Early Childhood Education Funding: Los Angeles

Los Angeles is starting to catch up with the Bay Area when it comes to philanthropy, with a growing number of funders supporting a wide range of initiatives. Unfortunately, however, funding for early childhood education hasn’t yet become a major focus for many funders. At many of L.A.’s top foundations, early education is woven into education programs with a broader focus. That can pose a problem for early ed fundraisers, as it widens the pool of education nonprofits vying for funding.

As L.A. is a hub of philanthropy, early education groups here still receive plenty of grant dollars— just not to the same extent as areas such as arts or healthcare funding. One promising trend in early education is that direct service providers and early learning centers for at-risk children consistently earn a large share of early ed grants. Advocacy, parental support, and educator development groups throughout the city are also receiving a fair amount of attention.


Ahmanson Foundation

Ahmanson’s broad goal is to "enhance the quality of life and cultural legacy" of Los Angeles through "funding cultural projects in the arts and humanities, education at all levels, health care, programs related to homelessness and underserved populations, as well as a wide range of human services." As the foundation funds education “at all levels,” it has established itself as a leading funder of early childhood education in L.A. Of course, that’s good news for early-ed fundraisers, but it can also be a burden, as it puts these nonprofits in direct competition with a wide cross-section of education groups.

With that in mind, Ahmanson continues to support a variety of early education and development groups through its education and, occasionally, its human services program.

Throughout Ahmanson's history, it has supported direct service providers (especially in the form of scholarship support for "ethnic minority groups"), advocacy groups, and professional development projects. Award recipients include both first-time grantees and longtime partners such as the Center for Early Education. Recent grantees can be searched through the foundation's grants database.

The foundation accepts letters of inquiry year-round, but only by mail in hard copy.

California Community Foundation

The century-old CCF's focus is on fostering "systemic change" to facilitate "community empowerment" and agency, and support for early education is a key element of its approach.  The foundation generally awards two-year grants ranging from $50,000-$150,000, and also offers free use of its conference facility to qualifying like-minded nonprofits. 

While CCF does not exclusively support early education, it is certainly a priority area for the foundation. Early Care and Education, a major element of CCF's Education Pipeline focus, "is solely focused on pre-K through fifth grade support" through a grantmaking strategy that "seeks to increase access to high-quality ECE programs for children in underserved communities in L.A. County" by supporting "high quality, early childhood learning opportunities that increase school readiness."  The CCF has long supported a variety of ECE efforts such as advocacy projects, direct service providers, and parental engagement projects such as the Los Angeles Preschool Advocacy Initiative, which seeks to increase public awareness and build support for early education. LAPAI offers funding for nonprofits that "help parents and policymakers advocate for better early care and preschool programs in their own communities."  

As a community foundation, program staff are extremely accessible to grantseekers, and letters of intent "are reviewed year-round on an ongoing basis."  Priority is given to organizations that use research-based teaching methods and focus on parent engagement, among other criteria.

W.M. Keck Foundation

One explicit goal of Keck’s Southern California grant-making program is to “promote the education and healthy development of young children and youth,” so it’s no surprise the foundation has made major investments in early education. Although the number of grants made from the program varies each year, Keck is a significant funding source for early education groups, with grants averaging between $100,000 and $1 million (recent grantees can be reviewed via the foundation's grant abstracts page).

The only downside to Keck’s Southern California program is that it’s not exclusive to early education, so fundraisers will be competing against arts, pre-collegiate education, health and cultural groups for support. That can be a challenge, but there are a few key points that will help nonprofits stand out from the pack. For instance, innovative projects that have “the potential to have significant impact on the target population” and/or "focus on children who are from low-income families" have the greatest chance to receive Keck funding.  Grantseekers should emphasize those assets during the application process, are "are strongly urged to contact Foundation staff well in advance" of submitting an application, and must submit applications in hard copy. 

Weingart Foundation

The Weingart Foundation's broad mission is "to build a better Southern California by supporting nonprofit organizations to more effectively serve the underserved," and the most common thread among their grantees is that they support low-income and disadvantaged populations throughout the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.

Weingart has invested heavily in early childhood education, yet there is no early education program at the foundation. In fact, Weingart’s funding strategy is wide open. That can be both a blessing and a curse for early education nonprofits; there’s more competition and not much insight into the specific types of programs they prefer.  Yet the foundation provides "multi-year Unrestricted Operating Support grants as our primary strategy for building capacity and supports full cost funding for program grants," so it is not surprising that the foundation counts among its recipients both earlier-stage organizations as well as a fair share of longtime partners, including direct service providers, advocacy groups and parental involvement and professional development programs.

To get a sense of Weingart's funding goals, it is recommended to review their annual program plan (found via the grantmaking page of their site), their grants database, and their funding guidelines. Especially noteworthy are that Weingart seeks to "leverage resources through collaboration with other private and public funders" and that it provides support on many different levels; they have a small grant program for awards of $25,000 or less, as well as a core support program for grants above $25,000. Letters of Inquiry are required for grants over $25,000, but smaller organizations seeking funding through the small grant program can submit applications directly with no LOI required. Both LOIs and small grant applications are reviewed year-round.