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In 2017 We will “Keep Going”

Phil Buchannan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, in his 2016 Essay, “Big Issues, Many Questions, notes that the fundamentals of good the center for effective philanthropy logophilanthropy are straightforward and timeless: define your goals, pursue them with focused strategies, execute with discipline and measure results. He goes on to opine, however, that the issues facing foundations change and present new challenges.

One of the new challenges that Buchannan identifies arises from the increasing financial disparity between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of society. Anger over this issue seems widespread and it will undoubtedly affect public perception of grant makers. More people will be inclined to see philanthropic foundations as private playgrounds for the privileged rather than serious enterprises investing in social change.

Given that JSF does not fund advocacy or public policy research, our response illustration of raised hands with a hand with a heart symbolto societal anger and skepticism must be simply to do our best and let our work speak for itself. Our mission is one of social justice. We help disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. Our grants assist Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities and the underserved. If we stay the course and communicate along the way, especially with our grantees, we can hope to be judged fairly and thereby play our small part in a larger debate about the role and efficacy of private foundations.

Communication seems particularly important because research shows that philanthropic grantees as a class feel that their funders often don’t know or care about their needs. We need to demonstrate, through our work, that we do know and we do care. That means, as we so often say, listening to our grantees. It is not for us to tell them, it is for them to tell us. What are the issues that they face? What do they need? The Foundation’s
upcoming Grantee Perception Report should help us to know whether we are sufficiently understanding our grantees and, if not, what further we need to do.

We must also listen to and connect with our “end users”, the people served by our non-profit schools, universities and institutions. Generally, this is one of young girl raising her hand in classroomthe most enjoyable aspects of our work and we ought to do more of it. At site visits (both staff and board) we can request more audiences and open exchanges with students. And we will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to attend events and speak to students. Meeting students and listening and talking to them makes a personal connection, which leads to empathy and understanding.

Investing in social change is a long term proposition and requires patience, focus and staying power. It often involves risk and, because results are not readily apparent, doubts creep in and it is easy to lose faith. It is important that we, and the society we serve, have confidence in our work and that we “Keep Going.”

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month and we will use this space to reflect on the United Tribes Technical College Spring Graduation on May 8, 2015Foundation’s mission to Indigenous Peoples. Later in the month, we will publish pieces from Sherry Salway-Black, who has been a member of our Board since 2006, and from Rick Williams, Foundation Consultant on programs serving Indigenous Peoples.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been investing in Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada for 25 years and has granted about $20 million towards that end. Currently, grants in support of Indigenous Peoples total $1.5 million per year. The Foundation’s strategy is to assist economic development through business and entrepreneurship education.

One of the Foundation’s programs is the Entrepreneurship Scholarship, created in 1995. Itjewel honga, nau student provides scholarship assistance for students pursuing business or entrepreneurship education. The theory is that the trickle-down effect of this will contribute to business and economic development on Indian reservations.

The Scholarship program has been expanded to serve Indigenous students at institutions other than tribal colleges. Several of our tribal college partners, with our help, have been able to build endowments.

The College of Menominee Nation, Oglala Lakota College and Salish Kootenai College, for example, have built substantial endowments which will fund scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students in perpetuity. They no longer need Foundation grants for this purpose. The Foundation has also worked with A*CF to build an endowed fund to provide scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students at any tribal college.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program has helped over a thousand students graduate from tribal colleges and universities.

Another Foundation program is the country’s only MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurshipgroup photo of people wearing graduation gown and caps. This was created in 2001 and was intended to support tribal college faculty in their delivery of the Entrepreneurship Scholarship program. It was designed to
be taken at distance during the traditional academic year and on campus in the summer. This would allow faculty to continue teaching, while obtaining the MBA.

The MBA was funded by the Foundation but developed and delivered by Gonzaga University.  The Foundation interviewed several candidates and chose Gonzaga, mainly because Gonzaga really wanted it. Gonzaga’s original mission was to serve American Indians and this was an opportunity to honor that history. Gonzaga also has a highly ranked MBA program and that helped tip the balance.

Gonzaga’s MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship has produced 59 graduates and is still going strong.  In 2013 First Nations Development Institute conducted a
comprehensive evaluation of the program and found that most of its graduates had returned to their respective communities and participated in virtually every aspect of life there. As of 2013, sixteen of the program’s graduates were managing their own businesses, one was a tribal college president and others were in senior positions in woman posed with graduates wearing graduation caps and gownstribal and federal governments, colleges and business. In 2014 the Foundation and Gonzaga University entered into an agreement to endow the MBA program with a $2 million fund, which will provide permanent scholarship support for students in this program.
MBA-AIE graduates have traveled and expanded the path for students coming behind them. They act as mentors and role models for Indigenous students, particularly those from 4 year tribal college degree programs, who can pursue the MBA-AIE and continue to live in their community.

