Venture Philanthropy Partners: Investing in Social Change.


September 2015

Mon, 2015-09-14

“VPP is motivated to invest in good leaders.  If there were moments of difficulty, those moments passed because we trusted and believed in one another.”

– Donald Hense

Founder and Chairman of Friendship Public Charter School



From Carol’s Desk: Starting the School Year with Hope and Promise

For me, the first day of school was the most exciting day of my youth. I can still see the green sweater and plaid skirt I wore as my parents, both sets of grandparents and godparents snapped pictures of me. All of my loved ones gathering for this day signified the importance of education and that I had a community of family members who were going to support me. They were cheering me on to succeed before I even knew what success meant!

I loved growing up in Washington, DC. I believed this community would help me achieve my goals and dreams, and I did. Today, it pains me to see so many young students who don’t have the support to dream big and achieve their goals. The desire to support our kids motivates me to help our children aim higher and succeed.

At the start of a child’s school year, their hopes and dreams are so promising. Carrying backpacks and stories from the summer, students (and their parents) start the first day of school a lot like the first day of the year; There are resolutions and great expectations.

Imagine then, the start of the school year for our youngest students: preschoolers and pre-kindergartners at AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School. Because they are so young, their hope and promise is exponential on the first day of school.

Read more about VPP's commitment to ensuring all children receive a quality education from VPP President and CEO Carol Thompson Cole.

Urban Alliance Digs Deep into DataCamp

Urban Alliance hosted, with their Social Innovation Fund (SIF) evaluation partner Urban Institute, an all-day DataCamp for 50 nonprofit and research professionals. The event allowed participants to brainstorm solutions to their collective data challenges. The insights helped the Urban Alliance generate a report, The Missing Pieces in Youth-Employment Data Collection and Assessment, co-authored by Urban Alliance’s Daniel Tsin.

Moreover, based on the work from DataCamp, Urban Alliance has developed a new soft-skills assessment form to help them understand their student’s readiness for the workplace. They piloted this form over the summer and hope to fully implement it this fall.

Watch this video of Dan Tsin explaining how VPP helped inspire the idea for their DataCamp.


youthCONNECT at Suitland High School Has Launched

During the spring 2015 semester, VPP and the network partners implemented a pilot program that served 300 students. With lessons learned from the pilot program, youthCONNECT at Suitland High School kicked off on August 26th, the first day of school, and we are looking forward to an exciting year filled with collaboration and innovation. A continuation of the youthCONNECT model, youthCONNECT at Suitland High School is a transformative cross-sector partnership among nonprofits, public sector organizations and businesses in Prince George’s County, Maryland that prepare students for adulthood. A majority of the youthCONNECT at Suitland services are integrated into courses at the request of school leadership. This level of integration strengthens youthCONNECT’s ability to have a positive direct impact on students served, and indirectly contributes to a positive college and career readiness school culture. Collectively, the five nonprofits will help over seven hundred young people at Suitland High School successfully transition to colleges and careers. With the support of key leaders, youthCONNECT at Suitland has the opportunity to help change the trajectory of life outcomes for Suitland High School students.

Where Are They Now? A Conversation with Donald Hense, Founder and Chairman of Friendship Public Charter School.

Tell us about Friendship Public Charter School (FPCS)?

Since its inception in 1997, Friendship Public Charter School has enabled thousands of students in underserved communities to become achievers. Today, Friendship is authorized to operate nine DC Charter campuses on six sites serving students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. The mission of FPCS is to provide a world-class education that motivates students to achieve high academic standards, enjoy learning and develop as ethical, literate, well-rounded and self-sufficient citizens who contribute actively to their communities.

Describe FPCS’ Investment Partnership with VPP?

Our partnership began in May 2006.

The investment of $2.5 million supported specific strategic initiatives related to Friendship’s plans for growth and for improving the quality of its existing schools. VPP previously invested $400,000 in May of 2005 for Friendship's business planning process which developed the roadmap for improvement and expansion. The investment allowed us to:

  • Identify leadership talent and organizational design for long term sustainability with a focus on improving educational quality, financial management and resource development;
  • Develop a strategy and tactics for growth and expansion for K-12 International Baccalaureate and Tech Prep in grades 6-12 and advise on new schools educational program design and implementation; and
  • Build on and enhance current outcomes framework, financial planning, decision-making and accountability systems.

How did the investment relationship feel during the process? Were there moments of “tough love” or “growing pains”? Was it worth it?

Sure there were. There were times when it was hard to meet the demands, hear the analysis and take the advice. VPP could be difficult, but I was pretty willful myself. But at the root were good intentions. VPP is motivated to invest in good leaders. I knew VPP believed in me. If there were moments of difficulty, those moments passed because we trusted and believed in one another.

Looking back ten years after the initial investment, where do you think FPCS would be today if it had never engaged in this dynamic investor relationship with VPP?

FPCS started out at Friendship Community House, a service organization. The investment allowed us to become a school. VPP brought in McKinsey who helped us develop the strategic plan that FPCS stands on today. The plan helped us create our central office structure, expand to multiple locations and adopt a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Do you ever hear back from students who tell you how FPCS impacted their lives? What do they say?

Yes, all the time. Just a few weeks ago a former student, who is now a History and Chinese major at the University of Vermont, took the time to praise FPCS for helping him prepare for college through an academically rigorous Advanced Placement syllabus and for funding and encouraging him to take college credit courses at the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia.

We also hear back from parents who are thrilled with the impact we are having on their children. Just at the start of the school year, a parent wrote to say that she believes in our vision and knows that we are putting college within reach of her child’s grasp. One of my favorite quotes from the letter is:

“Since joining (FPCS), my son has really transformed academically and socially. The educators you handpicked to carry out your mission are nothing short of astounding! …I would like to take the time to say thank you for influencing my child in a positive direction and forcing him to reach the outer limits.”

It was an inspiring letter and reminds us all that the hard work we do is worth it. We strive to impact the trajectory of a person’s life. Both stories tell us that we are living up to our promise and mission. And that feels great.

VPP Welcomes New Members to the Team


Links We Love

Raise DC's Progress Report marks a first look at citywide improvement on the core and contributing data points tied to Raise DC's five high-level goals. Tracking these cradle-to-career indicators year after year allows Raise DC to guide its work, identify gaps, measure improvements, and unite the community around a set of common goals. 

The Save the Children Action Network has released a poll conducted in five presidential swing states, showing extremely strong support for expanding access to quality early childhood education.

Funders often wear many hats in collective impact efforts, from convening partners to funding the infrastructure needed to guide cross-sector partnerships. One role that funders might also find themselves playing – either intentionally or sometimes by default – is that of backbone support for a collective impact effort. This article explains for funders can overcome pitfalls for playing the backbone role.

Kids Count Data Center from the Annie E. Casey Foundation contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The data reveals that 35,000 DC children live in poor neighborhoods and that there has been no reduction in child poverty since the Great Recession. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices. 




Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) makes the future brighter for youth living in the National Capital Region by tackling the largest barriers to their success and forging partnerships that bring the expertise, passion and reach necessary to achieve life-changing results. Over the past 15 years, VPP has raised $100 million to help children and youth of low-income families in the National Capital Region 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 help them expand to 80 new sites and serve 50,000 young people each year.


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