In the last two decades, the city of Boston has strived for reforms that factor early learning into the city’s education equation. For instance, the city’s school district, Boston Public Schools, has invested heavily in early education centers and expanded access to learning programs. This early learning commitment is visible in several citywide programs as well, including Raising a Reader, Countdown to Kindergarten and Thrive in 5.
The city’s top philanthropic organizations, including the Barr and Boston foundations, have also expanded their investments in early education. As early childhood funding continues to face cuts at the federal, state and local levels, philanthropists and nonprofits will play a major part in bridging the gap.
The Barr Foundation's mission is "to invest in human, natural, and cultural potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts." As such, its funding is primarily directed at community-centered arts and culture, climate change, and education. Among these, education funding commands a huge share of grant dollars, and the foundation has a longstanding, although recently refocused, commitment to early childhood education. While the majority of the foundation's focus is local, occasional national organizations have also received support, and the foundation also offers fellowships community leaders in each of its three priority areas.
Barr’s early education priorities are "increased investment in Universal Pre-Kindergarten in Boston and related statewide policy efforts that may emerge," "supporting and showcasing effective models for strengthening parents and other caregivers in their roles as children’s first teachers," and engagement with "Boston Public Schools’ continuing efforts to significantly improve early elementary curricula and instruction." In the past, Barr has worked with a variety of partners to support operational expenses, capacity building, and project-specific funding for researchers, advocates, and service providers in areas such as early literacy, school readiness, support for communities of color and English language learners. Recent grantees can be found in the foundation's grants database.
The foundation’s grant-making process is driven by program officers, who spend much of their time communicating with current and potential partners. While Barr does value "long-term partners who share our priorities and have demonstrated positive results" that strategy shouldn’t discourage fundraisers from reaching out, especially as its shift to focus on ECE may leave the door open to building new relationships in the field. The foundation does not accept unsolicited inquiries, but it does encourage organizations that would like to introduce their work to complete the foundation’s inquiry form.
The century-old Boston Foundation’s mission is that of "building and sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone" through grantmaking, collaboration, and information-sharing. The foundation's education grant-making has a fairly broad focus, but buried in the fine print is an increased focus on early childhood education.
Collaboration certainly plays strongly into the foundation’s grant-making strategy, with a prime example being Boston Opportunity Agenda, a “cradle to college” education program that has garnered support from public and private partners (including the Barr Foundation) and whose primary grantee has been Thrive in 5, a organization that provides advocacy, resources and funding for early education programs. Other long-time early childhood grantees include Jumpstart, Associated Early Care and Education and the citywide initiative Countdown to Kindergarten.
The Boston Foundation has a competitive annual grantmaking process that awards approximately $16 million annually from its permanent fund to "a variety of grant-making programs open to requests from proven and promising nonprofits," in addition to grantmaking for "special issue-focused initiatives" that may include ECE. Grantseekers can submit letters of inquiry online.
Amelia Peabody Foundation
The Peabody Foundation's mission is "to increase the number, range, and depth of positive learning experiences available to materially disadvantaged young people living in the cities and towns of Massachusetts." Peabody deals mainly in education grants, and although their focus spans the entire state of Massachusetts, nonprofits in the Boston Metro consistently receive a considerable share of grant dollars. The foundation's education giving focuses on organizations that serve disadvantaged, inner-city youth. Long-time grantees include a diverse cross-section of educational institutions, as well as Jumpstart and Raising a Reader.
Peabody's grants are single-year, dedicated to programs, operations and capital projects, and by the foundation's own accounting average between $10,000 and $50,000, with occasional larger grants usually in the area of $50,000 to $100,000. Organizations should keep in mind that Peabody will "look first and most of all at the leadership of the organization" when considering a grant. Also valued are organizations that are located in and staffed by members of the communities they serve, capacity-building grants that leverage additional funding, and especially "those that bring about real changes in the neighborhoods where people live." The foundation accepts applications with four deadlines every year, and grant proposal forms are available online.
Strategic Grant Partners
Strategic Grant Partners is an interesting early-ed funder in that the foundation also works closely with their grantees by providing pro bono consulting services. With a mission "to partner with outstanding leaders with game changing ideas that improve the lives of struggling individuals and families," SGP has a broad education focus with programs that support K-12, early education, and child welfare and development, and there are many routes to funding for education nonprofits with innovative ideas that target disadvantaged youth. Its funding is significant but has thus far been narrowly targeted on a relatively limited number of partners.
Although SGP does not accept unsolicited proposals, grantseekers should note that it does "welcome ideas and introductions to promising leaders." When considering potential grantees, strategic leadership is a highly valued attribute for SGP, as are organizations doing work that is sustainable, collaborative, and presents “a clear opportunity for systemic change and/or significant scale.” SGP counts many high-profile Boston philanthropists as donors and has established strong networks within its funding areas. Interested organizations can review both current and past SGP partners.