Going Beyond the Grant To Support Nonprofits - Exponent Philanthropy
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Going Beyond the Grant To Support Nonprofits

Photo from All Stars Helping Kids’ Facebook Page

A little over 30 years ago, Pro Football Hall of Famer and venture capitalist investor Ronnie Lott and his wife Karen founded All Stars Helping Kids. Ronnie modeled his philanthropic efforts on the lessons he learned playing football and investing in technology starts-up.

Much like how venture capitalists invest in startups, All Stars invests in emerging nonprofits with innovative solutions. All Stars increases the effectiveness of those organizations to disrupt the cycle of poverty for Bay Area California youth, so that they thrive, regardless of where they live. That being said, this approach to grantmaking is about more than just the financial investment.

The philanthropic approach that undergirds All Stars came from Ronnie’s experience playing football. That is, a coach, scout, or team would recognize a rookie, a player with potential, and give then support—coaching, mentorship with a veteran player, and training—to transform that rookie to an All-Star.

Going Beyond the Grant

When Ronnie and Karen started this organization, they approached philanthropy by getting in the trenches with the nonprofits, building relationships with the leaders they were funding, and recognizing what they brought to the table. They were comfortable taking risks on early stage, startup organizations with innovative programmatic approaches. Undoubtedly, they quickly recognized that not all their bets would pay off. As a result, they focused on organizational leaders with real potential to address the needs of youth in poverty. This core approach sets All Stars apart from other funders.

Ronnie’s post grid-iron experience as a venture capital investor in Silicon Valley also influenced his philanthropy. So he turned to what he knew: how early stage enterprises grow and succeed.

If you’re an investor, do you just give one-year of funding and walk away? No. You recognize investments take time. You provide multiyear funding, you offer training and capacity building, you open doors to networks, funders and other investors. This approach is baked into All Stars’ philanthropic model.

The All Stars Playbook

All Stars believes that driving change on complex societal problems takes more than simply giving grants to nonprofits. Thus, our approach centers on four key concepts:



This approach helps strengthen the capacity of grantee partners to drive their financial health, scale and impact. Each year, we fund a cohort of five Bay Area nonprofits whose missions focus on giving youth, particularly those living in poverty, access to education, career readiness, and health and wellness programs. This networked support helps build an ecosystem of community-based organizations. It pushes social justice work forward and helps youth break out of a cycle of grinding poverty.

Each cohort partner receives three years of unrestricted, general operating support coupled with one-on one-coaching and targeted technical assistance. We also offer quarterly capacity building activities. These include trainings, workshops, and other learning opportunities through a peer network of former grantees and strategic partners. All Stars opens its extensive networks to grantees, making introductions and connecting them to people, businesses and other funding opportunities.

The Impact of Going Beyond the Grant

This customized funding approach, inaugurated in 2012, has helped scores of nonprofits serve over 132,000 youth across five Bay Area counties. Not only did All Stars grantees see their revenue increase by 230% because of participation in the program, they increased the number of youth served by more than 400%. This approach created more than 300 new jobs to support grantee work, as well as built local and national partnerships including the Gratitude Network, New Schools Ventures Fund, the Mason, San Francisco USD, Oakland USD and Outward Bound.

Funded organizations showed more sustainability, more resiliency and increased effectiveness. They’ve been able to adapt and innovate as the economic, cultural, and environmental landscape shifts and changes. This methodology also aligns with the trust-based philanthropy movement. All Stars approaches its work with deep listening and high touch engagement, coupled with curiosity, humility and honest two-way communication. Staff follow the lead of partner organizations by responding to their needs. The results are authentic partnerships grounded in a mutual relationship of trust and co-creation.

As Ronnie Lott said:

“Everyone has rookie moments in your early years, nine out of ten times there’s a mentor to help. The essence of our VC inspired approach to supporting nonprofits is more than giving money—it is support, encouragement, heart, courage, and inspiration and suddenly you find your way to being a great organization. We need more innovation, to inspire people to be stewards to help others. That rookie that says ‘I can help my community, all I need is a little help’, that is all we are doing.”

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About the Author

David Greco is a nationally recognized speaker, author and consultant on developing a culture of sustainability that incorporates full cost, sustainable business models and impact. David serves as Executive Director of All Stars Helping Kids providing early stage investments in emerging nonprofits working to help break the cycle of poverty for youth in the Bay Area.

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