Forward to a Friend  | March 28, 2007
Bisnow on Business

"VPP 2.0" – Legendary Mario Morino Hands the Reins to a New Generation

Venture Philanthropy Partners, the pioneering philanthropy-as-entrepreneurship project co-founded in 2000 by regional cult heroes Mario Morino, Mark Warner, and Raul Fernandez, appears to have "traction"—to use that 1990’s entrepreneurial expression. Earlier this month, it announced that Carol Thompson Cole, a former Clinton official who’s been VPP’s managing partner for three years, has taken Mario’s place as the organization’s new CEO.
Mario will remain Chairman and become an eminence grise evangelist, shifting his focus to fundraising and spreading the venture philanthropy message in the region, the nation, and perhaps—he recently spoke to 30 foreign journalists—the world. Observers see this as a sign VPP has become a viable institution, not just a personal philanthropy. Mario himself says this is "the hard change" needed to become a less founder-centric organization—just as entrepreneurs are advised as they become mature enterprises. Carol’s charge is to ramp VPP’s impact with a new fund.
Including this founding trio, 26 investors, including AOL’s Steve and Jean Case and VCs Peter Barris and Will Dunbar, contributed $29 million to the first VPP fund. The philosophy was straightforward—apply private investment principles to non-profits. "It seemed simple," Mario says, but they learned that it takes "more than just business principles" to succeed in the "much deeper and complex infrastructure" of the non-profit world. Yet their approach remains oh, so VC: find a good leader in a scaleable organization, do due diligence, do more due diligence, invest, take a board seat, then convince, cheer, and cajole towards success. They must be doing something right—VPP’s current investment partners serve over 40,000. Among the 12 non-profits that use VPP as what Carol calls a "trusted advisor" are the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (which, in true venture style, have undergone a merger and reorganization), College Summit, and Maya Angelou Public Charter School. VPP 2.0 is underway and over half of the original investors have agreed to ante up again. That $24 million in commitments takes Mario and Carol half way to their $50 million goal for a new fund. As CEO, Carol’s not wasting any time; she hopes to make the first investment of the new fund before year-end. Mario says "Carol added gravitas" when she joined VPP, though it’s a bit hard to imagine a gravitas-deficiency in a Morino-Fernandez-Warner team.  But the region’s nonprofits were initially a little skeptical of some rich guys-in-ties from Northern Virginia with a new theory. Enter Carol, a DC native with decades of grassroots experience, including as DC City Administrator, DC point-person to the Clinton White House, and founding chair of DC Agenda Corporation, which coordinates private, non-profit and government sector efforts. Overall, Mario and Carol estimate that the investors’ original $29 million has yielded an additional $40 million to its beneficiaries when you count the other funding VPP’s credibility has helped leverage from other sources, and the strategic advice and sleeves-rolled-up work from the likes of executives like Carol and former Riggs Bank president Fred Bollerer. As examples, Mario cites the side-by-side-investment of John Doerr’s New School Venture Fund in the Friendship Public Charter School, and $1.25 million the Fernandez Foundation gave to the Washington Diocese for its work in Prince George’s County to augment VPP’s $1.5 million for the Latin American Youth Center.


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