Harold Pearson knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but that hasn’t dissuaded him. He took up the challenge of enhancing high school graduation rates and preparing Oakland youth for college with a fresh new approach focusing on student athletes. He founded a nonprofit called Student Program for Athletic and Academic Transitioning, or SPAAT, to put his ideas into action.

Harold Pearson, Founder of Student Program for Athletic and Academic Transitioning is dedicated to helping high school athletes succeed in life.

Harold Pearson, Founder of Student Program for Athletic and Academic Transitioning is dedicated to helping high school athletes succeed in life.

“High School student athletes are often seen as either not needing assistance or not being interested in college if they’re not going to receive an athletic scholarship. This is completely false,” according to Pearson. “Athletics have been marketed to many young people as the only way to achieve success in life. Our goal is to open their minds to a multitude of opportunities in which they can be just as successful.”

He observed that no one seemed to show consistent interest in academic results with this population—until now. SPAAT aims to capitalize on the drive and discipline students apply to sports, and link it directly to academic work with intensive tutoring and individualized support. It’s begun to show results, and people in the education system are taking notice.

Starting and growing an organization is no simple matter either. Public Interest Management Group helped SPAAT with financial modeling as part of a strategic planning process aimed at charting a sustainable course for the organization.

Pearson found the process eye­opening. “The financial modeling really helped us forecast potential revenue streams that can support our business model. This has allowed us to visualize and realistically plan our growth over the next three years.”

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Oakland-­based consultant Marcia Hodges coordinated the strategic planning process. She appreciated the value of incorporating financial analysis into a comprehensive strategic plan. Specifically, it’s helped SPAAT’s leaders understand what actions can lead to a sustainable business model—and how to stay focused. This in turn can help SPAAT make the case for funder investment.

Hodges is also excited about where this may lead: “I look forward to seeing the deep impact SPAAT will have as the students transition beyond graduation into their next phase of life.”

In the end that’s exactly what this is about—changing lives. Harold Pearson's new initiative is a great example of how nonprofits can combine a good idea, a lot of motivation, and a thoughtful business approach to start changing the world, one student at a time.