A Guide to Early Ed Fundraising in New York

The education system in New York City is one of the most diverse in the world both ethnically and socioeconomically. On the one hand, upwards of 80 percent of NYC Public Schools students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. On the other hand, some Manhattanites spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to send their children to the city’s best preschools. Deep disparity exemplifies the NYC education scene.

Importantly, New York also serves as the nation’s hub for early education research, advocacy and policy efforts, and there are many organizations providing direct educational services to the city’s youngest children. For fundraisers, a wealth of funding exists and resources are as varied as the city’s populace, from multi-billion-dollar private foundations to smaller foundations  focused specifically on children’s education. 


Altman Foundation

Altman’s mission is "to support programs and institutions that enrich the quality of life in New York City, with a particular focus on initiatives that help individuals, families, and communities benefit from the services and opportunities that will enable them to achieve their full potential." With total grantmaking averaging about $11 million in recent years, its investments in early childhood, K-12 and college education have helped establish the foundation as a leader in New York. Early childhood education funding is a pronounced focus of program staff. Two objectives make up their education strategy: increasing access to high-quality education, and promoting academic excellence among children.  

It's the latter that commands the most early childhood grants. Specifically, the foundation supports organizations that promote social and emotional development for children, early learning, increased parental involvement, development of early childhood educators, and - particularly relevant for ECE grantseekers - increased family involvement "in effective literacy activities, particularly early literacy activities."  By the foundation's own accounting, most grantees have historically been direct service providers, but capacity building and systems change are its two other "investment areas."  Education grants from 2008 to the present can be reviewed at the foundation's education page (subdivided by by objective and year awarded) as well as its grantees search page.

Program staff wants to see measurable results, and organizations most likely to achieve results and systemwide improvement have the best chance at earning Altman’s support. Statewide organizations will be considered, but the foundation's orientation is mainly toward the five boroughs, and priority goes to organizations that work with vulnerable populations to provide high-quality education. While most funding is dedicated to existing partnerships, first-time grantseekers are encouraged to send letters of inquiry

New York Community Trust

The Trust’s education program might not be directed specifically toward early childhood education, but in terms of funding and volume of the grants they make, NYCT is one of the most important early ed funders in the city. Key for ECE grantseekers, two key areas the Trust funds in education are projects that draw on research, advocacy, and organizing to promote "greater equity and quality in the school system," and improvements in "accountability and transparency of schools and the school system," particularly for "low-income communities of color and immigrant communities."

One recent development will likely drive much of the foundation's early childhood giving over the next five years. The $42-million Brooke Astor Fund for NYC Education (started in 2013, following Astor’s death) has a specific focus on increasing literacy throughout the city in low-income neighborhoods. In the past, the foundation has issued request for proposals to find grantees for the fund, so early education fundraisers should certainly keep an eye out for those announcements. In recent years, grants have funded ECE projects including vocabulary and literacy programs supporting classrooms with poor children, those who don’t speak English at home, and those with disabilities.

While the fund prioritized education at the middle and high school levels, in the last few years, the Trust has also provided numerous smaller (between $1,000 and $5,000), donor-advised grants to early education institutions, along with larger, discretionary grants to NYC early ed organizations. A few programs receiving larger grants have included Jumpstart, Childcare Learning Centers and afterschool provider Kids Orbit. Interested grantseekers can send full proposals year-round for advocacy, policy campaigns and program development and should regularly review the trust's Latest News for announcements about recent award recipients.

Edith Glick Shoolman Children’s Foundation

Since 2001, the Shoolman Children’s Foundation has provided support to improve "literacy and the emotional well-being of children, from birth through the early elementary years" (3rd grade), and recently the foundation updated its focus to target the NYC Metro exclusively. Although Shoolman might not be one of the  regions best-known foundations, it’s certainly one of the most important early childhood funders.

Schoolman's grants cover a range of early education and development areas, with literacy and social and emotional among its main interests. The foundation’s grant-making is fairly dialed-in, with medium sized grants going to a variety of organizations. While the foundation states that there is no standard range for its grants, most awards in recent years have been between $15,00 and $50,000, with a handful of outliers at the $75,000-$100,000 range.  Grantees can be reviewed on the foundations's website and have included (but are certainly not limited to) organizations as diverse as those working on training for parents and teachers, providing disaster relief and emotional support for children who have experienced trauma, cross-cultural learning through music, support for children affected by autism, physical and developmental disabilities, poverty and other barriers, and intervention for children demonstrating early school adjustment difficulties.

The foundation accepts letters of inquiry (usually online only) from grantseekers before program staff request a full proposal.  First-time applicants can request single-year funding only, and organizations that have received funding for three consecutive years must wait two years before reapplying.

Robin Hood Foundation

The Robin Hood Foundation has a specific focus on eradicating poverty in NYC. RFC touts education as "the best poverty-prevention method out there," so it’s no surprise that they invest widely in early education and child welfare organizations. Robin Hood's Education program supports "public, private and parochial [schools] in the city’s poorest neighborhoods" that "emphasize rigorous academics, dynamic leadership and utilize an extended-day and extended-year model," in addition to "programs that prevent students from falling behind, reinvigorate teaching and provide students with needed mental and social services."  In addition, its Early Childhood and Youth program includes a focus on "ensuring that children are better prepared to learn in kindergarten and beyond." 

Robin Hood has established itself as a grantmaker to direct-service providers in New York’s five boroughs, and that strategy is clear in the grants they underwrite. In addition to early learning centers, the foundation has also supported healthcare providers for children, innovative out-of-school programs for children, childcare, and programs incorporating parental involvement. Robin Hood also recently helped launch the Early Childhood Research Initiative, to help study the long-term impact of "interventions administered to disadvantaged children under the age of six."  Other RCF programs in addition to (but potentially overlapping with) early ed and development include a focus on education and well-being for older youth and adolescents, job and eceonomic security for adults, and Survival (focused on housing, health, and economic security).  Interested organizations can review a list of grantees across all programs or click on the tab for a specific focus to see that program's award recipients. 

By its own accounting, in a recent year the foundation awarded more than $180 million in grants to over 200 organizations, and grants are generally in the $100,000 - $200,000 range. Robin Hood’s grant-making strategy targets organizations with strong leaderships and proven track records; the ability to measure results and prove effectiveness is also a major factor in the fund’s approach. Interested grantees can apply throughout the year but should contact the foundation's grants manager before submitting an application.