Sherman Whites, Walton Family Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: K-12 education reform

CONTACT: swhites@wffmail.com, 303-442-3434

IP TAKE: A student's success often depends on circumstances inside the classroom, not just outside of it. Whites is on a Walton Family Foundation-sized crusade against such educational neglect.

PROFILE: Sherman Whites has had a lot of firsthand experience with education, and his academic record is as diverse as the students he seeks to serve as the program officer for the Walton Family Foundation's Systemic K-12 Education Reform Focus Area. Although he completed his undergraduate education in mechanical engineering at Florida A&M University, he then took a different route at the University of North Carolina, where he earned his MBA from the Kenan-Flaglar Business School. He's also been on the other side of the lectern as an adjunct professor at North Carolina Central University.

Whites has made good use of his MBA, acting as an operations team leader for the retail store giant Target. Whites' experiences in the education and business arenas has given him great insight into the opportunities, or lack thereof, that certain demographics of young people have in today's society. Likely referencing his work at Target, Whites has spoken out about his experienceswith members of his team who had so much untapped talent and potential, but because of their less-than-desirable circumstances had no choice but to ignore their dreams and settle for jobs that paid little and offered even less intellectual stimulation. As an Alumnus of The Broad Residency Class of 2009-2011, Whites attributed this loss of potential to what he calls "educational neglect."

According to Whites, so many students are denied the opportunity to excel in school and in life because they are either placed in dangerous learning environments, lack the resources they need to achieve, or live in homes where education is not a priority. But instead of simply sitting back and bemoaning the situation, Whites has devoted his career to making sure that these obstacles no longer exist for the next generation of students. Prior to working for the Walton Family Foundation, in his stint at the Broad Residency, which only accepts candidates with "a passion for improving urban public education," Whites worked with urban schools in New Orleans. Whites is also affiliated with 100 Black Men of America, an organization devoted to providing enhanced educational opportunities for African American students and is a recipient of Walton Family Foundation support.

Given his passion for helping underserved minorities and low-income families, Whites is likely to favor grants that help bridge the gap for students who fit this criteria. The Walton Family Foundation's record of grantmaking also suggests that fundraisers looking to serve these populations have a better chance of getting his nod of approval. The Walton Family Foundation consistently gives more than $1 million per year to the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and also gives substantially and annully to the United Negro College Fund, Inc. and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, among its many commitments in an effort to shape public policy. (See Walton Family Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education)

Whites has a special affinity for minority students in urban areas, especially New Orleans, where he rolled up his own sleeves and worked hard to improve the quality of life for young people. That's good news if your organization happens to be located there. Does that mean you won’t get funded unless you're in Louisiana? Not necessarily. Whites is open to grants from fifteen other urban areas including Atlanta, Detroit, Harlem, and Washington, D.C.

If your organization is located in one of these investment sites, then you'll need to first get a referral or write a letter of inquiry. The Walton Family Foundation doesn't accept unsolicited grant proposals, unless you're looking to fund a public charter school start-up, in which case it will consider a more direct approach.

When you do approach Whites, keep in mind that he's a businessman, not just an advocate. He's going to want to see the numbers, so make sure that your proposal includes a detailed budget for your initiative. The foundation wants to see a three-year plan, and Whites will want to see exactly what your expenses will be, including any personnel you plan to hire, the resources you'll need to carry out your plan (i.e. equipment, supplies, travel expenses, etc.). You should also be prepared to reveal the exact amounts of any other grants you've already secured.

Like any good businessman, Whites and the foundation want to see the return on investment, so be prepared with very specific performance outcomes your initiative seeks to bring about, as well as exactly how you plan to measure those outcomes. Explain what your program will accomplish, to what extent, who will benefit from the program, when you expect to see results, and how those results will be evident. It's a tall order, but Whites is a passionate man, not a wasteful one.