Going Beyond the Grant

Virtual Town Hall

In working with youth in low-income and underrepresented communities, it takes more than money to achieve real impact.

Join All Stars Helping Kids for an engaging conversation of what it really takes to disrupt the cycle of poverty.

Going Beyond the Grant aims to inspire philanthropists, nonprofits, and thought leaders in racial, social, and economic equity that it is not just what you fund, but also how you fund that matters.

Special Guest speaker Issac Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer, Zenefits and board member of All Stars.

Key Takeaways:

·   All Stars model creates a safe environment for grantees to reach their full potential.
·   Nonprofits want to be able to have authentic conversations with their funders -not just what they want to hear -in order to expand and improve on their mission.
·   Restricted funding also restricts creativity for solving problems within the organization.

Check out our All Stars Accelerator Program Portfolio here. To support our work, donate here.

Patrick Lin, All Stars Donor and Supporter: All Stars Helping Kids makes venture capital investments, like planting a seed. What they’re trying to do is to help nurture and make it successful for growth, but more importantly, to bear fruit in more than one way. I love investing in a group like this because I feel like they have a great model. They have great people, and they’re doing all the right things; things that I would do full-time if I could.  The reason I’m involved is that I see myself as one of those kids the grantees are helping.  


Introduction by Isaac Vaughn, All Stars Board Member: 

My name is Isaac Vaughn. I am the board chair of All Stars Helping Kids. And I’d like to welcome you and thank you for joining us today. This is a very important town hall. The theme of this town hall is “Going Beyond the Grant.” Today, we are going to hear from some amazing leaders of emerging nonprofits, who are focused on unlocking the opportunity for so many deserving youths in some of our toughest and most underserved communities throughout the Bay Area. You see, at All Stars, we focus not only on funding, but how we fund, because we know money is not enough to address the ills and the challenges that face our youth. It requires a collective commitment from us, as well as the leaders of these nonprofit organizations, to achieve true social and economic equity. We’re going to hear from some of these amazing leaders on how they are growing, scaling, and sustaining their organizations in order to achieve real impact. To talk more about today’s program and the work that we’re doing here at All Stars, let me introduce David Greco, the Executive Director of All Stars Helping Kids. Once again – welcome.  


David Greco, All Stars Helping Kids Executive Director:  Thank you, Isaac and welcome. Thank you for joining us at the All Stars virtual town hall today. Today we are going to talk about “Going Beyond the Grant.” In particular, we’re going to look at some organizations that are on the frontlines of advancing racial equity and social justice and see what it really takes for them to be able to make an impact in our local communities. For many of us, money is vitally important to the survival of these nonprofit organizations and I’ll be the first to say, “No money, no mission.” But it often takes more than just cash in order to achieve real impact. That’s why at All Stars, our accelerator program brings together: general operating support grants; quarterly capacity-building training; individualized one-on-one coaching; and connection to peer networks and donors, in order to help accelerate the impact of our organizations across the region. Joining us today is Beverly Roberts Charles from WriterCoach Connection, and Dr. Tyfahra Milele from Camp Phoenix. We’re going to hear from them a little bit later on as they discuss their work with youth across the Bay Area. But before we do that, let’s focus on why we’re all here, and ultimately, the youth that we want to serve. We have an inspirational video of a youth that went through the WriterCoach Connection program, James Nguyen. So why don’t we take a look and hear James’ story. 


At one of America’s most prestigious universities, a Bay Area native reflects on the role one special organization has played in his life.  


James: WriterCoach Connection gave me a voice that I never thought I had. 


Richmond high school alum. James Nguyen is attending UC Berkeley on a full ride scholarship.  


James: Believe it or not, there’s a lot of things behind the scenes that you don’t see on paper. A lot of struggles, a lot of trauma, a lot of things that a lot of Richmond high students normalize, because these are things that they just grew up with. 


Nguyen credits, All Stars Helping Kids grantee, WriterCoach Connection, for helping him dive deep into his personal journey as a first-generation low-income student with dreams of achieving more.  


James: Oh, I grew up without a dad at a very young age. Sometimes, you know, there wouldn’t be food on the table. Sometimes I’d have to share a bed with three or four. 


