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Honoring Donor Intent

It has been 25 years since the Foundation was established. How do we honor the intentions of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, the founders who endowed it?Theodore R. and Vivian Johnson

Honoring donor intent does not mean honoring the status quo.

We honor donor intent by discerning and instilling its underlying values. The lives and careers of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are instructive. Both had university degrees, which was unusual for their time. Mr. Johnson also went to night school and obtained an MBA. Education was a necessary asset in his career and is not surprising to see it as the centerpiece of the Johnsons’ philanthropic work and of the Foundation.

When Mr. Johnson started with UPS in 1923 it was a relatively small company with 300 employees. Over the course of his career UPS grew exponentially. It provided a valuable service and created enormous wealth in the process. UPS was privately owned and senior executives were given the opportunity to purchase stock, which Mr. Johnson did at every opportunity. By 1951, Mr. Johnson’s stock in the company had appreciated to the point that he was able to retire.

After retirement Mr. Johnson resisted the conventional wisdom to diversify his financial assets and he kept most of his company stock. UPS continued to expand and flourish and by the time that Mr. and Mrs. Johnson reached their 80s, the value of their stock was sufficient to endow a Foundation. Mr. Johnson’s experience with UPS is powerful testimony to the free enterprise system and the opportunities that it provides. It seems natural that belief in this system became a basic value of the Foundation.

Theodore JohnsonMr. Johnson had the humility and the wisdom to realize that, when he went to work for UPS in 1923, he appeared at the right place at the right time, and that this fortunate event was largely responsible for his career success and personal wealth. With the realization that he and Mrs. Johnson had been more fortunate than most, came the understanding that some people are less fortunate and have fewer opportunities for growth. Thus was developed the fundamental tenet of the Foundation: to use the wealth made possible by their good fortune to help deserving people who had not been as lucky. This is the value of helping the “underdog”, which runs through everything that the Foundation does. Scholarships are not reserved for the most accomplished students. The distinguishing factor is need.

The emphasis on people with disabilities is a related point. Mr. Johnson recognized that a disability is a matter of luck and a person who has a disability will generally have a harder time getting started in life. Mr. Johnson was himself hard-of- hearing, either from his teenage experience working in a canning factory or from serving in World War I as an artillery specialist or both, and this gave him a personal empathy for people with disabilities. It seems a natural thing for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson to extend the value of helping those less fortunate to people with disabilities.

Mr. Johnson had a soft spot in his heart for American Indians. When asked why he had earmarked a portion of the Foundation for the benefit of American Indian education he simply replied that he always thought that the “Indians got a raw deal.” Again this relates to the idea of using his good fortune to help those less fortunate in the lottery of life.Ted and Vivian Johnson

There is at least one more value of the Foundation that can be traced to its founders, namely pragmatism. Both Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were born in small towns and considered themselves to be practical, conservative people. They did not live lavishly or put on airs.

The idea of helping students who might not otherwise have the financial means to obtain post-secondary education is a noble calling to be sure. But it is also very practical. Helping to educate people with disabilities and American Indians is also very practical. The benefits to the individual and to society are self evident.

In 2002 the Foundation adopted its Mission Statement and Core Values in order to inculcate the ideals and aspirations of our founders. Since then we have developed a theory of change and strategies to inform our grant making to people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and financially disadvantaged people. As we gain experience, we continually strive to evaluate and improve our grant making process. Our grant portfolio in 2016 is very different from its counterpart 25 years ago, but the underlying intention remains.

Check out our website – in particular the Foundation’s Mission Statement, Core Values, strategies, investment results and grant making – to see how we honor donor intent.

Is Anybody Listening?

Education is the Answer

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation believes that education is the best way to empower people to become more independent and productive. The Foundation funds business and entrepreneurship education because it believes that this will contribute to individual prosperity and the growth of reservation economies. This will not happen quickly but reservation economies are growing, as are college graduation rates for Indigenous People in the United States. This belief has caused the Foundation to invest in the American Indian College Fund (A*CF) and Tribal Colleges.woman working on a small loom

In 1989 the presidents of Tribal Colleges in the United States created A*CF. The object was to raise money from the private sector for scholarships and support of Tribal Colleges. Since that time A*CF has grown into the largest charity serving Indigenous People in this country.

