Our story began with two big questions. It was the late 1990s, a period of unprecedented wealth creation coupled with rising inequality. Three successful Washington, DC, businessmen began to wonder how big investments could produce a different kind of return: a better future for kids in Greater Washington. Instead of seeking profits, they sought answers.
With extensive backgrounds in technology, government, business innovation, and venture capital, Mario Morino, Raul Fernandez, and Mark Warner brought a wide range of expertise to their search. In those early conversations, the trio began reimagining philanthropy in the 21st century.
The result was Venture Philanthropy Partners.
We started with a simple idea—that relevant principles of private investing could transform the nonprofit sector. Our founders applied the venture capital model of high-engagement investing to empower great organizations to achieve greater results.
Help great nonprofit leaders and support nonprofit organizations measurably improve the effectiveness of their work and expand their reach.
At the time, few nonprofits emphasized monitoring or outcome evaluation. Morino, Fernandez, and Warner had seen these practices transform businesses in the private sector, and they were convinced that they would do the same for nonprofits. The goal? Help great nonprofit leaders and support nonprofit organizations measurably improve the effectiveness of their work and expand their reach.
With that vision, Venture Philanthropy Partners opened its doors in June of 2000.
Our work began with the help of 29 incredible visionaries. Along with our founders, 26 other technology and business leaders embraced the vision and generously seeded an initial investment fund of over $30 million. In addition, the Morino Institute, led by Mario, provided funding to create, incubate, and build the essential structures of VPP.
We began making investments in January 2001, and over the course of six years, we grew to 12 investments in total. Our team walked side by side with each investment, building capacity, leveraging assets, developing leaders, and monitoring outcomes. Our earliest investors realized that VPP helped its funds achieve outstanding outcomes, and in turn, they became greater advocates for lasting change within their other philanthropic investments. VPP became a strategic hub for influencers, developing relationships with foundations, businesses, and government agencies.
Our investments covered a key range of needs to serve more than 50,000 children and youth across the Region.
But we were only getting started.
We entered the next phase of growth and innovation in April of 2007 with a renewed focus on targeting systemic, interconnected problems affecting children and youth across the Region. During this period of growth, Carol Thompson Cole took the helm as VPP’s president and CEO, following Mario Morino. Carol brought a wealth of experience, having worked in the Clinton Administration as a special advisor on the District of Columbia, where she had previously served as the youngest-ever city administrator.
As the quantity and quality of our investment partners grew, we recognized a need for more robust, integrated collaboratives
As the quantity and quality of our investment partners grew, we recognized a need for more robust, integrated collaboratives. With over 580,000 low-income children and youth in Greater Washington, the problems are too great for any one nonprofit to tackle alone.
So we innovated.
We began to realize that our investment model had even greater potential. As our network across Greater Washington expanded, we saw an opportunity to forge broader partnerships among several nonprofit organizations. Since 2010, VPP has launched initiatives to resource solutions from across sectors. We’ve used our position to bring together the best ideas from the Region’s biggest change-makers.
In 2010, VPP designed a strategic partnership among six different nonprofits aimed at increasing education and employment outcomes for 20,000 low-income youth. It was a $32 million investment. The money came from a combination of the Social Innovation Fund, VPP investment capital and matching funds from philanthropic institutions, government, and business.
Through youthCONNECT, we helped create a comprehensive evaluation system for measuring outcomes.
In 2012, we conducted an exhaustive research initiative to help guide our investment strategy. Our report found that over 30 percent of kids in Washington, DC, live in poverty. This report has been used by decision-makers throughout Greater Washington.
In 2015, we brought our groundbreaking network strategy to Maryland’s Prince George’s County school system, where nearly a quarter of all students never finish high school. Our program is helping nearly 3,000 students succeed in college and careers.
VPP has raised over $100 million to help children and youth of low-income families in Greater Washington access quality education, health care and career training—setting them on the right path to learn, graduate, and become successful, healthy adults. This funding, coupled with our management expertise and support in strengthening staff leadership, has increased the capacity of local nonprofits to expand to 80 new sites and serve 50,000 young people each year.
After all these years, we’re convinced that the best is yet to come. In 2014, having built an effective model for investment and network engagement, we set our most audacious goal yet: improve life outcomes for tens of thousands more vulnerable children and young people in Greater Washington by 2025.
Through Ready for Work, we can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of youth and their families
We have ambitious plans for Greater Washington. We’re starting in Prince George’s County, Maryland with an investment we call Ready for Work: Champions for Career and College-Ready Graduates in Prince George’s County. Our plan is to expand this model across the region.
Through Ready for Work, we can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of youth and their families. This investment will provide youth the skills needed to be successful in the workplace and in college.
We’ve led the charge on a different approach to philanthropy. Our model of investment and creating collaboratives is one we hope to see spring up in cities across the country, because we know it works. And as always, we’re tirelessly innovating to see what’s around the corner.
Because that’s what building a better future requires.