Running a foundation like a venture capital firm isn’t a new concept, but one funder recently caught our attention because it specifically works in three of our focus cities: Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. The GreenLight Fund was founded by venture capitalist John Simon and Margaret Hall and began with $12 million in seed money. The fund approaches philanthropy like a venture capital firm would; however, it’s similar to traditional foundations in many ways too.
John Simon is a managing director at Sigma Prime Ventures, and he was previously a co-founder and managing director of General Catalyst Partners. His focus at both jobs was on technology and software businesses. Margaret Hall has been working for a couple of decades in senior management and board roles in the nonprofit arena. Past gigs include the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.
Overall, GreenLight’s grantmaking focus is on children and families in high-poverty urban areas. These are the types of support GreenLight commonly provides:
- Early-stage funding. Total contributions are typically in the $600,000 range over four years.
- Assistance recruiting exceptional staff and board talent to lead the local organization.
- Start-up planning to ensure that the program is adapted to meet the local community's unique circumstances.
- Community outreach to key political, funding, corporate and nonprofit organizations in the city.
- Early-stage operational and management support.
GreenLight in Boston
GreenLight was originally founded in Boston, so it remains a primary focus for the fund. Local groups can learn more about the Boston portfolio and selection advisory council on the Boston location page. Galas and golf tournaments are regularly hosted in Boston.
Margaret Hall is the executive director for Boston and can be reached at 617-912-8981.
GreenLight in Philadelphia
Greenlight’s portfolio in Philadelphia has traditionally been smaller than Boston’s, but it has been seeing quite a bit of support lately. The fund even has a Philly-specific blog that’s worth checking out. Single Stop USA, Year Up, and the Center for Employment Opportunities received GreenLight support recently here.
Matt Joyce is the executive director in Boston, and he can be reached at 267-973-0043. “Most of our money is spent in partnership with a public entity or other funders,” Joyce told the the Philadelphia Inquirer. GreenLight typically seeds $600,000 annually for a few years, “as early-stage funding giving them runway to build relationships in Philly.”
"Philly is challenging," said GreenLight board member Jeff Berstein. "Other nonprofits are in the same space and may look at the new entrant as a threat. There's a limited funding base."
GreenLight in the Bay Area
GreenLight’s portfolio in the San Francisco Bay Area includes Springboard Collaborative, Genesys Works, and uAspire. Funding here focuses on Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, as well as the nine surrounding counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.
Casey Johnson is the Bay Area’s executive director and reachable at 617-851-1451.
Next Up, Cincinnati
Apparently, the venture capital approach is working well for Simon, Hall and their team because GreenLight is now expanding. The next city in focus is Cincinnati, Ohio, and the fund recently put out a job posting for an executive director in Cincinnati.
But regardless of the location, this is a great funder for new, innovative nonprofits to get familiar with. You’ll probably recognize many familiar names on the GreenLight list of supporters, such as the Boston Foundation and the William Penn Foundation, in these cities and nationally. The GreenLight Fund doesn’t accept unsolicited grant requests, so instead, local advisory council members select potential grantees and vet them.
Sign up for the GreenLight mailing list to keep up with news and trends. Who knows what city will be “greenlighted” next?