GUEST BLOGGER: Casey Johnson, Founding Executive Director, GreenLight Fund Bay Area

At GreenLight Fund, importing is at the very core of what we do — Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area on an annual basis. We import proven nonprofit models into our communities when we know that they will address a critical gap in services for low-income children, youth and families and achieve measurable results.

To achieve our mission of changing the life trajectories of children and families in GreenLight’s three communities, we must do this importing well, with significant work on the front-end – selecting organizations to join our portfolio – AND on the back-end – launching and supporting those organizations in our GreenLight communities.

Front-end: Selection

GreenLight first spends a tremendous amount of time identifying and understanding the most critical needs facing low-income children, youth and families in our communities. We lean on community leaders, philanthropic leaders, recent data and policy reports, as well as our local Selection Advisory Council, to help us identify urgent needs in the community. We hone in on the gaps where services are not being provided by the existing nonprofit and public sectors, and then search the country to find models that have a proven track record of meeting these needs in other cities. We look for program innovation and results, past experience with scaling and growth, adaptability, as well as strong leadership and operational excellence. Our diligence is a rigorous process, designed to ask the tough questions and get the right answers from potential organizations, and ensure a strong fit within the local community. This deep due diligence takes between 9-12 months. Once selected by GreenLight, the work does not end there – we then partner with the selected organization to build a strong foundation locally.

Back-end: Launch & Support

Once a nonprofit makes it into the GreenLight portfolio, our support focuses on the early-stage, start-up phase of these organizations coming into our communities. Our goal is to help organizations have demonstrated impact in the new community as quickly as possible, as well as a plan for sustainability and growth in the short and long-term. Our support includes:

  • Early stage funding. Like a venture capital fund, we are all about seeding the organizations that show the most promise. Total contributions are typically in the $600K to $800K range over four years.
  • Recruiting assistance. We help recruit and assess talent to ensure exceptional individuals take the helm of the new organization and serve on its board.
  • Planning. GreenLight Fund works with local organizations to help programs plan for growth and make necessary adaptations to meet the local community’s unique circumstances.
  • Outreach. The new organization needs community stakeholders who believe in its mission. GreenLight facilitates outreach to the key political, funding, corporate and nonprofit groups in the community.
  • Support. GreenLight Fund provides early-stage operational and management guidance, including taking a local board seat for a minimum of 6 years.

In addition, we host events to help our funded organizations meet community leaders, find board members, talk to donors, and connect with strategic advisors.


Right now, GreenLight is supporting 12 nonprofit organizations that are transforming the lives of low-income children, youth and families in Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area with engaged support from GreenLight. Our portfolio will impact 40,000 children and families this year and 100,000 by 2019, having leveraged our initial $11.5M in portfolio investments with an additional $43M in external commitments to GreenLight organizations by the end of 2014.

There is a lot of dialogue right now about “scaling what works.” We have helped import some of the best of “what’s working” into our communities: Friends of the Children, Raising A Reader, Peer Health Exchange, Youth Villages, Family Independence Initiative, Single Stop USA, Blueprint Schools, College Advising Corps, Year Up, Genesys Works and uAspire. Individually, each of these organizations are achieving tremendous outcomes in their respective areas, including: helping low-income families move out of poverty, preparing children to enter kindergarten with strong literacy skills, and connecting community college students with financial benefits and resources that will help them stay in school, finish their degree, and achieve better career outcomes.

GreenLight has chosen to scale what works only when LOCAL FIT is front-and-center as a critical factor in determining their importation AND there is early-stage support upon entry and through their first few years on the ground beyond just funding.

For GreenLight, importing has proven itself to be more than just bringing something from one place to another. Importing innovation, when done well, can produce significant, measurable impact in our communities.


Casey Johnson is the Founding Executive Director of GreenLight Fund Bay Area, which launched two years ago and has already imported GreenLight’s first two Bay Area portfolio organizations – Genesys Works and uAspire – as a part of GreenLight’s Social Innovation Fund Initiative. Casey’s background is anchored in the nonprofit sector, working with education organizations such as Raising A Reader, National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future and Room to Read in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Washington, D.C. Casey is a former grantee of GreenLight Fund, having been a part of the successful launch of Raising A Reader in Massachusetts.