As part of his college application, Nguyen wrote about being selected as captain of the varsity football team, before a devastating accident cut his prep career short. 


James: I felt like I was on top of the world for a moment. And I felt like it was all taken away in that car accident. There was a lot of tough pills to swallow going through that. I was in the hospital for a week, had my arm operated on twice. 


Doubt and depression crept in, but Nguyen would fight back, turning his pain into purpose. 


James: When you reflect and when you think back on like all your family’s hard work and struggles, it’s concerning to have this idea of ‘What if I fail? What if I put all their effort to waste?’ 


His experience with the team at WriterCoach Connection, laying out the game plan for success.  


James: If I don’t speak on my experiences, like who will? You know what I mean? No one else is going to do that for me because they didn’t go through the experiences I went through. You know, only I can talk about my experiences and WriterCoach Connection allowed me to do so! You know what I mean? With confidence! 


David: Wow. What a, what a just an inspirational story! And I think that really shows what can happen when you make these investments in youth. You allow them to achieve their full potential. So, let’s talk a little bit more about what it really takes to have success stories like James. Joining us on our panel today is Beverly Roberts Charles, the executive director of WriterCoach Connection, that provides coaching and incredible writing and thinking skills for students in middle schools and high schools; to prepare them for college and life after high school. Also joining us today is Dr. Tyfahra Milele, executive director of Camp Phoenix, that introduces youth to nature, and helps build leadership skills and a sense of community, for many underserved youths. Thank you both for joining us here today.  


David: Now Beverly, when I see that story about James, I’m like, wow, that’s just an incredible, incredible story, but you know, there was a lot of work. I’m sure there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into producing these types of wins for the organization. And so, could you just kind of take us behind the scenes a little bit? And let us know, like what does it really take to have a success story like we saw, and we heard with James? 


Beverly Roberts Charles, WriterCoach Connection Executive Director: So, James…James is a true success story; but he’s not the only one that we’ve seen over the years. We’ve coached over thirty-six thousand students and I’m sure there are more, James’ out there. He’s just at Cal so we were able to grab him for this. It takes coaches being trained. It takes community volunteers who are willing to coach, who are willing to take their time, and spend it with a student. We train our coaches, we recruit them from the communities that our students live in. Coaches go through continuing education, as well as our training and then they meet every single student where they are. So, you heard James say in the beginning, he was not really enthused about his coach, and what our coaches learn is, to be there for our students whenever they need to be there. To meet them wherever they are academically, emotionally and just be that support. So, along the way the connection comes, and the connection may not come in a day. It may not even come in a couple of days, a couple of sessions. But over the course of the eight sessions that James had, our coach was able to bring out his story. We don’t give our students the stories, we take their stories, and we just help them craft them in a way that is impactful, and meaningful, and lets them know the power of their own voice.  


David: It is, it is just such an amazing program that you have. Thank you for the tremendous work with youth like James, that you do. Dr. Tyfahra, now for you, Camp Phoenix, you have your three-week program that introduces youth who oftentimes don’t have access to the outdoors and nature. Who may not think of themselves as leaders in their community and really helps bring them, introduce them to, in some ways, to a whole new world. It introduces them to their own leadership potential. While your program is three weeks in the summer, I’m sure it takes a lot of work all year long in order to prepare for that intense of a program. Could you share a little bit about the work that it really takes to make an impact with the youth that you’re serving?  


Dr. Tyfahra Milele, Camp Phoenix Executive Director: Yeah! Absolutely! So, like you said, it’s a three-week program in the summertime, but I was brought on to expand that, because our waitlist far exceeds our available beds at this point. What I do year-round, is find a way to make sure that the cost for camp stays nominal. So, it’s three weeks and kids pay about $20 a week to attend the camp. I have to go to the community and raise the money and make sure people understand why it is important that every kid deserves to go to summer camp. And at camp, we assure that there is a loving environment, a safe environment, an adventurous environment, that they can sort of just be themselves and grow into their leadership. And then within that context, we have academic instruction and actually about 95 percent to 98 percent of our youth, increase their academic reading skills and math skills in that three-week period by two months. So, we are pretty successful academically as well, and nearly all of them, demonstrate, you know, being better prepared for the following school year.  


