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Featured Client Project: Engaging with The Sarah Ralston Foundation

Lynette Killen, Executive Director of then-Ralston Center and now The Sarah Ralston Foundation, shares information about the new foundation at the launch event.

By Abby Rolland

Founded in 1817, Ralston Center was Philadelphia’s first home for aging women and single women who had fallen on hard times and later evolved to serve the health and wellness needs of seniors in West and Northwest Philadelphia. In the latter decades of the 20th century, Ralston leased its historic building to the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute on Aging, Penn’s Geriatric Medicine practice, and other related geriatric research programs, focusing on public wellness programs and supportive services for older adults in West and Northwest Philadelphia

In 2021, the Center decided that it could best continue its 200+ year service to the community and older adults by selling its historic building and the land surrounding. They set up a permanent endowment with the proceeds and will eventually become a private, charitable foundation.

As part of this decision, the Ralston Center staff and board collaborated with a number of advisors to assist with the transition. harp-weaver LLC was chosen and engaged to provide project support to assist with the Center’s transition from a program-driven nonprofit to a grantmaker. With its knowledge and experience of working within philanthropy, harp-weaver helped guide Ralston Center to think about and articulate its philanthropic strategy, grantmaking operations and practices, governance, communications, and financial management practices.

As part of its engagement with Ralston Center, harp-weaver first had multiple conversations with the Center’s staff, board, and other stakeholders to better understand the organization’s history, mission, goals, priorities, and planned funding areas. Much work was done prior to the engagement to create a set of guiding principles and a vision. harp-weaver staff designed a project plan based on this work to advise on the implementation of every aspect of operating a grantmaking organization. harp-weaver staff, Ralston Center staff and board members, and other advisors worked hand-in-hand to prepare for the launch of grantmaking, allowing the institution to serve Philadelphia in a new way.

From many hours of thoughtful conversations and hard work, The Sarah Ralston Foundation excitingly announced its grantmaking in January 2023. The Foundation will give to organizations that support and enhance the quality of life of vulnerable and underserved older adults residing in Philadelphia County. It will provide general operating support to small, community-based organizations primarily serving older adults and give innovative project support to organizations and projects that develop or expand the scope of models that improve the delivery of health care or respond to social factors that influence health and quality of life.

This focus on serving older adults is desperately needed in Philadelphia, as there are no other private funders specifically dedicated to this issue. Giving general operating support to small organizations is vital, and providing large-scale funding to innovative projects is needed in a space that does not receive a great deal of funding for trying new ideas. This creative and high touch grantmaking approach, as well as the Foundation’s specific focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access will truly make The Sarah Ralston Foundation a valuable partner and incredible resource to organizations serving older adults in Philadelphia.

harp-weaver has been proud to work alongside The Sarah Ralston Foundation’s staff and board during this process, and greatly values the relationships it has built with the Foundation’s stakeholders.

“Choosing harp-weaver LLC was a wise decision made by the board and staff. I can’t imagine being better prepared to launch The Sarah Ralston Foundation. The harp-weaver team educated, anticipated, discussed, and produced all promised deliverables plus more,” shared Lynette Killen, The Sarah Ralston Foundation’s Executive Director.

We look forward to continuing to provide advice this year as the Foundation sparks transformative impact in our local community.


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