Sarah Ford | February 10, 2012

Featured Charity: “I Have A Dream” Foundation

Working to ensure that one day, all children receive the opportunity to achieve a college education and fully capitalize on their talents, this charity has inspired the creation of replicate programs nationwide.

What does your organization do?

The “I Have A Dream” Foundation is working to ensure that one day, all children will have the opportunity to achieve a college education and fully capitalize on their talents, aspirations, and leadership so that we can fulfill our promise as a nation.

We sponsor entire cohorts of 50-150 students in under-resourced public schools in urban and rural communities, and we work with these “Dreamers” from early elementary school all the way through high school. Upon high school graduation, each Dreamer receives guaranteed tuition assistance for higher education.

Since our founding in 1981, we have provided programmatic and financial support to more than 14,000 Dreamers to date, making “I Have A Dream” one of the nation’s oldest and largest college pipeline programs.

Our Dreamers often graduate and enter college at double the rates of other students in the local population, and surpass the overall statewide average for students in their peer groups. Many of our Dreamers will be the first in their families to attend and graduate from college.

External evaluations have found that our students demonstrate improvements in grades and school attendance; are better able to resist peer pressure; and have higher aspirations and more positive attitudes about school, life, and the future.

Our program is unique in two ways: (1) the long-term nature of the program – very few programs stay with the same children from elementary school through college; and (2) the deeply personal nature of the program – sponsors are actively involved in the lives of their Dreamers, and Dreamers establish meaningful relationships with them and with volunteers over a long period of time.

As we look to the future, we are committed to doing even more to ensure that our nation’s students have every opportunity to not just enter, but also complete college. We are now launching an ambitious new model – developed in partnership with some of the nation’s leading K-12 school leaders – to reach many more students and ensure they not just start but complete college.

Where is your organization located?

Our 29 affiliates are supporting more than 3,000 Dreamers, who are working their way to college in 25 cities, 17 states, Washington, D.C., and New Zealand, following the 11,000 Dreamers who came before them.

Our national headquarters are based in New York City.

How has your organization responded to the economic crisis?

The economic crisis has created new challenges for our organization – as for so many others – even as it has amplified the need for our services. We are feeling great urgency to grow our impact and serve more students, while ensuring we have the resources to do so effectively.

In response, we have worked closely with some of the nation’s most visionary school leaders to develop an innovative school-based model, which builds on our legacy and will enable many more low-income students to achieve higher education on a large and more sustainable scale. The new model takes a collective-impact approach and involves joining efforts with K-12 public schools, colleges, and other college ‘to and through’ programs to ensure an integrated college pathway for students.

While our partner schools will focus on delivering strong academic programs, our program partners and we will provide students with a continuum of supports strongly tied to college success, including individualized college roadmaps, college and career networks, and college savings accounts. These services will be delivered in part through a technology platform that will bring together our students, families, and school, college, and program partners.

We are immensely excited about the possibilities and we believe our new model will generate broader insights for the field as we all work to better support students.

It is our hope that by expanding opportunities for higher education, fewer Americans will face the challenges that so many do in our current economy, and many more will be able to capitalize on their talents and passions.

Is there a time during the year when you need help most?

We rely year-round on the commitment and generosity of champions – whether as donors, volunteers, or pro bono consultants – to sustain our operations and continually strengthen our efforts.

This is a particularly exciting time for us, as we launch our new program model with the goal of reaching many more students. We are seeking supporters to provide general operating support, to make critical curricula and technology investments, and to invest in our Dreamers’ College Savings Accounts.

In addition, we are seeking national leaders to serve as Board members and provide resources and expertise in critical areas including fundraising, public relations/brand strategy, technology, and consulting.

How can I help?

As mentioned above, we are seeking supporters to invest in our new model and also to seed our students’ College Savings Accounts.

We are also building a network of champions, including college coaches, college partners, and corporate partners, to support Dreamers in achieving critical milestones on the way to college and to expand their horizons. We have found these relationships to be critical to our Dreamers’ continued motivation and success.

If you are interested in supporting us financially or getting involved as a volunteer, please contact Tori McRoberts at for more information. 

How can my company help?

Simply put, we would not be where we are today without the generosity and expertise of individuals and companies. As we look to the future, corporate partners will be even more critical to our continued success.

In recent years we have partnered with a variety of organizations that have supported our Dreamers and the broader organization by sharing both time and resources. Several examples of these high-impact partnerships include:

  • Kaplan provides all our Dreamers nationwide with free access to Kaplan’s online and textbook-based test preparation and college readiness curricula to ensure our students are as prepared as possible for college success. Kaplan also provides access to online programming for our K-8 grade scholars to accelerate their preparation in reading and math;
  • Mango Languages provides online language instruction in more than 30 languages to Dreamer scholars and their families across the country. This enables our students to improve their speaking, reading, and listening skills in a variety of languages, helping them to gain greater appreciation for and understanding of different cultures and languages while increasing their preparation for college and beyond; and
  • Kaye Scholer has provided numerous hours of pro bono legal counsel, including drafting partnership agreements and advising us on human resources and organizational issues.