Economic growth through education is a long term proposition. There is no quick fix. Development comes from within the community and it takes time. That said, economic growth in Indian Country is increasing. In 2005, the Harvard Project on American Economic Development found in its study of socioeconomic change between the 1990 and 2000 census that “The growth in reservation residents’ per capita income was approximately three times the growth experienced by the average U.S. citizen” (Taylor and Kalt, ix).

The Foundation will continue to invest in the Entrepreneurship Scholarship, the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship and in other programs that contribute to economic development in Indian County. We will, in the words of Joseph Marshall III, “Keep Going.”


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed each October. The theme this year is “#InclusionWorks.” In honor of NDEAM, Giving Matters will devote poster for inclusion worksthe month of October to the issue of disability employment.
Employment of people with disabilities has become central to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s mission and strategy. In its early years, the Foundation focused solely on education of people with disabilities. Educators pointed out that unemployment of people with disabilities, even those with college degrees, was much, much higher than for the rest of the population.
Employment of people with disabilities is a civil rights issue. Notwithstanding federal legislation prohibiting discrimination, it has not been well understood by the general public or employers in the past. Employers seem to have avoided hiring people with disabilities because they did not understand that it is good business and adds to the bottom line.
A Louis Harris and Associates survey of 920 American employers revealed that employees with disabilities have about the same productivity levels as employees without disabilities. Some 90 per cent were rated as average or above average in performance of job duties. Nearly 80 per cent of the managers also said that their employees with a disability work as hard as or harder than their employees without a disability (Alberta Human Services). Other surveys have found similar results on performance and also lower than average absenteeidisability graphicsm and job turnover.
The Foundation began to include grants to non-profit organizations that focus on employment of people with disabilities and changed its mission to include employment. Recent grant agreements include Bridges from School to Work and The National Statler Center.
Bridges from School to Work engages employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment. It presently serves about one thousand students per year from operations in 9 U.S. cities. Bridges has recently adopted a plan that would expand its locations to new cities and double the number of young people that it serves every year.
The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service is a program of the Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo, New York. It offers two curriculum modules: a ten week program that focuses on customer service in the hospitality industry and a seven week program on customer service for contact centers, financial and medical offices, transportation, and communications industries. Statler’s curriculum was developed in people shaking hands across a tablepartnership with Johnson & Wales University, the world’s premier hospitality educational institution and is a New York State proprietary business school, certified by the state department of education.
Foundation grants to employment focused non-profits include Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, the National Organization on Disability, Abilities and Gulfstream Goodwill Industries.
We salute our grantees and former grantees and the work that they do. Thanks to their work and others like them, employment of people with disabilities is receiving more attention in recent years. The Federal Rehabilitation Act requires federal employers (this includes contractors who sell goods or services to the federal government) to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. American businesses, large and small, have taken a public stand and increased the number of people with disabilities in their workforces.
Progress has been made but there is still much to do. Get behind this issue. Spread the word. Donate to the cause or, better yet, hire someone with a disability. You and your business will be better for it!

Partnership & Matching Endowments

Our Foundation helps disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We do this through organizations such as schools, universities and non-profits. We chose carefully. We think of ourselves as investors and look for organizations with smart, energetic people, good ideas and alignment of interest. Once we make the decision to invest, these organizations become our partners.

The term “partner” is often used loosely. What do we mean?

The Foundation and its grantee may be in a joint venture to help people, but it is the group photo with a johnson scholarship recipientgrantee that actually does the work. We are mutually dependent. Everything else flows from this simple truism.

So what does this look like? In scholarship programs, partnership often involves building an endowment over a period of years, in addition to student scholarships. Some grant makers will not fund endowments; they prefer more immediate need. We think that endowments are a means to build grantee capacity and ensure that scholarships will continue to be granted after we have moved on. They also provide leverage for Foundation grants. Most of our endowment grants are matched 2, 3 and even 4 to 1 by other donors.

