Jeff Sunshine, David and Lucile Packard Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer and Manager, Children, Families and Communities

FUNDING AREAS: After- and summer-school programs, transitional kindergarten, teacher training, early education advocacy, and implementation of quality preschool programs

CONTACT: jsunshine@packard.org, 650-948-7658

IP TAKE: In spearheading Packard's early learning strategy, Sunshine is a major funder of summer- and after-school programs across the state of California.

PROFILE: How soon should parents and teachers start attending to a child's educational needs? If possible, as soon as the child is born. So argues the David and Lucile Packard Foundation's Children, Families, and Communities Program, a program whose mission is ensuring that all young people everywhere have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This program initially had a preschool strategy but expanded it: It's now a "birth through age five early learning strategy," thereby emphasizing that, in Packard's view, there is no such thing as "too soon" to begin helping a child to learn.

"We have broadened our preschool strategy so we now seek to improve the quality of early learning and developmental experiences, in both formal and informal settings, for all children in California from birth through age five," says Jeff Sunshine, a Children, Families, and Communities (CFC) program officer and grants manager. "The new strategy rests on the fundamental belief that the quality of a child’s early learning experiences can be significantly improved by informed, engaged and skilled caregivers, educators, and parents."

In his position, Sunshine makes grants primarily in the foundation's preschool and after-school/summer learning portfolios. Expanding access to preschool, after-school and summer enrichment, and children’s health insurance are all parts of the CFC plan of action.

Their CFC plan has a few more components geared toward driving large-scale change in the "formal early learning systems," according to Sunshine. They are as follows: 

  • quality professional development programs
  • effective educator preparation programs
  • Planned and well-coordinated  transitions between early learning settings and school
  • advocacy and stakeholder engagement at the local, state, and federal levels
  • research and evaluation that support best practices and inform the field

Sunshine is well-suited to fulfill this Packard plan of action. Per the David and Lucile Packard Foundation's website bio of Sunshine:

"Prior to joining the Foundation, Jeff was director of programs at Community Foundation Silicon Valley overseeing its domestic and global grantmaking activities and initiatives. He also served as the executive director of the Volunteer Center of Alameda County and as director of volunteer programs for the Archdiocese of the City and County of San Francisco.

Jeff is trained as a special education teacher and as a mental health clinician. He practiced as a family therapist for fifteen years both in Boston and in the Bay Area. Jeff holds a B.S. in education from SUNY at Buffalo, an Ed.M. in counseling psychology from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in human and organization development and public policy from The Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara."

Packard's CFC program has been especially active on the preschool issue in California since 2003, when it launched a Preschool for California's Children initative to make preschool learning universally available to all preschool-age children in the state. This preschool sub-program has made headway on a number of goals, including improving awareness and shaping public policy and expanding access. Although access was improved, the foundation revised "universal access" to a more targeted approach of at-risk children in 2008, the halfway point of the program.

For fundraisers, it will be important to watch these developments closely. But looking at past grants, there are some constants that guide Sunshine's and the CFC program's grantmaking. And with a decade of funding to preschools in the state—and plenty of headway made in a number of areas—there's no reason Packard is going to drop that focus now.

In terms of funding support, Packard's preschool grants focus in four areas: advocacy, policy change, systems building, and implementing quality learning programs. It's clear that strategic partnerships at every level play an important role in Sunshine's approach to funding those areas.

For instance, many of Sunshine's preschool grants have been funneled through county education offices to implement programs on a district-wide level. Through Packard's support, access to district transitional kindergarten programs, which target younger-than-average kindergartners and provide an extra year of learning, has increased for low-income children in the state. The foundation doesn't directly support early learning schools, so these partnerships with districts have allowed them to maximize its reach.

The foundation is also a supporter of the Transitional Kindergarten Professional Learning Community (PLC), which was developed by the Partnership for Youth and Child. The PLC is a network that connects teachers and other early learning stakeholders so they can learn from each other. Of course, the PLC fits into Packard's goal of providing teacher training, but it's also further proof of its commitment to developing strong communities around the issue.

On the advocacy side, longtime partnerships with groups such as Preschool California and the Partnership for Youth and Child have received the lion's share of grants from the program. In 2012, a $2 million grant to Preschool California went toward advancing an early childhood policy agenda across the state. Since 2003, Packard's support of advocacy groups has helped to drive reform and increase public awareness on the state level.

One recent trend in Sunshine's giving has also been a strong emphasis on extended learning programs, both after school and during the summer. According to a 2011 Los Angeles Times report, the foundation launched a $20 million, eight-year grantmaking project focused on expanding access to summer-learning programs throughout the state.

Since then, there have been plenty of dollars flowing to organizations working in that area. For instance, last year Packard was a major supporter of the Summer Matters learning program, which was led by the Partnership for Youth and Child. The program focuses on providing summer-learning opportunities for low-income students in three California regions. Over the course of five years, the initiative is set to reach 50,000 underserved students.

A recent evaluation of the program also showed that students served by the program demonstrated learning gains over the course of the summer. Packard was a major funder of this evaluation, and that's important. It's clear that evaluation plays a part in Sunshine's funding decisions, and in the past, the CFC program has used results to refocus its efforts. Adaptation is another key.

Research is another key interest area for Sunshine and his colleagues. The program has awarded $175,000 to BTW Consultants to assess the impact of investments in after-school and summer-enrichment programs, for instance; and $50,000 to the University of California-Irvine for an evaluation of how much students in summer programs are actually learning. Another, particularly large grant of $450,000 went to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to conduct research, analysis, and technical assistance in support of implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Information-gathering endeavors such as these are vital for effective philanthropy, as Sunshine sees it: Before you decide what to fund, you have to know what works.

"The actions that will inform our work in the informal early learning area are research, experimentation, and evaluation," he says. "We will assess what works and the feasibility of driving scale."

Unfortunately for grantseekers, Packard does not accept unsolicited proposals, but the one take-away for fundraisers should be Packard's emphasis on partnerships and its willingness to change approaches to best tackle an issue. Who knows? Developing relationships with partners in California's early childhood and extended-learning communities might just connect you to Packard funding down the line.

If your organization isn't a plus-size institution, take heart. A scrolling through the program's lists of grant recipients over the years shows recipients of all sizes and types, including small or medium-sized nonprofits, private consulting firms, school districts, and think tanks and universities.

An organization doesn't have to have a huge staffing team or deep pockets to get funding from CFC. But, according to Sunshine, it should have the following: passion for improving the lives of children by supporting not only those children, but also the parents, caregivers, and teachers who look after them; understanding of the political and financial relaities of early learning, education, and human service fields; a clear sense of what must be done; adeptness at balancing short-term and longer-term opportunities; and the use of creativity, imagination, and collaboration to find new solutions to challenging issues.