In the United States there are presently 35 accredited Tribal Colleges, which offer certificates, diplomas, associates degrees, bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. Most of them were founded in the 1970s and 80s and are located on Reservations in various areas of the
country. The oldest is Dine College (1968) on the Navajo Reservation and the newest is Ilisagvik College (2011) in Alaska. Together the Tribal Colleges educate about 17,000 students every year.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has granted over $19 million to programs that serve Indigenous Peoples, most of it for education. The Foundation began investing in the American Indian College Fund in the early 1990s.

Later in the 90s the Foundation created the Tribal College Entrepreneurship Scholarship program and began selecting and Christian Weaver Nancy Jo Houk Bob Lorence Cherly Crazybull Sharon Wood King Jordan Jamie Schwartzdirectly investing in Tribal Colleges. This program has continued to the present day and, through it,the Foundation grants over $500 thousand annually in scholarships for Indigenous students to pursue studies in business and entrepreneurship.

The Foundation has also partnered with several Tribal Colleges, universities and with A*CF to create endowments, which provide permanent capital to fund student scholarships for the study of business and entrepreneurship.

United Tribes Technical College Spring Graduation on May 8, 2015The tagline on the American Indian College Fund website is “Education is the Answer.” This embodies the mission of the Tribal Colleges and the effort to achieve social justice and a higher standard of living for Indigenous People. “Education is the Answer” also resonates with the Foundation’s mission and strategy.

A*CF can channel donations into general college scholarships or for specific areas of study. It has
a large and talented staff and its work is highly rated.  Check out the American Indian College Fund website.

The website contains a list and map of America’s 35 Tribal Colleges. These colleges have a great task and most of them also have a great need. Visit them online and learn their stories. Education is the answer!


american indian college fund logo


Small but Mighty

The Foundation has recently invested in Nativity Preparatory School, a small middle school for boys, grades 4 through to 8, inclusive. It has 5 classes of 15 students each, who come from economically disadvantaged families and neighborhoods. The school is situated in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston, MA. It was started by Jesuits and is part of a larger network of Nativity Schools, which are typically small, faith based (not necessarily Jesuit or even Catholic) schools for disadvantaged students.

Castiglione Class

Almost all of the money required to educate these children is privately donated. Parents cannot afford tuition; they typically pay $250 per year but are expected to be involved and to volunteer. The actual cost is about $25 thousand per student.

Several things set Nativity apart. First is the 12 hour school day, from 8 AM to 8 PM. Classes in the morning, lunch, more classes and mandatory activities such as sports, drama music, art, newspaper, community service, mock trial, debate, chess, etc., dinner and then study. Second is the small classes. These children get a great deal of individual attention. Third is summer school in July, which they all attend. All of these differences give the school a great deal of control over the students and their learning environment.

Another difference is the “graduate” support. We don’t think of students leaving grade 8 to go to high school as graduates, but Nativity does and it has 2 full-time professionals to provide support to its graduates. It helps them to get into good high schools and to get scholarship aid, it helps them to get into college after high school and it helps them to persist in college and graduate, sometimes with “last dollar” financial aid. The graduate support program is also developing an internship program to take advantage of Nativity’s business contacts and to aid entry into the workforce. Two of Nativity’s alumni work at Wellington Management, a financial services company, which provides internship opportunities.

basketball team in a huddle

Every Nativity graduate completes high school and 80% of them go to college. This is remarkable because all of them are economically disadvantaged and most of them happen to be black males. Statistically, disadvantaged black males are among the least likely students in America to graduate from high school and go to college.

Nativity is a boys’ school. When reflecting on the desirability of this it is relevant to note that most university enrollments, including professional schools, are about 65% women. Boys are much more likely to be singled out as ADD and drugged during middle and high school. It seems that boys need whatever help they can get to succeed in school and go to college.