The Foundation has made matching scholarship grants at all of the State Universities in Florida. It has used matching grants to help build endowments at University of Central Florida and its Direct Connect partners, Eastern Florida, Lake Sumter, Seminole and Valencia CollegesUniversity of Florida; University of South Florida; and University of West Florida. It is presently in negotiations with two more state universities in Florida.

people talking at a receptionOutside of Florida, the Foundation has used its matching endowments to build capacity at tribal colleges and universities serving Indigenous Peoples. Two of the Foundation’s largest and most effective scholarship programs operate at tribal colleges that it has not funded for many years, namely Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota and Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation, Montana. Matching grants have helped to build scholarship endowments at other tribal colleges, the American Indian College Fund, and several universities that serve Indigenous Peoples.

One of our first matching endowments was to endow the City Music
program at Berklee College of Music. City Music is a program that engages, mentors and educates underserved youth in order to encourage them to finish school and pursue post-secondary education. We funded all aspects of this program from its beginning in Boston entrepreneurship scholarship reception group phototo its expansion to other locations. Many years ago we helped Berklee to build a multi-million dollar scholarship endowment for City Music and today the City Music Network has 40 partners in diverse locations, including Canada.

From the examples given above (and numerous others) matching endowment grants have proven an excellent vehicle for partnership between the Foundation and its grantees. It is a reliable strategy to leverage grant money and to help grantees to build capacity. At the end of a successful matching grant, the grantee is stronger and more independent. It has the endowment and, even more important, an enhanced fundraising capacity. It is better equipped to carry on with its work (and thereby advance the Foundation’s mission) and the Foundation is free to move on to other opportunities.



Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships

This week we repost Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships by Amanda Broun and Katie Jones of Independent Sector. It is part of the series Putting the Grantee at the Center of Philanthropy, a collaboration between Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Stanford Social Innovation Review that “tells the story of why and how grantee inclusion is key to effective philanthropy, from both the funder and nonprofit perspectives.” This post searches for ways to mitigate an inherent power imbalance between grantor and grantee – an issue central to effective philanthropy. We commend this to grantors and grantees alike and welcome your comments, insights and suggestions.

– Malcolm

In 2014, Independent Sector (IS)—a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporations committed to advancing the common good—began to outline a new strategic vision. We convened an advisory panel of experts, engaged consultants at Monitor Deloitte to facilitate the process, and ultimately identified nine trends that will impact the nonprofit and philanthropic sector over the next two decades. The panel then asked a series of questions, including: What are the impediments to organizations meeting their missions in light of these trends? What must we do now and in the future to prepare the social sector for what lies ahead?

This led us to organize a year-long, cross-country “conversation tour” called Threads. As an illustration of a person standing on the shoulders of another person who is holding up a red light bulbpart of Threads, IS and 80 partners held 15 different community town halls to hear directly from nonprofit and philanthropic leaders about, among other things, barriers to meeting mission. One impediment to meeting mission people consistently raised was strained relationships between grantees and funders, an issue we labeled as “power dynamic.”

Given such a robust topic, IS sought to understand the nature of grantee-funder relationships when they go well. We wondered, would anyone be willing to talk to us about their relationships? Would they be honest? What was it about successful grantee-grantmaker relationships that led to a positive power dynamic and results?

To our delight, we were able to identify 20 pairs of grantees and funders who mutually believed they had a healthy relationship. We conducted 40 qualitative phone interviews (individuals were interviewed separately) to answer these questions:

  • What are the factors that contribute to healthy relationships? Is it a shared vision? Shared metrics? Something else?
  • Do the grantees and funders engage in shared behaviors and practices? Are there underlying conditions that support those practices? If so, could others adopt them?
  • And, most importantly, if a grantee and a funder have a healthy relationship, does it make a difference in the communities they serve?

The conversations were fascinating. In our interviews with Denise Joines, senior program officer for The Wilburforce Foundation, and David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, for example, both mentioned the “bad coffee” they drink in their work together—a term they use to describe the importance of cultivating relationships and ensuring community buy-in for lasting impact, which often means going to many small, local establishments and drinking several cups of bad coffee. As we spoke about their vision of success, a shared hurdle they needed to overcome together, and where they saw their relationship in 10 years, it became more and more apparent they were aligned.