David: Wow! I think both of you hit upon the importance of having the volunteers, training staff, really all of the work that goes on behind the scenes. And of course, the big one, often in terms of fundraising, working with our boards, there is so much work that happens behind the scenes to really make a difference in the lives of the youth you are all serving. One of the things that we talk about a lot at All Stars and this idea of Going Beyond the Grant, is really how can we help provide our grantees with the work and support that they need that really is going to help them accelerate their work. We were just talking with Dr. Tyfahra, I’ll talk with you again and say, when you think about your donors and your funders, do you have examples you could share with us of someone who’s really kind of stepped up and kind of gone beyond just providing cash grants to the organization, but has provided other types of support that’s really made an impact in your ability to serve youth?  


Dr. Tyfahra: Yeah! Absolutely! Actually, none more than All Stars. I did get the opportunity to work with you one-on-one on finance. I come from an academic background, literature and things like that and when I had to sort of look at my budget to see, are we ready to expand? I didn’t know what I was looking at! So, working with you to sort of teach me how to read a nine ninety for the first time was immeasurably helpful. And then to be able to say, ‘Yes! You can afford it! Now is the time to expand your program.’ That helped me pull the trigger on our growth plan. I had been very conservative because I was brand new to being an executive director and I just really wasn’t sure, so that was very helpful. I would say other funders who have been helpful are funders who, during COVID said, you can take this grant – no more restrictions. They allowed us to sort of take that and use it for whatever we needed because we couldn’t meet in person. So, funders like Youth Outside and the San Francisco Foundation just really had our back and actually some gave us even more funding to make sure that we could stay afloat and support our staff, which was really amazing. 


David: I love what you said that these funders stepped up and had your back because that’s oftentimes not how some nonprofits feel with their funders. I think it’s fantastic! I think when funders do do that, they step up and recognize what is it that you really are concerned here with the mission work and we’ll do whatever it takes on our end. Beverly, can you share examples of organizations or funders or donors who have done the same? Who have kind of stepped up and maybe kind of gone beyond the role as just a traditional grant maker and provided you help that’s really impacted your ability to work with your youth? 


Beverly: I can echo Dr. Tyfahra’s comments. Literally, no funder has been more helpful to us than All Stars At a very, very basic level we had been wanting to expand for years. What we didn’t know is that there were some foundational issues that we need to address before we began our expansion. With All Stars you helped us figure out the foundational issues. You helped us work on the issues. You introduced us to board members. You helped us build our ‘theory of change.’ There is so much that you’ve done beyond the grant! Just the entire concept of being in a cohort, giving us peers to talk to, the people ahead of us. My best example is, and I’ve said this before, when we looked at the idea of ‘theory of change,’ I just said, ‘Oh, this is never going to happen for WriterCoach Connection, because we’re too complicated and nobody’s ever going to understand how we recruit, and how we train, and how we see the need.’  


You helped us literally go from this very, very complicated idea of our ‘theory of change,’ to “Right! We want to create young people who are able to think critically and write clearly.’ And we were able to show that in just a really simple diagram. And prior to that, we couldn’t tell our story well enough because we hadn’t quite conceptualized it. That’s only one of the things! I mean, I could go on for the next three minutes! You’ve introduced us, you’ve given us a better story to tell. You made us understand that our stories, not just about being good people in a few schools, but being really strong community members in four school districts. And now we’re beginning our expansion process. We’re working to begin to be able to reach more than the 35,600 students that we’ve reached so far.  


David: Oh, well, thank you! That is very kind. I’d like to give a shout out to Julie Brown, our program director that has really been instrumental in creating a lot of our content and our programs supporting our grantees. And so, it really takes a team here at All Stars as well to deliver this work.  


