Spotlight: Playworks’ $26 Million Growth Campaign

‘Spotlight’ features nonprofits that are pursuing active growth capital campaigns
that will enable them to scale their impact.

Growth capital campaign aims to transform the public school climate in America by spreading the Playworks‘ model for safe and positive playtime during the school day, and creating the conditions for all students to thrive academically and socially.

For countless elementary school kids, the playground isn’t always the fun, safe place it’s intended to be. Too often, bullying, teasing, and physical conflicts escalate and the school environment becomes detrimental to a child’s health and well-being. This was the case for Jaelen, a first grader who had a hard time interacting with other kids because he had a quick temper and was physically much larger than most of his peers. Jaelen was always getting into trouble on the kickball field because whenever things wouldn’t go his way, he immediately lashed out and pushed the other kids.

Enter Jaelen’s Playworks’ coach, Julia. Instead of taking the traditional disciplining route with Jaelen, Julia challenged him to give at least 5 high-fives to his peers during the kickball game. This was a requirement if he wanted to continue playing in the game. In the week that followed, there was a noticeable difference in Jaelen’s behavior and he was becoming a positive leader on the kickball field. The introduction of this simple social skill — made fun and positive for a troubled first-grader — transformed Jaelen’s attitude and changed the way he interacted with others.

These small victories translate into larger positive outcomes for Playworks and the school environments in which it works. For example: 88% of principals and teachers at Playworks schools report a decrease in the number of disciplinary referrals, and 86% report a decrease in the incidents of bullying during recess. Through its proven model for structured, positive play time, Playworks wants to transform the whole school environment so that all students are happy, focused and ready to learn when they return to the classroom from recess. With access to the right investments over the next three years, Playworks plans to serve approximately 330,000 more kids just like Jaelen.

Playworks (an S&I 100 organization) launched its growth capital campaign in 2012. The campaign supports a national expansion that will take the organization to its next level of scale and sustainability by 2016. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Playworks embarked on its first phase of growth in 2005, which places trained coaches in low-income schools to provide structured playtime during recess and after school, and assists teachers in leading activities within the classroom. Playworks has since grown its flagship program to serve 170,000 students in 360 schools in 22 cities.

The next phase of growth focuses on continued expansion of Playworks’ flagship program, and lays out plans for spreading its proven practice model through training and movement building.


The Ask: Playworks’ growth capital campaign is raising $26.4 million by June 2013.

Amount Raised-to-Date:$12 million

Funder Commitments:  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped kick-off the growth capital campaign with a significant grant in May 2012, and Einhorn Family Charitable Trust and Rainwater have joined as investors. Playworks plans to attract the remainder of the funding required from new investors who are interested in improving public education, looking for demonstrated impact in the daily lives of children, and are seeking to bring a high-performing organization to national scale with expectation of sustainability.

Growth Goals and Application of Funds:

  1. Expand the flagship program into 27 cities and 700 schools, more than doubling the number of schools currently served by 2016.
  2. Ramp up training to reach 1,000 schools and 4,000 additional children annually. Build a sales operation and accelerate the talent pipeline to meet demand for service.
  3. Design and initiate movement building efforts by inspiring at least 10,000 parents, teachers, principals and others to adopt the Playworks’ approach and apply it to their own schools.
  4. Establish financial sustainability in the Playworks’ 22 cities by providing national support for development efforts as city sites drive towards 100%.

From the CEO: “Our goal is not to expand Playworks into every school in America, but to move the idea to every school in America. We’re so grateful for the vision and leadership of our existing partners, and look forward to expanding our portfolio to include additional investors committed to making a lasting impact on America’s public schools.” – Jill Vialet

To learn more about Playworks, please visit their S&I 100 profile.