by email.
The regional foundation was started with $100 million from Wells Fargo’s predecessor, First Union Corp., in 1998. It replaced charitable giving by CoreStates Financial Corp., which was Philadelphia’s largest bank when First Union bought it and began cutting workers and programs to boost profits. The foundation cut back on CoreStates’ fine-arts and cultural priorities to concentrate more on housing, small-business, and poverty-related programs.
The separate national Wells Fargo Foundation will continue to spend around $1.5 million a year in the region through its grant program, which targets “workplace education and K-12 school readiness,” among other social needs, said A.J. Jordan, who runs the national foundation’s Philadelphia office. Those grants are guided by bank staff, including Joe Kirk, head of the Wells Fargo community-banking region that includes Philadelphia.
Wells Fargo was “among the top corporate givers in America,” donating 2 percent of after-tax profits — half a billion dollars — to philanthropy last year, Jordan said in an interview. Bankers are “reimagining our philanthropic strategies" so they match the bank’s current business focus, which includes, for example, one of the largest U.S. Small Business Lending Administration programs and one of the nation’s largest home loan businesses.