Thirty Million Reasons Why PNC Foundation is Working to Close the Vocabulary Gap

Here's a big number: $350 million. That’s how much the PNC Foundation has budgeted for its multi-year Grow Up Great program, an early childhood education initiative dating from 2004. That kind of commitment explains why PNC is a powerhouse in early childhood education, a funding field with a decidedly finite number of national players. 

As Grow Up Great continues its grantmaking, it has identified vocabulary as one key area where underprivileged children need extra assistance.

Research suggests that by age three, kids from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their better-off peers, a remarkable and disturbing statistic. Back in 2014, PNC marked Grow Up Great’s 10th anniversary with a $19 million national funding initiative to support vocabulary building, in what turned out to be a prelude to further grantmaking.

Starting in late 2015, PNC announced another round of vocabulary funding valued at $10.75 million across 10 U.S. cities. Lasting for two years, the grants fund a range of vocabulary-building ECE programs, entering PNC into partnership with local educators. Unlike PNC’s typical Grow Up Great grants, which often come in under six figures, this round comes in larger chunks: $1 million for some programs and $500,000 for others.


PNC Bank is a prominent financial institution in many states, and it applies that business background to its ECE work. PNC’s funding strategy prioritizes business principles like effective leadership, clear measurables, and strategic planning. (Of course, we can think of plenty of non-business funders that operate the same way.) 

PNC's funding is driven by the belief that "the return on investments in high-quality early education and school readiness initiatives is significant and long lasting." By spreading copious funds across a wide pallete of vocabulary-building programs, PNC is setting the stage for more comprehensive evaluation of what works and what doesn’t.


PNC’s current round of grants targets the states and cities where PNC operates. The organization’s grantmaking operation is conducted regionally, with representatives stationed in each area it serves. See PNC Foundation’s website for relevant contact information. When it comes to early childhood education, PNC is in it for the long haul, and in a sector riddled with budget cuts and institutional uncertainty, funding is in great demand.

Here’s a partial list of what the foundation’s supporting:

  • In St. Louis, PNC and Webster University will partner on Mind Full of Words, a $1 million initiative.
  • In Atlanta, $1 million went to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta and the Atlanta Speech School.
  • In Detroit, PNC will partner with the Skillman Foundation and the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation on a $1.5 million collaboration serving preschoolers in two neighborhoods.
  • In Pittsburgh, PNC will partner with five local organizations on BUZZWORD Pittsburgh, a $1.5 million initiative.
  • In Birmingham, $500,000 will support vocab-building in the Woodlawn and Norwood communities.
  • In Trenton, NJ, $1 million will go to the  Trenton Makes—Words! program, spearheaded by the New Jersey State Museum.
  • In Washington D.C., $1 million will support a Smithsonian and Promise Neighborhood program.

Also see our summary of early childhood education funders.