Nativity has excellent leadership and a dedicated faculty and staff. There is, near the entrance of the school, a board which contains a photo of each student, organized by class. In the graduate support

Malcolm and John Wronski

office, there is a photo of each graduate currently in the school system. The office maintains a relationship with each one of them and supports them as they progress through the system. Each student is precious, valued and supported. The children are a delight; well behaved and respectful but not subdued. An atmosphere of respect for self and community permeates the place.

Nativity is a small school that produces mighty results. If you are a parent or a funder or interested in good pedagogy, check it out.


Motivating Philanthropic Millennials

Fundraising professionals constantly look for trends in donor motivations.  We want to learn how to interest donors in the causes for which we work and lead them to support these causes generously.  Much has been researched and written on generational shifts in donor motivations.  Boomers and Gen Xers have similarities.  They give to the causes for which they can connect, either through a personal experience or that of a friend or loved one.  Some wealthy Boomers give because of an obligation, honoring the old adage, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Boomers are also more receptive to giving unrestricted funds, trusting organizations to use fund however needed. Gen Xers are technologically oriented.  They give online and tend to want to give for restricted purposes.

Millennials, on the other hand, are much less predictable.  We marvel at how philanthropically minded they are, yet we are just beginning to gain a clear understanding of what motivates them to give charitably.  We know that Millennials want to give to causes in which they can make a difference, and they seem to want to see their dollars in action. They want to meet the beneficiaries of their support and learn first-hand how they are impacted.  Millennials interested in owning their own businesses want to attach a social cause to their work.

We have surveyed new graduates at Palm Beach Atlantic University to see how we can engage the Millennial generation in supporting the cause of our university.  The results are giving us new ways to connect.  For example, one of the top three things that young alumni say they want to do is to meet and get to know other alumni for social and business networking purposes.  We have organized an alumni service corps that is planning and executing community service opportunities.  New graduates will work alongside of more seasoned alumni, making important connections, but at the same time, helping society.

We have also begun to invite young alumni to admissions events, so that they can participate in recruiting the next class of students.  This is a way to give Millennials hands-on involvement with their alma mater and perhaps, meeting the beneficiaries of their support!  At these events, new graduates can discuss outcomes, coursework, scholarship opportunities, internships and personal experiences with potential incoming freshmen.

A new event that we have added this past year was called Scholarship Day.  On this occasion, we invited our scholarship donors to campus to meet their scholarship recipients.  This event allowed students to show their gratitude to their scholarship donor(s), but moreover, they were able to see role models in philanthropy, which we hope helps plant the seed for their future support of PBA.

One of our most generous scholarship donors is the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which impacts more than 400 students on our campus.  We are grateful for the longstanding support of the Foundation, which is helping to foster the next generation of graduates and hopefully generous donors to Palm Beach Atlantic University and other community organizations.

Mentoring: High School and Beyond

As a grant recipient of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County provides a solution for low-income students to break the cycle of poverty through education. Students enter the program in grades 6 – 9 and sign a pledge of commitment to keep their grades up, remain crime and drug free, and focus on attaining a high school diploma and becoming college-ready.  Our innovative multi-year program model provides wrap around services to students throughout their middle and high school years and continues through college completion.  The program includes mentors, college readiness, educational workshops, college and career guidance, college scholarships, and college retention services.

Mentor with mentees

Students who have the odds stacked against them are paired with a volunteer mentor who meets with them each weekly.  Mentors provide a sympathetic ear, a word of encouragement, and guide their mentees toward a successful future. The impact of mentors is boundless and serves as a powerful strategy to help rebuild the dreams of students in at-risk situations.  Stephenie, a mentee, recently wrote her mentor, “Words can’t express how grateful I am to have such an amazing person like you in my life. Thank you for changing my life. You have truly planted a seed in my heart and nourished it helping me to allow to grow. It amazes me every day to see how much I’ve grown from being the little insecure shy girl, to a confident beautiful young lady. I will never stop thanking you. You inspire me to be confident in myself and believe I can do it. Even though we live differently, nothing can come between the bond that we share.”  Mentor and mentee

We affirm the value of mentoring students along with wrap around services as evidenced by our 98% high school graduation rate. Although our students out-perform their peers, we know that in Palm Beach County less than 5% of low-income college students will complete their degree.  We also recognize the “drop off” in follow-up support services once organizations like ours have gotten students through high school and into college.

Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we have expanded our services to include college retention. It is apparent that relationships built with students beginning in middle and high school should extend through college to better support them through their post-secondary journey.  Our college retention coaches build on established relationships aMentor and menteend provide one on one support to students as they attempt to navigate the college system.  They mentor students through financial aid and many other college related issues.  Monthly texts are sent to college students reminding them of upcoming deadlines and offering them motivational support.  However, most importantly our scholars know they are a part of our Take Stock in Children “family” and that we support their efforts as they pursue a better life for themselves.


Pathways to Education: Collaboration, Vision and Leadership

The Foundation frequently invests in collaborative efforts of grantees and also collaborates with other funders to invest in a cause. Many experts in philanthropy have come to see collaboration as a higher form of grant making and non-profit activity. Philanthropists should join together to exert concerted effort on problems they cannot solve individually. Those grant makers who go their own way are described as “operating in silos” and are compared to “lone wolves.”  Their ideas may be good but they cannot effect systemic change by themselves. The advantage of collective impact seems irresistible and most grant makers at least pay lip service to it, even if they do go their own way.

Pathways to Education, a Foundation grantee operating in Canada, illustrates the potential power of collaboration. Pathways has more than doubled high school graduation and college attendance rates for some of the poorest people in Canadian society. It has won international acclaim for its innovative approach and it is attracting interest and investment from educators, governments and the private sector across Canada. Pathways to education banner

The excitement over Pathways is hardly surprising.  Generational poverty has been an intractable problem and the remedy is education. Once young people have had their eyes opened and their horizons broadened by education they will not go back to poverty. Educating poor people out of poverty has always been a difficult business. Pathways has an audience because it has developed a system that overcomes the usual obstacles and produces results.

At an operational level Pathways collaborates with teachers, education officials and boards, municipalities, volunteers and, of course, school children and their parents. It gets funding and support from the philanthropic and private sectors, individuals and different levels of government.

Pathways is a perfect example of collaboration as a higher form of problem solving. But is collaboration the secret to its success?

Pathways is a story of a vision and the development of a system to give effect to this vision and then the building of a business. The essential ingredients to Pathways’ success are vision and leadership. It is a familiar theme. A small group of people uniquely understand and care about a problem, in this case educating disadvantaged youth, and have the courage and ability to do something.

We do not downplay the importance of collaboration in the Pathways’ story.  The vision for Pathways came from a community health center and from years of experience with diverse groups. Pathways has engaged and used a long list of people and organizations at every step along the way. Collaboration has been more than a tool. It has been a solution.

The lesson is not new but nonetheless needs remembering.  The best philanthropic investments will always involve collaborations of different interests. But the essential ingredients are vision and leadership and not collaboration for its own sake.

Making a Difference: The Impact of Annual Meetings

Every year the Johnson Scholarship Foundation hosts two annual convening of select grantees.  The first is in June and welcomes representatives from the Disability Resource Centers in the twelve state of Florida universities.  The second one, held in October, is for representatives from the colleges and universities providing Foundation business and entrepreneurship scholarships to Indigenous students.  In both cases, the Foundation pays all expenses (travel, lodging, food) for two representatives per school to attend these day-long meetings.  The Foundation provides the meeting space, plans the agenda for the day, often brings in expert speakers, facilitates the meetings and, in the case of the October meetings, hosts an after meeting dinner.  A minimum of five Foundation staff, consultants, and Directors attend each of these meetings.  So why would any foundation go to such trouble and expense to host these annual meetings?  The answer is simple: They make a difference.

