Bob Rosenberg is the founder of OnePercent for Education.
Bob Rosenberg is the founder of OnePercent for Education.

This retiree’s nonprofit asks businesses to donate 1% to Bay Area students

When Bob Rosenberg enrolled at the University of Maryland in 1964, he was the first member of his family to go to college. Now in retirement, he wants to make sure that Bay Area kids get that same chance.

The San Rafael resident is the founder and board chair of OnePercent for Education, a nonprofit he started in 2015 that connects businesses with local education-focused nonprofits in order to funnel more money into programs that help children.

“The ultimate goal is to get more kids educational opportunities that very often prove to make a difference in their lives,” Rosenberg said.

OnePercent for Education is designed to support education-focused nonprofits in the work they are already doing. In the past two years, OnePercent has channeled more than $65,000 in donations to 28 nonprofits that it has vetted. In July, it added another two nonprofits to its list of recipients.

Any business, foundation or individual seeking to participate can pledge to donate 1% of some part of their revenue annually to one or more of the nonprofits. They can choose where their money goes or leave it up to OnePercent. The nonprofits that receive the money are free to use it however they want.

This model was inspired by 1% for the Planet, an environmental nonprofit co-founded in 2002 by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.

While OnePercent for Education acts as a facilitator between donors and nonprofits, executive director Carolyn Placente sees OnePercent as more than a middleman.

“We set out to be a force and a source for education equity,” she said.

One of OnePercent’s strengths is that it rigorously vets nonprofits before they are accepted, Placente said. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for businesses to donate and to feel comfortable about doing it.

The 30 nonprofits include Enriching Lives through Music, which offers free voice and instrument lessons for San Rafael children who mostly come from immigrant families; Oakland Promise, which focuses Oakland students on college through mentors, tutors and scholarships; and Mindful Life Project, which supports the mental and emotional health of underserved students in the Bay Area.

Spark, another of the 30 nonprofits, works with students in middle schools with a high number of low-income families. Spark considers middle school an “inflection point” that can make a big difference in what happens in their education, Spark executive director Robin Keefe said.

Spark works with local companies to offer workshops and finds mentors who can give students a glimpse into careers and industries they otherwise might never learn about. The goal is to get students to dream big.

“We take kids and walk them into Facebook, introduce them to people who look a lot like them,” Keefe said. “Those kids start believing that this is something where perhaps they could belong in their future.”

OnePercent for Education is an important partnership for Spark because it offers money but also because it helps raise Spark’s profile, Keefe said. Building a “community of awareness and supporters is critical to an emerging nonprofit,” she said.

Before founding OnePercent for Education, Rosenberg was an endodontist and assistant professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry for 27 years. When he retired, he began volunteering as a math tutor at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael. He later joined the board of the Marin County School Volunteers and then became board chair. In that position, he met leaders of nonprofits and learned how hard it is for them just to raise a few dollars.

“What became very apparent to me was that these organizations that are doing great work — if they have more funds, they could help more kids,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg, whose family has been members of San Rafael’s Congregation Rodef Sholom for more than 40 years, said he sees the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, in OnePercent’s mission.

“Part of my Jewish values are to help provide those opportunities so that every kid has a chance to succeed, to achieve their potential,” he said.

Early in OnePercent’s history, Rosenberg reached out to other Bay Area Jews to serve on the 11-member board: Bill Epstein, Jessica Colvin and Ari Baruth. All three have served on the board of Camp Tawonga, the independent Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park.

Epstein also served as a Tawonga board vice president and on the American Jewish Committee’s board, including as regional president and a national board member. Colvin, an adolescent health expert, also used to work at Tawonga. And Baruth, San Francisco deputy city attorney, states in his board bio that as the son of “two immigrant teachers raised in a home filled with stories of the Holocaust,” he grew up with an awareness of how access to opportunities affects children.

This summer, Roy Barak, an Israeli native and financial tech executive in S.F., also joined the board.

“We have an innovative solution,” Placente added. “We just need people to hear about it.”

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.