The Big Money Behind a New College Fund for Immigrant "DREAMers"

You'd think that after decades of running the Washington Post, a guy like Donald Graham would be super well connected. And that if he came up with a good idea, he'd be able to count on lots of high-powered friends stepping forward and helping turn that idea into a reality.

You'd be right on both counts.

This fall, 264 immigrant youth will be going to college with scholarships provided by a new fund that Graham helped create, TheDream.US. These kids aren't "undocumented," exactly, but rather exist in a kind of limbo thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protective Status.

These so-called "DREAMers" will receive funds up to $25,000 to cover the cost of tuition, fees and books. And that money will keep flowing as long as they maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and keep their DACA or TPS status.

Graham and his co-founders, Henry Muñoz and Carlos Gutierrez, raised an impressive $25 million before launching the fund at the start of this year. They then pulled in $7 million more during the spring, bringing the total by June to $32 million.

Not bad, but not surprising either, given the heat around this issue.

Behind the new organization is an interesting crew of funders. For starters, the Graham family has put in money, although much bigger funds have come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TheDream.US is actually being run by a former Gates person, Candy Marshall.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have also kicked in funds, moving the money through their organization, Startup:Education. Just the other day, I wrote about the growing size of the Zuckerberg/Chan philanthropic fund and how Startup:Education was starting to look more like a grantmaking operation. This latest gift is more evidence to support that point.

Pierre and Pam Omidyar have also put up money for TheDream.US, as has the PepsiCo Foundation (which backs a number of ed efforts) and the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation.

If you've never heard of Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros it's probably because you tune out news about who wins giant lottery jackpots. The couple won $266 million in 2010 playing Mega Millions and, after splurging on stuff like a house in Hawaii, they put down $20 million to create a foundation to help educate Hispanic youth, as well as other causes.

Anyway, those are the top funders behind TheDream.US so far. My guess is that others will follow. The Ford Foundation's Hilary Pennington is on the organization's board of advisors, and I'd bet that Ford puts in funding, if it hasn't already.

This is a great example of how one sure-fire formula for starting a successful new nonprofit is to combine well-connected co-founders with a red hot issue. Stir those two elements together and the money nearly always follows.