Early Childhood Education Funding: Bay Area

The Bay Area is a diverse region, with high-income areas in San Francisco and Silicon Valley sitting next to lower income neighborhoods in Oakland and throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. That economic diversity has driven an acheivement gap in education, particularly with the Bay Area's youngest learners.

That achievement gap is actually growing, but so too are the efforts of funders working to reverse that trend. For nonprofits, there's a well-defined network of private, family and community foundations providing support for early learning education, and there are a ton of grant dollars out there ripe for the taking.

David and Lucile Packard Foundation

For more than 40 years, the Packard Foundation has invested heavily in local Bay Area nonprofits providing a variety of services. Currently, the foundation’s local grantmaking comes in at about $14 million each year. Its Early Learning program, a sub-program of its Children, Families, and Communities program, as well as local grants for “Children and Youth,” programs command a lot of that attention. Early childhood grants are for children birth through age 5 and focus in two areas: organizations that provide positive learning experiences for children, and programs that prepare parents and child care providers to foster healthy child development. Other areas of focus include health care and afterschool/summer enrichment programs.

Many of the foundation’s local early childhood grants are carried out through partnerships with public and private organizations in support of projects such as early literacy initiatives. In some cases, seeking financial support from Packard’s partners is the most viable route to receive funding, but they do still directly support many Bay Area organizations. Most early learning funding is allocated to California organizations but occasional exceptions are made for "groups and/or initiatives outside of the state that demonstrate best practice, as well organizations that seek to improve early learning systems and policies at a state and/or federal level."  The foundation's grants database is available here.  While the application process for Early Learning grants is unclear, local grantseekers in Pueblo, CO and the five counties surrounding Los Altos can apply online for funding.

Bella Vista Foundation

Bella Vista uses a two-pronged approach to achieve that goal. First, the foundation works with private and public partners to develop county-wide solutions and provide services for parents of young children. Second, and far more emphasized in its funding, Bella Vista provides direct support to local organizations that help strengthen the bonds between children and parents/caregivers. Awards have generally been in the $25,000-$50,000 range and are not multi-year, but grantees may reapply and receive renewed funding for capacity building. As shown in its grantmaking history, Bella Vista grantees have primarily been established organizations. This might make it more difficult for start-up organizations to receive funding, but that shouldn’t discourage newer nonprofits, especially community-minded groups, from applying online

Mimi and Peter Haas Fund

The Haas family has had a long, storied history in Bay Area philanthropy, leaving its mark on multiple cultural institutions, arts programs and city beautification projects. Today, there are a variety of funds that bear the family’s name, but in terms of early learning support, the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund has made some of the most lasting investments throughout the Bay Area. In fact, early learning and childhood development is the man focus of the foundation, and their at least $6 million in investments each year have established the fund as a regional leader in the area.

You won’t find much online about the fund, as they don’t have a web presence, and the foundation doesn’t accept unsolicited proposals— another hurdle for grantseekers. But around 1993, the foundation made early education its major focus, and in the last two decades, their investments in early learning should command attention from every childhood development organization, as recent ECE grants have ranged in size from the low thousands to upwards of $175,000. Their grant decisions are made in-house, but there are some common themes among the organizations that they support. Strong leadership has always been a major contributor to funding decisions, and organizations that provide learning opportunities to low-income children and families are also a primary focus. Aside from early childhood, the fund also engages in "trustee-initiated grant making to arts, education, public affairs and health and human services organizations."


Marin, San Francisco County, the Silicon Valley and the East Bay all have community foundations that support early learning. Here’s a rundown of each foundation’s early learning commitments:

Marin Community Foundation

In addition to its funding of the broad areas of health, the environment, and economic opportunity, early education is a strategic initiative of the Marin Community Foundation, and in the North Bay, MCF is one of the most important funders of early ed. The foundation specifically supports early learning providers, extended learning programs and parental support groups that ensure students - particuarly low-income children and children of color - are ready to learn. MCF works with community partners to achieve these goals, and issues RFP invitations. MCF's doors are also open to provide no-cost meeting rooms for Marin-based nonprofit organizations. A broad overview of the foundation's recent resource allocation is available here.

San Francisco Foundation 

The SFF supports early learning by promoting "diversity in leadership and professional development for the creation and implementation of high quality, proven pre-K early childhood programs." Longtime grantees include the Little School and Raising a Reader, which are both established Bay Area groups. In the past, the foundation had sponsored an open application process, but recently SFF has limited funding to invitation-only proposals and to providing continuing funding for organizations with whom there is "an existing relationship or longstanding commitment." Grantseekers should review the foundation's Learn How to Apply page for further information on the status of its application process.

East Bay Community Foundation

Founded in 1928, the East Bay Community Foundation is focused on what it describes as two distinct but interrelated issues: "Support for young children to succeed with a focus on the critical period of birth to third grade," and "Enhancing economic opportunities for adults and families, particularly those with significant barriers to achieving employment and financial stability."  The foundation's regional focus is on high-poverty areas of Oakland, Richmond, east Contra Costa County, and southern Alameda County, and EBCF places a heavy grantmaking emphasis on results-oriented projects that incorporate research and data analysis while maintaining the flexibility to adjust their approaches based on research findings. Early literacy is a major funding priority of the foundation.  Organizations that provide early learning opportunities and those focused on health (through abuse prevention as well as healthy birth and development) have also received support. Currently, the foundation has limted their early education grant-making to a handful of East Bay ECE organizations, and they are not currently accepting applications from nonprofits. Prospective applicants are advised to periodically check EBCF's Grantmaking Oveview page for updates. 

Silicon Valley Community Foundation

The SVCF's broad focus is on working with "other foundations, corporations, nonprofits, donors and government agencies on cross-sector solutions." The foundation has long supported education on the Peninsula, and they’re supporting early education in two ways. Early education initiatives the foundation has supported include the Center for Early Learning (focused on research, bringing together community leaders, and policy advocacy); SJ Learns, which focuses on quality after school programs; and the literacy programs The Big Lift and Raising a Reader (recent Big Lift grantees can be seen here).  SVCF has also supported research on the experience of local parents raising young children, advocated for high-quality preschool access in the region, and supported a study on school readiness. Non-ECE education organizations might also qualify for the foundation’s general education support, which goes to in-school and out-of-school support, and is focused on middle school with a particular emphasis on mathematics. SVCF issues RFP’s throughout the year for interested grantseekers.