Early Education Funding: Philadelphia

Early childhood funding in the City of Brotherly Love is just about as diverse as the city’s education system: there are old money funders supporting early ed in very specific ways, a host of smaller funders providing general support grants for a broad range of groups focused on children and youth, and just about everything in between. Needless to say, there’s plenty of early ed support available the city’s nonprofits.

So where are the city's foundations focusing their attention?

Expansion of early education — particularly grants that enable the growth of institutions supporting low-income children — and professional development for early educators are the two areas commanding the largest share of grant dollars. That shouldn't discourage fundraisers working in different areas, however, as there's plenty of opportunity for groups with innovative approaches that support disadvantaged children and youth.


Connelly Foundation

The Connelly Foundation's mission is "to foster learning and to improve the quality of life" in the Philadelphia region by supporting locale nonprofits in "education, health and human services, arts and culture and civic enterprise." Education has long been a focus of the foundation, but in recent years, it’s become a cornerstone of the foundation’s giving. Connelly’s broad education strategy covers early ed all the way to college and beyond. As with several other education funders, this is both an opportunity and a challenge for ECE fundraisers, as they will be competing with education organizations from across the spectrum for Connelly's support.

That said, the foundation has supported early education in a variety of ways, including general support for early learning institutions and after-school programs for gifted and at-risk children.  In a recent year, more than half of the foundation’s around $10 million in grants went toward education, and interested organizations can review recent awards in the foundation's grants database

The broad scope of the foundation's education focus cannot be overemphasized, and the Connelly welcomes creativity and innovation in its grantseekers. For instance, “opportunities for intellectual growth” can be found in places as diverse as "a community health clinic, a daycare center for elders, a museum or a concert hall." This inclusive philosophy guides their education giving, and a broad range of both "established" and "promising" education nonprofits, academic institutions, and service providers will find they’re eligible to apply for funding. Funders should note that the foundation values a "comprehensive package as a primer for discussion" and therefore "letters of inquiry or requests for pre-proposal discussions are not deemed necessary." Eligible organizations must almost always be based in and serve the cities of Philadelphia or Camden or the counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, or Montgomery.

William Penn Foundation

Those involved in philanthropy in the Commonwealth’s largest city have almost certainly heard of the William Penn Foundation, but might not know that it is a major early childhood funder.  The foundation's three main grantmaking areas are focused on "educational opportunities" for low-income students; arts, culture, and making "public spaces" both "accessible and vibrant"; and "protecting the Delaware River Watershed."  While a substantial number of recent education grants have been under the $100,000 mark, the majority of this funder's education awards are well into the six and seven figures. 

Like many early childhood funders, Penn funds grantees who work with low-income and at-risk children. For instance, the foundation’s “Closing the Achievement Gap” program demonstrated a strong interest in early learning, and recent grantees have worked on areas including advocacy, research, accessibility and affordability, direct service provision, curriculum development, and teacher recruitment, training, and retention efforts.  A prominent recent early ed recipient was the Children's Literacy Initiative in its efforts to fund training for teachers to maximize students' potential as "readers, writers, and thinkers." Fundraisers can view past recipients on the foundation's grants and newsroom pages.

For prospective applicants of all stripes, a proven track record and work "grounded in relevant data and supported by a strong research base" are key to any proposal.  Interested grantseekers can submit general inquiry forms online year-round to begin the application process.

Philadelphia Foundation

The Philadelphia Foundation has several grant-making initiatives that cover a lot of ground. However, funding for early childhood education has taken a greater share of focus from foundation staff. The foundation’s “Fund for Children” — a $2 million pool awarded annually — supports a variety of causes and groups. Although Fund for Children grants aren't earmarked specifically for early education, there’s enough wiggle room in their guidelines for early-education organizations. 

The most promising area for early-ed nonprofits to consider within the Fund for Children is the fund’s Supporting Grants program. The majority of grants through this program do not not exceed $10,000 and suport “youth-serving agencies” in Philadelphia. Again, there’s a broad scope to the Philadelphia Foundation’s investment strategy, but there’s clearly a commitment to projects that support children and youth. The foundation also offers "Special Initiatives" grants that are worth occasionally reviewing. The foundation prides itself on its accessibility to both donors and nonprofits, so after completing the foundation's eligibility quiz and reviewing other requirements and preferences, reach out to program staff if you have questions. Application materials are available online, and the foundation hosts regular information sessions.

PNC Foundation

The Pittsburgh-based PNC Foundation (profiled in more detail here) has made early education a cornerstone of their grant-making strategy, and although they support organizations in a number of states, there’s a strong emphasis on the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In terms of their support for early learning in Philadelphia, PNC has established itself as one of the most important players along with longtime heavyweights like Penn and Connelly. The foundation's education support prioritizes programs in "math, science, the arts or financial education," and is mainly intended for direct service providers, professional development for teachers, "family involvement in early education," and "volunteer opportunities for PNC employees."

The majority of the foundation’s early learning grants are centered on their Grow Up Great framework, a multi-year, $350-million program founded in 2004 to support education institutions through grant support and provide learning resources produced for parents, young children (birth-5 years old) and educators.  As many program staff have had long careers with PNC Bank, many business principles play into their funding strategy, such as effective leadership, clear measurables, and solid strategic planning.

Seybert Foundation

Originally founded in 1906 to support low-income boys and girls, the Adam and Maria Sarah Seybert Institution for Poor Boys and Girls in Philadelphia has a long history of helping the city's children.

For early education organizations, this might be a viable funder for a couple of reasons. First, the key to Seybert funding is the demographic— low-income and at-risk children and youth— as almost all of their grants go to direct-service providers, education and health groups and arts groups that support disadvantaged children. Second, Seybert, in terms of the volume of grants they award, is a major funder of smaller and mid-sized organizations in the city with operating budgets of $1.5 million or less.

The foundation's strategic focus is on providing small grants averaging just over $3,000 and totaling no more than $5,000 for general operating support, and is an inclusive approach to giving. In a recent year, Seybert supported around 70 organizations throughout the city offering a variety of services to youth, and provides a complete list of recent grantees on its website. There are two deadlines each year to submit grant applications