First and foremost, they make a difference for the grantee representatives, many of whom tell us their meeting is the one time a year that they are able to actually meet and talk with others at different schools doing the same work they do.  Our post-meeting surveys are full of responses like:

  • This meeting always gives great information about scholarships, challenges & successes of other campuses.
  • Great feedback from other campuses to be considered on our campus
  • It is great to not only hear what others are doing, but to be able to network with them and see what they have experienced and hear their problems and successes.
  • Always great to share ideas with others in the same field
  • I always take ideas back to our campus
  • I enjoyed the comparisons/contrasts between my office and othersAnnual Meetings Quote Graphic

When we ask what they wished they had had more time for during the meeting, the
overwhelming response is the desire to spend more time talking with each other. “I learned so much through the various conversations and sharing opportunities,” reported an attendee from Florida Polytechnic University.  “It often turns into the most valuable part of these events,” added a representative from New College of Florida. “So many people had so many great thoughts/ideas!” raved another June meeting attendee.

So what does the Foundation get out of these meetings?  A lot, as proved by the fact that we keep providing these opportunities and our own people keep wanting to be involved.

Listening to our grantees share their experiences gives us a far greater appreciation of the work they are doing.  As our President, Malcolm Macleod, often expresses, the Foundation is making the investment, but these people are the ones doing the work.

Meeting people face to face creates stronger personal bonds and makes dealing with issues and concerns over the phone the rest of the year much more comfortable for both parties.

Listening to and talking with the grantees make the grants “real” for our Directors.  Reading a program summary can never compare to actually knowing the effects of a program that the Directors voted to fund.

The Real Deal: Extraordinary Results at Providence St. Mel

The Foundation’s mission is to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We frequently invest in early education because it is the key to post-secondary success. One of our better investments is in Providence St. Mel, a private school in Chicago.

Providence St. Mel has an enrollment of about 600 students, from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. As the name suggests, the school was started by the Catholic Church and, until 1978, was owned and operated by the Sisters of Providence. The Catholic Archdiocese discontinued funding for the school and wanted to obtain the building and land for other purposes. Instead, the Sisters sold it to a group headed by the school’s principal, Paul AdamAdvertisement for Providence St. Mels.

Paul Adams was born in 1940 and brought up in Alabama. He attended Alabama State University and was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He could not get a teaching job in Alabama and moved to Chicago in 1971, to take up employment as Director of Guidance at Providence St. Mel. A year later he became principal.

Paul Adam’s campaign to raise money to buy Providence St. Mel attracted local and national attention. President Reagan visited the school in the early 1980s and came back later for a second visit when he remarked that educators across the country who don’t know what to do should come to Providence St. Mel. The Governor of Illinois has visited and made similar comments, as has Oprah Winfrey. President Barack Obama visited the school years ago, when he was a State Senator and a book by noted educator Samuel Casey Carter profiled Providence St. Mel among the best 12 schools in the nation, from 3500 studied.

Providence St. Mel is a political and media darling because it produces unusually good outcomes for disadvantaged students. Last year 100% of its high school graduates qualified for university entrance to tier one institutions. Standardized test scores are well above national averages.

So what is the secret to this success?

Predictably, Providence St. Mel succeeds because it employs basic sound principles of education in a systematic and straightforward manner. Teachers are selected with care and monitored. The good ones are rewarded. The weaker ones are weeded out. Teachers are supported professionally. Students are accountable. When a student is not performing, advice and criticism come from the teacher, not the parents. Students spend more time in the classroom and academic standards (and disciple codes) are rigorous.

Providence St. Mel is a private school and receives no government support. It gets its money from tuition and private grants and contributions. Students are subsidized according to need but every family pays something, regardless of financial circumstances.

Families realize that Providence St. Mel can provide a ticket out of poverty. Students come to believe, correctly, that with hard work they can be the equal of anyone.

Providence St. Mel is the real deal, a place where good people and good ideas intersect to produce extraordinary results. It is an excellent investment for anyone seeking to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education. Check it out at

Class of 2016 graduates

Class of 2016 graduates