The seeds of Understood.org were sewn in 2012 when a collective of parents, nonprofits, business leaders, educators and others came together to develop a platform to help children with learning and attention issues.
One in five children struggles with learning and attention issues, totaling around 15 million children ages three to 20, often with undiagnosed challenges. There's been much discussion and—for parents—anxiety around these issues. Spearheaded by 15 founding partners, including New Profit and Common Sense Media, Understood.org launched in 2014 as a free online resource and it has already served millions. It even earned a 2015 Webby Award for Best Family/Parenting site.
The funders who started Understood.org include the Oak Foundation, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and the Poses Family Foundation (PFF), based in New York City.
Let's take a closer look at that last name on the list, which recently crossed our radar.
Established in the early aughts by Nancy and Fred Poses, the Poses Family Foundation has a paid staff and makes grants in five defined focus areas. It supports Understood.org through its learning and attention focus area. Another one of PFF's efforts through this focus area is its Workplace Initiative, which aims to connect companies to people with disabilities and find them sustainable employment. The initiative works with over 250 partners across the country.
Despite these efforts and more, however, PFF has a surprisingly limited public profile.
All of this is by design, explained Ashley Sandvi, vice president of strategy and operations, in an interview with IP. PFF does not accept unsolicited letters of inquiry or requests for funding, opting instead to make grants by invitation only.
In talking with Sandvi, though, I got a better sense of what this low-profile funder is all about. First, the mission of PFF is to create "long-term scalable impact" providing strategic analysis, pro bono advising, incubation of large-scale initiatives and multi-year funding. Its learning and attention focus area is driven by the alarming scope of this problem, as well as the personal experiences of the Poses family.
PFF also funds education broadly with an eye toward empowering underserved communities through organizations like Partnership for After School Education in New York. Another focus area is ethics, and like its backing of online resource Understood.org, PFF backs Quandary, a "free, award-winning game that engages students in ethical decision making and develops skills that will help them recognize ethical issues and deal with challenging situations in their own lives." PFF has also supported the Family Dinner Project, which encourages families to gather at the dinner table for conversation.
The Poses Family Foundation's last two focus areas are the arts and Jewish causes, and grantees include places like the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and Central Synagogue. Sandvi told me that PFF is often on the lookout for points of connectivity in the organizations that it supports. For instance, PFF grantee Eye to Eye is a mentoring organization wherein older students mentor younger students, each with learning disabilities.
PFF funds nationally, but has a particular eye on New York City and the Bay Area. Sandvi explained to me that down the line, PFF will work with the National Center for Learning Disabilities to expand the Understood.org platform to work with educators in addition to parents. PFF's Workplace Initiative, meanwhile, is part of a coalition that’s led by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities called NYC at Work, which seeks to connect over 700 people with disabilities to meaningful living-wage jobs.