The AP2 clathrin adaptor complex links protein cargo to the endocytic machinery but it is unclear how AP2 is activated on the plasma membrane. Here we demonstrate that the membrane-associated proteins FCHo and SGIP1 convert AP2 into an open, active conformation. We screened for C. elegans mutants that phenocopy the loss of AP2 subunits and found that AP2 remains inactive in fcho-1 mutants. A subsequent screen for bypass suppressors of fcho-1 nulls identified 71 compensatory mutations in all four AP2 subunits. Using a protease-sensitivity assay we show that these mutations restore the open conformation in vivo. The domain of FCHo that induces this rearrangement is not the F-BAR domain or the mu-homology domain, but rather is an uncharacterized 90 amino acid motif, found in both FCHo and SGIP proteins, that directly binds AP2. Thus, these proteins stabilize nascent endocytic pits by exposing membrane and cargo binding sites on AP2.