Our Partner Wish-list includes:

A preferred airline:  

To provide our Dreamers with free and reduced fares so they can visit colleges, participate in other pre-college experiences, and visit home once they are away at college;

A bank partner:

To provide our Dreamers and their families with financial literacy training and financial tools;

Preferred retailer partners: (e.g., office supply companies)

To provide our Dreamers with needed school supplies at reduced costs;

A technology partner:

To provide our Dreamers with tablets or laptops, which will be critical to their ongoing education; and

A marketing partner:

To increase our visibility and help us rally more champions in this work.

What kind of impact will my donation have?

We value each and every donation! Your donation will be applied to investments that benefit our Dreamers directly. Supporters can allocate their donations to specific programs (e.g., our Annual Dreamer Conference – more below), or to general operating support. 

In addition, as mentioned earlier, we are establishing College Savings Accounts (CSAs) for students who participate in our new program. Research indicates that children who have college savings accounts in their names are six times more likely to attend college than those who do not. We will seed each account with a modest amount, and continue to make celebratory deposits as our students achieve milestones on the way to college. We will also tie CSAs to financial literacy workshops and assistance accessing other forms of financial aid.

We are incredibly excited that the contributions of supporters will not only help remove financial barriers for our students, but also put our students on a different academic and life trajectory. We very much hope you will be part of this!

*If you would like to make a donation to seed CSA accounts for our scholars (at $400/scholar/year over four years), please indicate that preference when completing the donation form.

What do you wish more people knew about your organization?

While many individuals are familiar with “I Have A Dream” and our ‘sponsor-a-class’ program model, many are less familiar with the broader impact of our work. In addition to the direct impact we have had on Dreamers, we have also inspired replication programs across the nation, including the federal program GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) and other nonprofit organizations such as Say Yes to Education.

We have also catalyzed broader change in public education, as many of our Sponsors, while new to education when they first became involved with “I Have A Dream”, have since become some of the nation’s most influential education reformers.

Today, as mentioned above, we are developing a new program model that builds on our legacy to reach many more students and communities. It’s an immensely exciting time to get involved, and we would welcome the engagement of new supporters and champions!

What makes your organization successful and what advice do you have for others?

We have built our success around a passionate and singular focus on the long-term success of our Dreamers. Everything we do – from how we implement our program, to how we engage the broader community in this work, to how we continuously improve upon our efforts – is driven by the goal of ensuring our Dreamers successfully enroll in and complete college. Ultimately, our aspiration is for Dreamers to go from being led to leading, and from being served to serving.

We stay with our Dreamers over the long term and do whatever it takes to ensure their success, leveraging the talents and expertise of others to help our Dreamers along the way. Our programs inspire collaboration and community building around our big goal. We believe that by sharing resources and joining forces with like-minded institutions, we can collectively have a far greater impact on many more students.

Our most important advice to other nonprofits is to keep the big picture in mind. That is, have a clear vision of success and ensure that your every decision and action brings you closer to it, even – and especially – when it is hardest to do so.

What are some of your upcoming events?

We have two flagship events each year, which rely heavily on the support of friends and champions for their success.

  • June 5, 2012: Annual “Spirit of the Dream” Spring Gala at 583 Park Avenue in New York City.  The Gala is our preeminent fundraising and networking event of the year, with more than 500 leaders in education, business, finance, law, entertainment, government, and social enterprise in attendance. We are seeking supporters to take tables, purchase tickets, and donate auction and gift-bag items. We are also seeking corporate sponsors.
  • July 18 – 21, 2012:  We will be hosting our 2012 National Dreamer Conference which brings together – on a college campus –middle school and high school Dreamers from all across the nation to begin to experience college life and prepare for the college. This year’s conference will take place at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. We aim to raise $50,000 to support the participation of 100 Dreamers; each donation of $500 will enable us to send one more Dreamer to the conference. Our Dreamers find the conference to be a transformative experience and for that reason, this is one of our very favorite events of the year!

Get Resources and Insights Straight To Your Inbox

Explore More Articles

Celebrating Juneteenth and Continuing to Work in Solidarity for Racial Justice, Equality, and Equity

May 9, 2024

June 19 — also known as Juneteenth, or the nation’s second Independence Day — commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, and therefore the nation,…

Read Article

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2024

May 9, 2024

In honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan – considered the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States – each…

Read Article

Men’s Health Month

May 9, 2024

June is Men’s Health Month, a time to focus on the unique health challenges faced by men and to encourage them to prioritize their physical…

Read Article

Get Resources and Insights Straight To Your Inbox

Receive our monthly/bi-monthly newsletter filled with information about causes, nonprofit impact, and topics important for corporate social responsibility and employee engagement professionals, including disaster response, workplace giving, matching gifts, employee assistance funds, volunteering, scholarship award program management, grantmaking, and other philanthropic initiatives.