Dekko Foundation: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: Since 1981, the Dekko Foundation has funded projects that help set young people on the path to what it terms "economic freedom." To that end, Dekko sees early childhood development as a critical stepping stone, and the foundation has become a prominent funder of early childhood development nonprofits in Indiana and to a lesser extent in Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, and Alabama.


IP TAKE: One word sums up Dekko's early childhood giving: innovation. The word shines through in the Dekko grantmaking process; program staff aren't afraid to support projects that approach early development from nontraditional, child-first perspectives, and the foundation welcomes calls from prospective applicants and has made substantial contributions to ECD organizations in recent years.  However, grantseekers outside of specific counties in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, and Alabama need not apply.


PROFILE:  Founded by the late manufacturer Chester "Chet" Dekko, the Dekko Foundation's stated mission is that of "fostering economic freedom through education." For Dekko, "economic freedom" is defined in terms of "producing more than you consume" and having personal agency in terms of economic and broader life choices, and it emphasizes early childhood as "the most critical stage for children’s social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual development" towards that end.

Early Child Development, one of Dekko's four "priority areas," is funded in a few specific ways, yet there is plenty of wiggle room for nonprofits to fit within the guidelines. Dekko's development grants have four guiding principles: The organizations it targets encourage parental involvement in ECD, increase access to high-quality early childhood care, bolster community awareness, and help empower early childhood education providers and parents to support development.  Beyond ECD, Dekko's other funding priorities are in development in middle childhood, adolescence, and the broader community. Dekko also offers "Nonprofit Toolbelt Grants" designed to consult nonprofits on self-improvement and self-evaluation. Grants targeted at Dekko's ECD program in recent years have varied in both number and size, with awards ranging from as little as $1,000 to as much as $1 million. 


As noted, innovation plays strongly into the foundation's giving approach. In a recent year, Dekko Foundation President Tom Leedy described how program staff target "innovative" nonprofits, writing, "These organizations will know the timeless child development principles but not be satisfied until they've heard the conclusions of smart new research. They'll be willing to put up with a little organizational discomfort to offer children what they need to thrive." 


There are plenty of examples of this approach in the grants Dekko makes. For instance, the foundation provided a grant to one early childhood provider that, guided by some of the latest research, wanted to update its "playground" by ditching the traditional swing set and instead incorporating nature. In turn, the new playground fostered cognitive development by allowing children to choose how they wanted to play. In a more recent example, a school in Indiana used its Dekko grant to rearrange kindergarten classrooms in such a way as to encourage more social interaction, giving the children a choice of where and with whom to work. Although these are subtle examples of innovation, the grants highlight how important creativity and child-first projects are to Dekko's grant-funding.


As emphasized above, although Dekko has established itself as a major ECD funder, the foundation has a limited geographic focus. The majority of its grantmaking takes place in six counties in Indiana, where Dekko is based, but grants are available to a lesser extent in select counties in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota. For Florida outfits, however, applications are by invitation only.

Nonprofits within Dekko's funding areas are encouraged to apply for funding online at least 90 days before a response is needed from the Board.  There are no grant application deadlines, and the site includes a helpful overview called "Dekko Foundation 101" with tips for first-time grantseekers. Grants may be multi-year, but these are usually reserved for grantees that already "have established a grant history" with Dekko.  


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