Leveraging personal connections to build sustainability

Aspiring Youth After-School Program, Houston and North Forest Independent School Districts, Houston, TX

This program began as a nonprofit in 1997 to help students enhance their reading, mathematics, computer and arts skills. During the program's first year, anticipated financial support from a foundation fell through, putting the entire program in jeopardy.

The Challenge: Procure Diverse, Reliable, Long-Term Funding Sources

The Process

In addition to quickly working on other grant proposals, the director increased his efforts to spread the word about the program's benefits for at-risk youth. A lawyer by training, he also targeted outreach efforts to the people he knew best - other lawyers.

He made a connection to the Young Lawyers Association (YLA) in Houston, and through his cultivation efforts, garnered monetary support and more. YLA volunteers serve as tutors, mentors and board members. The more YLA people became engaged, the more word continued to spread -and other businesses, individuals, and foundations learned about Aspiring Youth's work. This increased the buy-in and support of a larger community and yielded donations from businesses, individuals and foundations. Still, the program was only getting by year-to-year. With the help of YLA, Aspiring Youth hosted a gala dinner and silent auction that provided the additional funds to move it into real sustainability.

The Outcome

The director's willingness to put his reputation and support behind Aspiring Youth gave the program a large boost in expanding its contacts in the community. Now as program recognition continues to grow, so do the success and number of fundraising events. In addition to the gala, now in its 6th year, Aspiring Youth also hosts a tennis tournament and luncheons. The depth of community support has also resulted in more foundations being willing to fund this successful program.

By productively using personal connections, Aspiring Youth has successfully diversified its funding base, with 37 percent of its budget from foundations, 19 percent from businesses, 24 percent from school districts, 15 percent from individuals, 6 percent from in-kind donations, and $1,500 from the Young Lawyers Association (YLA), allowing it to serve 600 students at nine school-based sites.

Applying Aspiring Youth's Success at Your Program

  1. Take a fresh look at your assets and your connections. Inventory who you know in the community and who your advisory board members know, the parents of the participants your volunteers and others. Use the Building Sustainability worksheet to help guide this process.
  2. Based upon those connections, set up a mechanism to not only apply for funding but to ask for funding. If your program is school-based, you might be able to ask the school's parents' organization to provide some extra resources or tap a neighborhood business for an ongoing donation.
  3. If you do decide to host an event as way to bring in funds and spread the word about your program, remember that it takes energy and time to get an annual fundraiser off the ground, and you might not make much money at first. So start small, grow slowly and always keep event costs low.

About Aspiring Youth

Aspiring Youth is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Houston with nationwide programs for at-risk youth. Hired teachers and coaches spend time with the students each afternoon and community volunteers visit to provide tutoring and mentoring. The students study the core academic subjects and have instruction from Aspiring Youth´s SUCCESS Curriculum - enhancing reading, math, computer and art skills. They interact with positive role models, build their self-esteem, and develop mentoring relationships with volunteers.

The first Aspiring Youth After-School Program in Houston began at a city school in a very disadvantaged neighborhood. Now, the Aspiring Youth After-School Programs in Houston serve almost 600 students at nine school-based afterschool sites in the Houston and North Forest Independent School Districts. The Aspiring Youth program began in 1992, when Justice Eric Andell, then a Houston Juvenile Court Judge, and Mark Snell, then president of the Houston Young Lawyers Association, envisioned (on the back of a napkin at a banquet) an afterschool program for middle school youth during the "latch-key" hours. Judge Andell and Mark Snell asked John Meredith to organize a Houston Young Lawyers Association committee and turn their vision into a workable program.