Productive Nonprofit Partnership Holds Lessons for College and Career Readiness Programs

Research BriefHigher EducationDec 21 2022

Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) is a philanthropic organization that utilizes the venture capital model of investing to assist and partner with nonprofits in the Greater Washington, DC region.1 In 2010, VPP created the youthCONNECT Network in the Washington metropolitan area—an effort to bring together high-performing nonprofit organizations to better the educational achievement, career outcomes, and healthy behaviors of youth ages 14 to 24.1 In 2015, VPP added youthCONNECT to Ready for Work, its initiative to promote career- and college-readiness among high school students in Prince George’s County, Maryland.


Ready for Work—a collaboration between VPP, Prince George’s County, and five local nonprofit organizations—was a three-pronged strategy to improve student outcomes in three Prince George’s County high schools: Suitland High School, High Point High School, and Oxon Hill High School.  The three Ready for Work strategies are as follows:

  1. Strengthen career and technical education programs.
  2. Expand VPP’s youthCONNECT model.
  3. Provide students with meaningful work experiences.

This brief is one of five products that summarize key findings from Child Trends’ implementation evaluation of the three Ready for Work strategies. Here, we present lessons learned related to the second strategy: Expanding the youthCONNECT model to improve students’ post-secondary career and college readiness in Prince George’s County Public Schools.2 These lessons are primarily intended to inform youth-serving nonprofit organizations looking to form partnerships with schools or other nonprofits.

While youthCONNECT was eventually implemented in both Suitland High School (SHS) and High Point High Schools (HPHS), this brief will focus specifically on operations within SHS. HPHS experienced persistent challenges trying to structure the initiative to meet the needs of harder-to-reach students. Drawing on information gleaned from interviews with VPP and the five nonprofit partners that make up the youthCONNECT at Suitland, we summarize lessons learned in creating and fostering partnerships and relationships with schools. We also describe the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the work of the nonprofit partners, including the program adaptations made to meet students’ everchanging needs. Child Trends’ implementation evaluation of the Ready for Work initiative began before the global pandemic, COVID-19, reimagined in-school and community-based nonprofit partnerships, relationships, and collaboration. However, the lessons learned from Ready for Work about the importance of nonprofits partnering with schools or other nonprofits are still applicable to schools or school districts interested in implementing initiatives like Ready for Work that rely heavily on partnerships.

In sum, we identified five main takeaways from Ready for Work’s nonprofit partnerships:

  1. Nonprofit organizations should prioritize building strong relationships with school leadership and staff.
  2. If nonprofit organizations partner with other nonprofits, they should leverage each other’s services and supports to best meet students’ diverse needs.
  3. Partnered organizations should frequently communicate with all involved parties to ensure productive collaboration.
  4. Nonprofit partners should find ways to build their data collection and evaluation capacity to inform programming.
  5. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unexpected need to alter the initiative’s services. Moving forward, organizations should be prepared to adapt to any unforeseen changes in programming.


1 Investment Profile – Ready for Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

2 For more information on youthCONNECT, please refer to: Sacks, V., Jones, R., Redd, Z., & Moore K.A. (2020, September). Data sharing, incentives, and relationship building are critical components of using data to support student success. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends; Sacks, V., Jones, R., Redd, Z., & Moore K.A. (2020, December). Relationships with Caring Adults and Social and Emotional Strengths Are Related to High School Academic Achievement. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends; Sacks, V. & Jones, R. (2020, June). Nonprofit organizations and partnerships can support students during the COVID crisis. [Blog Post] Bethesda, MD: Child Trends.

Suggested Citation

Carney, M., Gilbertsen, J., Andrews, K., & Peckoo, S. (2022). Productive nonprofit partnership holds lessons for college and career readiness programs. Child Trends.