Our Founding Story

GreenLight Fund was founded in 2004 in Boston, MA by John Simon and Margaret Hall

GreenLight Fund was founded in 2004 by John Simon, a prominent venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and Margaret Hall, a nonprofit executive with deep knowledge of nonprofit leadership and effectiveness.

At that time, in contrast to the ease of expansion in the for-profit sector that Simon experienced, he found that social entrepreneurs who were creating programs with impressive results faced significant challenges scaling to new locations. In parallel, Hall was looking into ways to engage local communities in identifying challenges that could be solved by pulling innovative programs into cities where and when they’re needed.

That led to the founding of the GreenLight Fund.

Their vision was to create a network of GreenLight sites that would give cities a method to bring in innovative programs to address barriers to economic mobility individuals and families face. The network would also serve as a distribution engine to find and spread what is working in the nonprofit sector to improve outcomes on entrenched challenges.

After raising a $2 million seed fund to launch operations in Boston, GreenLight formed a Selection Advisory Council, made up of a diverse, cross-section of the community, to provide guidance throughout the defined GreenLight Method. At the conclusion of that first selection process, Friends of the Children, based in Portland, Oregon, in 2005, was selected as GreenLight’s first portfolio organization. They continued to run the process annually, learning and refining along the way, selecting proven organizations to bring to Boston to address unmet needs.

From left to right: John Simon, Richard M. Burnes Jr., Boston Foundation Board of Directors (Emeritus), Margaret Hall

Fast forward to 2012 and the time was right to expand. With the help of a $1M commitment from Bank of America, GreenLight launched in Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Later that year, GreenLight applied and received a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, a program created by the Obama White House. That supported GreenLight’s ability to run their process six times, investing in bringing two nonprofits to each of the three sites over five years. This was a critical turning point towards becoming a national organization and beginning to realize their vision.

In 2014, through a strategic planning process, an expansion plan along with a site fundraising model was developed.

That led to GreenLight’s third expansion site, Cincinnati (2015), followed by Detroit (2016), Charlotte (2017), Kansas City (2018), Atlanta (2019), Twin Cities (2020), Baltimore (2021), Greater Newark (2022) and most recently Chicago (2023).

GreenLight’s expansion continues, adding one site a year. And with that, the organization’s learning also grows, enabling the model, work and impact to get stronger.