A Grantseeker’s Guide to Early Childhood Education Funders

Times are tough for early childhood education funding, and over the next ten years, they may get even tougher.

According to the Urban Institute’s 2015 report, Kids Share 2015, only 10 percent of all government funding goes to children. Absent any policy changes, Kids Share predicts that children’s share of the federal budget will decline to less than 8 percent by 2025. These changes include big decreases for early childhood education and child care funding.

Since federal expenditures for early childhood education (ECE) are likely to decline with the overall trend in youth-related government funding, there has perhaps never been a more important time to look for additional sources of funding for your ECE nonprofit in the corporate and foundation funding spheres.Eye_home_2

As it happens, there is also a lot going on right now in the world of nonprofit funding for early childhood education. New foundations are appearing on the scene, and big public/private partnerships are forming to try to ensure we have adequate resources for our young children.

Before we look at a few national funders of ECE, an important resource to know about if you are looking for funding is a study called Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization: A Guide for States. This resource is important because most funding for ECE programs is state-based. It contains a wealth of information about the changes in state funding for ECE and has helpful information about how funding will be aligned with national guidelines and professional development goals for ECE providers.

Grant making for early childhood education occurs largely on the local level. Many community and corporate foundations support early childhood education, so it’s important to use The Foundation Center’s database (and resources like The Chronicle of Social Change, of course!) to find the foundations and corporations in your region making grants for ECE.

But interest in the national scope has increased of late, in part due to the Obama administration’s 2014 Invest in U.S. initiative, which brought together many big funders for early childhood.

Among the grant makers that pledged support: The LEGO Children’s Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chicago philanthropist J.B. Pritzker, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. Together, these funders put up $330 million for Invest in U.S.

Invest in U.S. is being coordinated and facilitated by the First Five Years Fund, a division of the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention. “The Ounce” is both a direct service provider and a hub for program development in early childhood, and it partners with 17 states and the District of Columbia to create innovative programs for ECE.

Unfortunately, many big national funders of ECE do not accept unsolicited grant applications, such as the Buffett Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Foundation for Child Development.

Now, on to the grant makers that do accept unsolicited grant proposals and letters of inquiry. I’ll focus on four different possibilities today: two big foundations and two corporate foundations that might be a good bet for ECE grant seekers.

1. W. K. Kellogg Foundation

Kellogg is one of the largest grant makers in the ECE arena. It has made many grants over recent years across the country for ECE programs, and has been a major funder of The Ounce.

It’s a good idea to spend some time on Kellogg’s website, reviewing how it approaches the “child in context” when it does its grant making. Once you have formulated a great proposal, head on over to the online application and get started.

Recent Grants from Kellogg for ECE:

State of Maryland Department of Education, Baltimore: $494,390 in August 2015 — “To provide resources, tools, and supports to early childhood service providers and families based on the goals and strategies included in Maryland’s Early Childhood Family Engagement Framework Educated Kids.”

HighScope Educational Research Foundation, Michigan and Washington: $385,000 in August of 2015 —  “To design culturally informed practices by engaging in iterative cycles of inquiry dedicated to diversity, equity and excellence in early childhood education.”

Children’s Cabinet, Inc., Nevada: $1.5 million from Aug. 2015 to Dec. 2018 — “To align opportunities for quality early childhood education by expanding Nevada’s Quality Rating Improvement System to include pre-k programs operated by local school districts.”

2. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Gates Foundation is currently a butterfly still in its cocoon regarding grantmaking for early childhood education. When I corresponded with Sarah Weber, program officer at the Gates Foundation on the Early Learning and Education Pathways team, about the growing early childhood education focus of the Gates Foundation, I learned that some of my questions were being discussed now in the foundation, and the answers had yet to be determined.

I found out a few new things, but much of the actual plan for how to conduct grantmaking to impact early learning most effectively appears to be a work-in-progress at the foundation.

Weber said that Gates’ Early Learning work will be primarily focused on early childhood education for three- and four-year-olds as well as “supporting a well-prepared and compensated workforce.” Importantly, the Gates Foundation does not plan to provide grants for direct service providers. Rather, they are focused on identifying exemplary programs for effectiveness.

Currently, Gates has identified exemplary programs in Boston, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maryland. Gates is also a large supporter of Ounce of Prevention in Chicago, which is both a direct service provider for ECE, and a hub for developing best practices that is branching out all over the country.

To get more of a sense of what Gates is doing on the ground now in ECE, I recommend this post by James Minervino, which outlines the foundation’s activities in those states to cultivate exemplary programs. Also, check out this page on their website.

Recent grants from Gates for ECE:

Pre-K Our Way, Florham Park, N.J.: $50,000 in June 2015 — “To provide funding for local district outreach to expand New Jersey’s high-quality preschool so that additional three- and four-year-old children are prepared for kindergarten success.

New Venture Fund, Washington, D.C.: $50,000 in April 2015 — “To fund the Early Learning Design Lab.”

Moms Rising, Bellevue, Wash.: $750,000 over two years in July 2015 — “To utilize both online and on-the-ground strategies to educate the parents, media, and leaders of America about the importance of every child having access to affordable, high quality early learning opportunities.”

3. Walmart Foundation

Walmart makes a significant number of grants for early childhood education programs across the country. Grant applications for Walmart state grants open in early 2016. The grants are made by individual states, with each state having a State Advisory Council comprised of Walmart associates that represent local communities, so it would be a good idea to learn about who is on your state’s council.  Then check back with Walmart’s State-based giving page in early 2016, when the online application will be available.

Walmart’s grants for ECE that are listed in the Foundation Center’s database (not all grants may be listed there) tend to be small, with a few exceptions. Here are some recent larger grants from Walmart for ECE (2013 are the most recent data available in the foundation center’s database for Wal-Mart early childhood grants):

Parents and Children Together, Honolulu, Hawaii: $20,000 in 2013

Seattle Human Services, Seattle Early Learning and Family Support, Seattle, Wash.: $225,000 in 2011

JumpStart for Young Children, Boston Mass.: $336,000 in 2010

4. PNC Foundation

The PNC Foundation started an initiative in 2004 called Grow Up Great, and committed $350 million to early childhood education. PNC gives grants in a wide range of states from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Florida, with roughly 1,000 grants made to early childhood education organizations over the past 12 years.

Check out their grant applications page for more information, and from there you can proceed with the application process.

Much of PNC Foundation’s recent giving for early childhood education has centered around collaborating with local museums, universities, and community agencies to bring educational services to young children. A few recent grants from PNC Foundation for ECE:

Center for Families and Children, Cleveland, Ohio: $42,500 in 2013

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Ill.: $143,326 in 2013

Children First, Sarasota, Fla.: $20,000 in 2013

Stay tuned for part two on finding grants for ECE: We will look at more corporate funders and industry coalitions that support ECE programs, and important points for how to align your objectives with child development goals and federal/state guidelines. We’ll fill you in on a new foundation that supports play for early childhood education. Also, we’ll explore state advisory councils on early childhood education and care, and how can they help you.

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About Kiersten Marek 22 Articles
Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker in Rhode Island, and a Senior Editor for Los Angeles-based Inside Philanthropy, where she writes about economic and social philanthropy. Kiersten is also the author of Know Thyself: A Kid's Guide to the Archetypes, an identity development workbook.