Why is Teach for America a Major Fisher Fund Grantee?

As an education reform funder, The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund (See Doris and Donald Fisher Fund: Grants for Charter Schools) has always held a tight leash on their investments. A San Francisco Chronicle report described the Fishers as "philanthropists who give generously, selectively and privately — and expect results."

That’s the way the Fishers wanted it, and it’s a legacy that continues to this day. The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund made just 33 grants totaling a little more than $20 million (Read Fisher Fund managing director, Christopher Nelson's IP profile). Looking further into the Funds past grants, a few key grantees rise to the top: The KIPP Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, and Teach for America.

The latter reveals a key investment strategy of the foundation. Teach for America is a program that provides clear training and development for urban educators, and of course, their results are evident. Since the nonprofits’ pilot year in 1990, more than 33,000 educators have received training, and they’ve reached more than 3 million students, mostly in low-income districts across the country.

As an investor, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund has given big to TFA. From 2003-2011, Teach for America received more than $12 million in funding from the foundation, and in seven of those years grants totaled $1 million or more. Following Donald Fisher’s death in 2009, The Fund has continued the trend, giving $2 million in 2011 and $2.75 million in 2010.

But why TFA, and not just by the Fishers, but almost every major foundation with an interest in charter school expansion and education reform? Simply put, Teach for America has created a talent pipeline for many of the charter schools that these foundations fund.

For instance, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund has been a major contributor to the Knowledge is Power Program brand of charter schools, which was the main reason the Fishers initailly got involved. According to Philanthropy Magazine, with Fisher "recognizing that KIPP would only work if it were staffed with a stable supply of talented and committed educators, he and Doris helped fund the dramatic nationwide expansion of Teach for America."

That might be true of his thinking, but it’s also worth noting that one of the members of Teach for America’s founding team was Richard Barth, the CEO and President of KIPP.

For fundraisers, nabbing a piece of the Fisher Fund pie can be elusive, if not impossible. Clearly, they have a selected network of nonprofits they work with, and it seems new investments are guided by the nonprofit movers and shakers that they developed relationships with. (Another major annual grantee, The Charter School Growth Fund, was co-founded by Fisher in 2005.)

But there’s one point that leaves the door open for fundraisers, and that’s the emphasis on results. Charter school networks and advocacy groups that have clear goals that are consistently met might just get their foot in the Fisher door.