Why Funders and Recipients Have Banded Together in This Grant-Hungry Town

The Annenberg Foundation sounded like a proud parent recently when it declared that its progeny, LA n Sync, just grabbed two huge federal dollar commitments for the city of Los Angeles. The news was greeted by the foundation’s president and chief executive herself, Wallis Annenberg, who said, “these announcements are so gratifying for us, and for the city as a whole.” It's also yet another sign that the public-private partnership concept continues to prosper in L.A.

LA n Sync is an entity that has attracted academic, civic, nonprofit, business and philanthropic sectors of Greater Los Angeles “to pursue and win major funding opportunities,” including a $70 million grant last month from the Department of Energy to develop sensor technology for machinery. The money and work activity will be shared with regional centers in Washington, Texas, New York and North Carolina, with L.A. being the headquarters for making manufacturing more energy efficient-and a job creator. LA n Sync lent support to the grantees, including UCLA, and Annenberg was right in there, too. 

As we’ve noted recently, Los Angeles politicians, civic and philanthropic leaders in the nation’s second-largest city have demonstrated a team approach to raising money to tackle urban blight, homelessness, poor-performing schools and dwindling money for the arts. Greater Los Angeles faces a funding crisis from within, as charitable giving by its residents and local funders has dwindled by $1 billion in the most recent tally by UCLA’s Luskin Center, which we reported last month. 

Even before Eric Garcetti launched his Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, LA n Sync was already underway. The Annenberg Foundation recruited nearly 200 partners to go after every possible federal dollar that the state and federal government dangles.

LA n Sync started modestly in 2013, grabbing $52 million for city-based grantees in its first year. The numbers have ebbed and flowed since then, depending on the availability of public money. But last month, the effort struck paydirt when the feds awarded a $70 million tech-machinery grant to an L.A.-based project, and a matching $70 million in anticipated from other sources. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also established a second Promise Zone in the city, which is certain to direct hundreds of millions of dollars to housing and human services, the principals say.

There’s no “i” in team, yet the top leadership at LA n Sync can claim some of the credit for the latest success. The top three all work for Annenberg, which gave $750,000 last year in support. Running the coalition are Annenberg Executive Director Cinny Kennard, her director of special initiatives and board liason Stephanie Levin, and program officer Ellah Ronen. No surprise that Annenberg Foundation released an identical announcement about the federal grant grab as did LA n Sync. Outwardly, they appear to be one in the same. 

Kennard brings considerable media savvy to the table, having come to the nonprofit work from television and print. She’s also created and launched nonprofits before this one, and her skill set includes 20 years of strategic planning, organizational development, partnership-building and fund-raising. She and her team have lined up 200 partners, and a who’s who of philanthropic partners from around the city: the Ahmanson Foundation, the Boone Family, Conrad N. Hilton, Goldhirsch Foundation, David & Lucille Packard, Ralph M. Parson, W.M. Keck and Weingart have been enlisted, just to name a few. The complete list of funders is at the web site.

The Annenberg-directed effort on behalf of the city is always on the lookout for government and charitable funding opportunities, then it goes into action. Alliances are designed to create the strongest team possible to pursue each opportunity. Talent and subject-matter expertise are dispatched, including professional grantwriters, to help create a compelling funding application. Letters of support are sent, and strategies to raise matching funds are offered to the grantees. 

Two forces are at work here: First, it takes money to attract more money, and Annenberg Foundation certainly has that as the largest and weathiest foundation soley serving the needs of the city of Los Angeles. Second, choosing the right partners creates a synergy of talent, subject-matter expertise and networks that imbue LA n Sync with an air of confidence that no grant-public or private-is out of reach. “The L.A. region is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world,” and a “frontier of ideas, innovation and interconnectedness,” its leaders tell us. 

To date, L.A.'s self-promotion has grabbed $156 million in grants and another $114 million in federal designations to boost education and revitalization in South L.A., Hollywood, Pico-Union, and Koreatown. A detailed list is available at the web site

Lastly, the staff walk state and federal officials through the maze of funding opportunities in Greater Los Angeles to prevent information overload or worse, getting fatigued and looking elsewhere. Annenberg has raised the philanthropic version of a Hollywood talent agency, and gotten big names attached to the project.