Buffett Early Childhood Fund: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: The majority of grants from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund have mostly gone to a few longtime grantees, and the fund has fairly specific goals for supporting early childhood learning at the national level. It supports Educare, a network of early childhood learning centers, and a small number of policy organizations and researchers.


IP TAKE: The Buffett Early Childhood Fund's early childhood grants flow to a select group of organizations. First-time grantseekers are unlikely to earn a grant, with the possible exception of those based in Nebraska, where the Buffett Fund has some robust local programs.


PROFILE: According to a recent annual report, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund has "invested approximately $150 million in early childhood practice, policy and research" since its founding in 2005. Susan A. Buffett heads this organization, as well as the Sherwood Foundation, which also supports efforts to improve the well-being of children. Along with other big funders of early education, such as Kellogg and Gates, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund supports Educare and two policy initiatives: the Alliance for Early Success and the First Five Years Fund.


In past years, the fund awarded approximately $18 million per annum in ECE grants around the country, with major recipients including Educare and the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Educare is a joint project of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the Ounce of Prevention Fund to prepare young, at-risk children for school. Since its inception, Educare has opened a network of more than 20 schools across the U.S. Of the $8.7 million given by the Buffett Fund for early childhood practice in a recent year, $5.1 million went to the Educare network.

The Buffett Early Childhood Fund also grants money for academic research related to early childhood education, particularly in the areas of science and economics. In a recent year, for example, it gave $700,000 to Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child, building on the past support the funder has given the center for research on the effects of living in poverty on younger children. Additionally, Buffett gave $250,000 to the University of Chicago's Economics Department for economic research into the cost-effectiveness of early childhood education compared to education later in life.


In the area of policy and advocacy, two of the fund's largest recent recipients have been the Ounce of Prevention Fund, based in Chicago, and the Alliance for Early Success. 


The Buffett Early Childhood Fund's grantmaking is fairly geographically widespread, and the fund has awarded grants in many states, including North Carolina, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and California. That said, Nebraska has a special place in this funder's heart, with organizations in the Buffet family's home state (including Educare of Omaha, Early Childhood Services, and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation) receiving $5 million in a recent year. 


For initial grantseekers, the bad news about Buffett's ECE project is that it currently does not accept direct proposals. The good news is that foundation has a steady funding source in Warren Buffett. In 2012, the man known as "the Sage of Omaha" gave away $3 billion, and he has pledged to give 99 percent of his fortune (estimated to be more than $71 billion) to charity, particularly the Gates Foundation and Buffett family foundations. 


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