The money is "transformational" for Futures, whose annual budget is about $2.8 million.
It will support the organization's strategic plan and fund a new program that could annually help up to 800 low-income, first-generation-to-college students with precollege guidance and continuing support through college graduation, Mazzotti said.
Historically, Futures has helped only students in public schools. But the new program will expand to embrace students in needy charter and parochial schools as well.
Currently, Futures supports 376 students in its "Sponsor-a-Scholar" program, which identifies promising Philadelphia public school students who may have some academic or social challenges and, beginning in ninth grade, provides them with long-term, one-on-one mentoring and Futures staff support, academic enrichment, college guidance, and money for college-related expenses.
Students remain in the program until they graduate from college, and supporting them is not cheap - $3,040 per student per year.
But the results are strong. Last year, 100 percent of high school students in the program graduated, and 94 percent began college. Program-wide, the college graduation rate is 53 percent; the citywide college graduation rate is 10 percent.
The "College Connection" program, which will soon begin recruiting its first class of up to 50 students to start this summer, will accept rising high school juniors who are already strong academically. Because its scholars will have fewer academic needs and already be halfway through high school, the per-student cost will be about 60 percent of the Sponsor-a-Scholar price tag, Futures estimates.
The new College Connections teens will receive intense services to get through college, too. In some cases, Mazzotti said, that means young men and women who take several years to get through community college, then tackle a four-year degree.
"We don't give up on anybody," she said.
Futures' services are crucial to Philadelphia School District students, who often get lost in an enormous, struggling bureaucracy.
The district's student-to-guidance-counselor ratio at the high school level is 400-1, and many students lack the personal networks to find things that come easily to suburban youths - summer programs, ways to visit colleges, people to prompt them to take the SATs and help fill out financial-aid forms.
Futures' mission speaks to Langan and Nadell, who have long been donors and paid for such things as graduate education for four Sponsor-a-Scholar alumni, a fund in honor of a Futures student who was gunned down shortly before his college graduation, and money to start a program focusing on helping young men finish college.
The Voorhees couple declined to be interviewed, but Mazzotti said they were "very aware of the challenges facing students in Philadelphia. They see great urgency and they see Philadelphia Futures as a part of the solution."
Both Nadell and Langan are former teachers. They founded Townsend in the early 1990s with the idea of helping students become better readers.
Langan, in a 2009 Inquirer interview, said he saw funding low-income students' education as a "social justice" issue. He depended on a scholarship and part-time jobs to pay for his own college degree, he said.
Langan and Nadell's largesse - $750,000 of which is a gift and $250,000 given as a challenge grant to encourage others to invest - has put Futures in a strange spot for a small nonprofit in tough economic times. The organization will be hiring additional staff and planning for an expansion.
Expect Futures to extend its citywide reach in other ways, officials said. Small efforts have already begun.
Futures staffers recently spent time at Central High, working with juniors there, and they have been asked by US Airways to offer a program to employees with children in college or about to go to college. They are also working with 31 strong Northeast High students, providing the intense college guidance services available to other Futures students.
"If someone calls us and says, 'We want to do this, can you help?' we want to be able to say, 'Yes, we can,' " Mazzotti said.
Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, email@example.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.