Hearst Foundations: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: The majority of the Hearst Foundations' education grants support higher education. A smaller portion goes to early childhood learning, and the key to early ed funding from Hearst is innovation. The organization supports ECE nonprofits that employ cutting-edge teaching methods to reach young learners, and its overall mission prioritizes support for low-income populations.

IP TAKE: Although its education funding prioritizes higher education and Hearst generally invests few grants in early education, its $10 million-plus annual education budget makes Hearst hard to ignore. Bottom line, cutting-edge early education providers shouldn't hesitate to reach out to program staff to see if applying is worth the while.

PROFILE: The Hearst Foundations support nonprofits working "to ensure that people of all backgrounds in the United States have the opportunity to build healthy, productive and inspiring lives," particularly those serving low-income populations. There are four broad funding priorities: health, culture, social service, and education. 

Each year, Hearst earmarks roughly 30 percent of its total grant budget for education. The majority of this funding supports higher education in the form of scholarships and faculty professional development, though to a lesser extent, it supports early education and K-12 education. Historically, early education grants — maybe two or three each year — have supported programs that use the latest teaching models to reach at-risk and underserved children.

By the numbers, Hearst isn't a funder for every nonprofit. Grants are fairly competitive: by the foundation's own accounting, it funds only "approximately 20% of all grant requests, of which about 80% is directed to prior grantees. Although this does leave the door open to new grantees, the lack of a focused early education program can be discouraging for fundraisers. Further, the foundation typically supports large and, to a lesser extent, midsize organizations. Grantseekers are required to have an operating budget of at least $1 million, and 80 percent of funding goes to organizations with budgets of $10 million or more, though this is largely a result of the foundation's strong higher education focus.

That said, it is clear that Hearst makes exceptions for innovative ECE projects. For example, the foundation granted $75,000 to a program at San Francisco's John Tracy Clinic that provided education for children ages two through five with hearing disabilities to prepare them to enter traditional kindergarten. Hearst also recently gave $75,000 to CentroNia, which describes itself as a "a nationally recognized, multicultural learning community with a pioneering approach to bilingual education," as well as $100,000 for Teach for America in New York to support "early childhood education corps members’ training and leadership development."  A database of all recent education grant recipients is available here.

Before jumping into the open application process, early childhood education fundraisers should review the foundation's funding limitations and FAQ page, as well as reach out to program staff to get a better idea of their likelihood of success.  Applications are accepted year-round, though there is a mandatory waiting period for reapplying (one year if the application is declined, three years if it is approved).

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