Beverly: I want to add Manju to that too, you know, why David? Because Manju literally worked with us to figure out how we could get more funding, better funding, how we could step all of our volunteers up a couple of steps, in terms of being donors. And it really works! We would have never had thought about doing some of the things that have been suggested,  


David: And that’s Manju Ramachandran, she’s our development director extraordinaire. I think for us personally, we always have taken this approach that whatever it takes, to get and support our grantees and really help them get to where they need to be, because we’re passionate about the work and passionate about impacting lives of youth across the Bay Area. We recognize we’re not your only funder and one of the goals of this session is to help other donors and other funders and other foundations that are thinking about and investing in organizations doing work addressing racial equity, social justice and economic mobility. Would you have recommendations? Is there one or two recommendations, if somebody is really thinking, ‘Okay, what can we do beyond just providing grants?’ What would be the one or two things that you would really recommend for those funders or donors to think about, to provide the needs for community-based organizations such as yourself. Beverly since we’re just chatting, why don’t we take it to you? And then I’ll ask Dr. Tyfahra to follow up.  


Beverly: I think what I would recommend, the things that have helped us most, is being able to have people that we can call. Not about the money, but when we were talking about full-cost funding, we didn’t understand, we called you directly David, and you gave us some answers. When we didn’t understand some programming issues, we called Julie directly and she gave us some more information. It takes a village. And when we need people in that village, we can call you and you know people. We needed help on our ‘theory of change,’ you sent one of your board members to one of our board meetings to sit and spend two hours talking to us about what that looks like. For me and for our organization, it has been about networking and about the ties that you have and the connections that you have and your willingness to share them with us.  


David: Oh, thank you! Thank you! I think for us, I do know that I hear that from a lot of nonprofits that they just kind of feel like they’re in the dark and that there was no one that they can reach out to and talk to at some of the institutional funders. That’s great advice! Great advice! Dr. Tyfahra, how about for you? If you were going to give recommendations to a donor about what they can do to really support groups beyond just the cash grants, are there some recommendations that you would make?  


Dr. Tyfahra: I would say, I too really appreciate having people I can call and then it never feels like an imposition. So that was really great because there’s so much work and having somebody to sit down with you would feel like that’s a lot to ask! I would say having those relationships really helps because, you know, we make mistakes. Not everything is perfect. So, feeling you can be transparent and just say, ‘This is what’s going on. I need help.’ Then basically work through a crisis rather than needing to feel like things have to be proven to be perfect at that moment. But as I warned you, I also want to challenge the beyond the grant concept as well because you know, I’ve been thinking about the corporate world a little bit, the for-profit world. When somebody has a really great idea, investors invest heavily, and they let people with a large pot of money just have a great idea and see it through. Whereas with the nonprofit sector, it’s like, every penny has to be accounted for and you have to show results before you can get a bigger investment. If somebody just wants to try something out that sounds amazing, nobody’s there to say, ‘Okay, here’s a hundred K to do that idea! That idea sounds amazing! We’ll do a pitch, and I will help you do that!’ So, something like that, where people are trusted to go with a really great idea, who have a proven background to execute on ideas. In my opinion, I think the nonprofit sector needs to really consider, giving actually more support for people so if they can see an idea through to its end rather than get on that sort of hamster wheel. Secure the funding, get the proof, try it again, that sort of repetitive cycle where the creativity sometimes you don’t really get to that point where you can really sort of launch what brings you true joy about your work, because you are so busy trying to chase after and report on funds.  


David: Yeah, absolutely! Oftentimes you’ll hear me talking about sometimes it’s not just about what you fund, but how you fund as well. We know that short-term, programmatic-restricted grants, that don’t cover overhead and indirect costs, are not really going to help us get to where we need to get to. That ability to provide flexible funding, long-term funding, and really pairing that with capacity-building support and individualized technical assistance, really is what we’ve seen as really accelerating our work. I think that one of the things, it’s part of that you really touched on, I think that the idea of so many nonprofit leaders feel they have to be perfect. They can’t air their dirty laundry. They have to tell the funders what they think they want to hear instead of being able to have those authentic transparent conversations. I think that’s one of the things that for All Stars, we really try to create a space where people do feel comfortable coming to us and telling us ‘Hey, we had this idea, it didn’t quite work and we’re going to shift gears. We’re going to try something else.’ We say, ‘Absolutely!’ Because in addition to helping disrupt the cycle of poverty, one of our core tenants and mission at All Stars is also to spur innovation. And we know innovation is a messy process. It’s not a super linear logic, A then B then C. So, you have to be able to kind of sit with the organizations, and allow them, who are the experts in the field, who know the communities, who know the youth that they serve. They are the experts, and we invest in you, we invest in your logic model, we invest in your outcomes. We’re not trying to have you jump through our hoops. We kind of adjusted our kind of logic model or ‘theory of change’ or anything like that. I think that’s a great recommendation and something I do wish a lot of other funders would be able to have that trust and be able to have those authentic conversations.  


