By Alix Wilson
Leading experts in early childhood development have identified third grade reading proficiency as a critical indicator of long-term academic success. Students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are at high risk of struggling in later grades and are much more likely to drop-out of school. In 2012, more than 43% of 3rd graders in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky were not reading at grade level.
Developing an Innovative Solution
In 2012 the Strive Partnership—a nationally recognized leader in bringing together cross-sector partners to drive educational attainment—the Northern Kentucky Education Council, and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, along with 70 additional partners from around the region, launched the Read On! Campaign to achieve a bold goal: By 2020 every child in the region will be reading on grade-level by the end of third grade.
In 2013, Community Wealth Partners joined forces with the Campaign to re-imagine how they could expand the financial resources available to support pursuit of this goal, ultimately creating the nation’s first “venture philanthropy fund” dedicated entirely to school readiness and early reading achievement.
We conducted rigorous research and analysis around four key questions:
- What are the goals and target social outcomes of the Campaign?
- What strategic approach and associated activities are necessary to accomplish these outcomes?
- What financial resources are necessary to pursue this approach?
- What is the Read On! Campaign’s compelling case for investment? How might this case appeal to both local and national funders?
Through conducting deep one-on-one interviews with over 20 national funders, analyzing a diversity of funding models, considering the trade-offs between different approaches to fund governance, producing financial forecasts, and leading constructive and engaging planning meetings with the Strive Partnership team, we honed in on a promising model for the Read On! Venture Philanthropy Fund and built a compelling case for investment that would resonate with local and national funders alike. This work was also informed by our partner, The Benefactor Group, who interviewed 22 local funders.
The Read On! Venture Philanthropy Fund Model
The Read On! Venture Philanthropy Fund’s model parallels that of venture or private equity investment funds. The Fund conducts a rigorous due diligence process around each possible investment, ensuring the underlying practices are proven, scalable, supported by a high-performing team, and have a strong chance of tapping into public funding. The Strive Partnership launched the Fund in 2013.
The Fund has created a clear path for discovering, strengthening, and growing what works for kids – each investment will accelerate progress toward ensuring every child in Greater Cincinnati finishes 3rd grade able to read proficiently. To date, the Fund has raised $3 million dollars, and the Read On! Campaign has set a five-year goal of raising $20 million and taking at least 4 investments “public”.
The Strive Partnership expects the Fund to make a significant contribution to achieving early grade-level reading success for every child in the region, particularly when coupled with other intensive regional efforts to improve school readiness and early grade-level reading, including an effort to provide universal access to two years of high quality preschool for every child in Cincinnati, volunteer tutor recruitment, and emerging work on attendance and summer learning. We look forward to continuing to share updates on the Fund’s progress.
“Community Wealth Partners helped our team crystallize our thinking as it relates to a new way of funding what works. We found their team to be creative, reliable, and extremely hardworking.” – Greg Landsman, Executive Director, The Strive Partnership