These interviews and others show there are some very healthy grantee-funder relationships out there. We’ve also seen that many of the organizations who are in these relationships engage in specific practices and behaviors that are mutually reinforcing and respectful, and draw on the strengths each partner brings to the table. Some of the themes we’re seeing are:

  • Partnerships based in learning: A mutual commitment to learning and piloting new approaches. Several interviewees spoke about how performance metrics were often considered a baseline for learning, rather than a punitive aspect of the relationship.
  • Shared vision of success: A clear and mutual articulation of what success looks like, agreed on at the onset of a project, was useful when adapting strategies and tactics. In fact, three-fourths of people we interviewed said a shared vision was critical to navigating unexpected hurdles.
  • Co-development of plan/program: A plan or project developed together often makes it more comfortable for each partner to proactively offer feedback or elevate challenges. Grantees and funders alike shared how they set the mutual expectation that things will inevitably go wrong in the work, so determining how to diagnose, identify, and act to address those challenges together was always a core element of the relationship.

This fall, IS will release eight case studies that detail more of these healthy practices, behaviors, and supporting conditions across grantee-funder pairs, and highlight several organizations that execute them well. We will also share a synopsis of learnings across all 40 organizations, and pilot a number of related tools at our upcoming conference.

We believe strengthening relationships between grantees and funders is an important part of preparing the nonprofit and philanthropic sector for the challenges it will face over the next two decades. IS’s goal in this work is to help grantees and funders engage in healthier relationships so that organizations fulfill their missions and strengthen the communities they serve.


How We Learn: 7 Ways We Keep Up with the Fields We Fund

We often liken our grant making to investing. We seek a social return (rather than a financial one) and this differentiates us from mainstream investors. However the rest of the process is similar. We must find good ideas and organizations in which to invest. We frequently ask ourselves how we can be better informed and more knowledgeable about the areas that we fund. We have a number of sources. All of them are necessary. None are sufficient.woman writing in a journal surrounded by other people

  1. Institutional expertise

We try to attract and recruit Board members who have specialized knowledge. Our mission is education and we have several career educators on our Board and some are experts in the specialized areas of our grant making for people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and the underserved. We employ consultants with expertise in the area that we fund. The Foundation also retains specialized knowledge from 25 years of experience as a grant maker in education.

  1. Continuing education

We regularly attend meetings and conferences, review literature and seek out and listen to experts in the field of philanthropy and education. We belong to or follow organizations such as The Center for Effective Philanthropy, Florida Philanthropic Network, Exponent Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Education, all of which provide us with rich and excellent content. We discuss and write about what we have learned.

  1. Listening to grantees and prospective grantees

We ask people what they need rather than tell them. A decision to make a grant to an organization implies trust and alignment of interest. Our grantees actually do the work of serving students. It follows that they are usually in a better position to understand what is needed than we are.

  1. Building and valuing relationships

We view the philanthropic enterprise as a partnership and we employ a personal and businesslike approach. We go to see our grantees and their students and spend time people at a graduation receptiontalking to them. We tend to make multi-year grants, which allows us to know them better. We negotiate written grant agreements, which spell out the Foundation’s obligations in addition to those of its grantees. All of this is intended to level the playing field between the Foundation and its grantees and to engender mutual respect and trust.

  1. Evaluation

Useful evaluation is elusive and definitive evaluation is a myth. But try we must. We ask grantees to report annually and to link their results to Foundation mission and strategy. Grants are frequently reviewed by third party evaluators. Each evaluation is unique and we use different third party evaluators depending upon the subject. For example, we use First Nations Development Institute when evaluating grants serving Indigenous Peoples. Sometimes an evaluation is performed by our grantee under the guidance of a third party. For example in 2014 An Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida designed and oversaw a process for The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind to conduct an evaluation of each of its programs funded by the Foundation. Evaluation is meant to help our grantees to improve and promote their programs and to enable us to gauge the effectiveness of our grant making and inform future grant decisions.

  1. Communication

We use a comprehensive website and social media to reach grantees and potential grantees. Our Facebook (please visit and like us if you haven’t already) highlights grantee news and achievements and the news and achievements of others in the field. We alsostudent standing and speaking to other people
produce a newsletter and a blog, in which we advocate for the Foundation’s mission and
discuss our grantees’ work and the issues of the day. Foundation grantees such as Eye to Eye and the American Indian College Fund are regulars on Facebook and have been published on our Blog. By facilitating and engaging in these conversations we increase our connection to the field and therefore our knowledge of it.

  1. We encourage and entertain unsolicited grant inquiries

We learn a lot from grant inquiries and proposals, even those that we do not accept. Regularly we are pleasantly surprised to learn of an organization that is doing great work in an area within the Foundation’s mission and strategy. For example, Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, Providence St. Mel School and the Statler Center at the Olmsted Center for Sight all do excellent work that is closely aligned with the Foundation’s mission and strategies. Each of them came to be Foundation grantees through unsolicited inquiries.

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.

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.


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.