David: Well, I can’t believe how quickly our time has gone here today! I do just want to thank both of you again for taking time out of your schedule and joining us here today on this town hall. Now we started the day with looking at James Nguyen, one of the students who is now at Berkeley, graduated from the WriterCoach Connection program. Let’s take a little bit of a deeper look and see the WriterCoach Connection, their organization and the journey and story that they’ve been on over these past few years. So why don’t we go ahead and take a look now. 


In schools throughout the East Bay, All Stars Helping Kids, grantee WriterCoach Connection is changing lives. One student at a time.  


Beverly: We believe that all students, especially underserved students, deserve to have their voices heard. They deserve to be confident writers. They deserve to be clear, critical thinkers. And we know that that makes them better community members.  


Over the past 20 years, this organization has reached more than 33,000 kids, helping students think critically and express their ideas confidently, in writing. Executive Director, Beverly Roberts Charles says 98 percent of their students have gone to college or some other form of higher education, a remarkable achievement for a small yet mighty staff.  


Beverly: It’s all about having kids be their best selves, their most powerful selves. Students have stories to tell, life experiences to share, and they don’t always get to share them because they’re not confident in their voice  


WriterCoach Connection was accepted into the All Stars Helping Kids accelerator program three years ago and says the model and commitment has been invaluable.  


Beverly: We’ve learned to believe in the beauty of what we’re doing and the impact it has because All Stars believed in what we were doing and the impact that we have.  


Going beyond the grant and providing essential support and technical assistance  


Beverly: For us, it was about the foundational issues. It was about a major funder believing in us, believing that we could do it, believing in us enough to help us put those foundational issues into place . 


Proof that a little faith can absolutely go a long way.  


It’s about the belief. It’s about the guidance. It’s about the mentoring. It’s about the superior staff and all the knowledge that comes with the All Stars Helping Kids team.  


WriterCoach Connection is currently serving 2,000 students a year online, and in-person with plans to expand to more school districts throughout the Bay Area. A focus made possible with the help of All Stars.  


Beverly: It has been the best three years of our organizational life. We have learned so much. We as an organization, we as individuals within an organization have grown so much.  


David: Wow! What an incredible video and just such an incredible organization. Thank you to Beverly and the team at writer, coach connection to James, and to Dr. Tyfahra for sharing your stories and being with us here today. Thank you for all of our donors and supporters who have made this work possible. At All Stars we look forward to continuing this conversation about how we can go beyond the grant, help advance racial equity and social justice. So, stay tuned to learn more about All Stars Helping Kids and our accelerator program. Please visit our website at allstarshelpingkids.org. Thank you and have a great day.  

About All Stars Helping Kids

All Stars Helping Kids is dedicated to improving the lives of marginalized youth in the Bay Area. Founded in 1989, All Stars Helping Kids is a San Francisco Bay Area-based foundation that invests in emerging nonprofits with innovative solutions that move youth from poverty to prosperity. Each year, All Stars selects a cohort of Bay Area nonprofits to participate in a three-year intensive program that is designed to help build the organizational capacity, financial sustainability, and community impact of those organizations working to disrupt the cycle of poverty for Bay Area youth.

All Stars is not a typical grant-making organization. We partner closely with each of the organizations in our portfolio and provide trainings, check-ins, networking opportunities, resources, and 1-on-1 coaching throughout the year. We use a collaborative approach to engage our staff, grantees, alumni, and partners. We firmly believe that once you are part of the All Stars team, you’re always part of the All Stars team.