What Major Charter Grantmakers are Doing to Fuel GreatSchools Growth

When it comes to public advocacy for charter schools, parental involvement plays an important part. That’s the goal of GreatSchools.org — an online directory of education information and a parental network.

Since launching in 1998 as a guide for Silicon Valley schools, GreatSchools has grown to cover a wide cross-section of the country, offering information about school performance, a rating system for schools, and information and tips for parents. Today, the website reaches million of visitors and almost half of American families with children.

GreatSchools is an interesting grantee, because every major funder in the space — from Gates and Walton to Robertson and Bradley — provides significant financial support to them. Earlier this year, the Walton Family Foundation pumped another $7.5 million into the nonprofit, bringing their total to $13 million. (See Walton Family Foundation: Grants for Charter Schools)

Providing education information to parents is a goal of many charter funders' grant-making strategy, and it's the main reason GreatSchools has received so much funding. For instance, Walton’s education public advocacy program promotes "greater parent access to user-friendly information that enables better decision-making and organizing," and that’s exactly the mission of the website.

Other major funders — including the Denver-based Daniels Fund, which manages $1.2 billion in assets — have a similar interest in GreatSchools. Daniels Fund’s K-12 giving is split into three areas: charter schools and voucher programs, teacher development, and parental engagement. And GreatSchools directly aligns with that third approach.

The Robertson Foundation, a New York-based charter funder, has also been a key funder of GreatSchools, alongside the Walton Foundation. From 2008-2011, the foundation provided $3.5 million to the nonprofit, centered around their "drive change by generating external pressure approach." This strategy encourages development of "resources that enable informed parent choice."

The latest Walton investment will go to expanding the website. Soon, 25 percent of the ratings on the site, which covers roughly 200,000 schools, will incorporate more academic information, and the website will also expand their local programs.

For fundraisers, not only is Walton’s recent investment significant, but it also shows how important parental involvement is for Walton and other major funders. Groups that specialize in innovative approaches to parental engagement — whether through associations or Web-based information — have plenty of funders ready to write checks.