Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Philanthropy provides critical support for early education and care systems. Philanthropic gifts fund best practices and program-based solutions for children and families. And philanthropic individuals and organizations invest in the research, policy development, and advocacy that sustains the early education system and helps it grow.

But where can philanthropic funders go to learn about the many opportunities in the early education sector? The Center for High Impact Philanthropy has created a donor toolkit that offers a strong introduction to the sector, its key stakeholders, and promising practices.

“In the past thirty seconds,” the center’s website says, “three more children were born in the United States. All three of these infants may be equally capable, but as they grow older, there is a strong chance that only two will graduate from high school. And it’s not just about high school graduation. The lack of strong support in early childhood means that millions of children in the U.S. face lives of lost potential. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Donors can help all children get an equal chance at a strong start.”

Part of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, the center was founded in 2006 and advises donors on how to get the best philanthropic bang for their buck. Center staff synthesize “the best available information from three domains: research, informed opinion and field experience. We believe the most promising opportunities exist where the recommendations of these three domains overlap.”

The toolkit was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and developed with input from an advisory group of individual donors.

Investing in a Strong Start for Children

The center points to three compelling reasons to explain why now is an important time to invest in children:

• groundbreaking brain research that shows the significant impact of early intervention

• the high return on investment that these gifts generate, and

• the diverse groups of stakeholders and key players that donors can leverage

The website also provides examples of early childhood programs that the center has analyzed. The center encourages donors to consider these examples with a “two-generation lens,” looking for philanthropic opportunities to help children by helping their families.

There’s also a list of recommended resources on early childhood, that includes local organizations including Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, and information from NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Investment Strategies

The center points to three strategies that donors can consider investing in:

• weaving a web of support for kids and families

• providing great places to learn, and

• preparing children to be strong readers

One of the “exemplar programs” that the center points to is the Incredible Years, a program that advances “the social and emotional behavior of children of all ethnic groups” through a series of interlocking training programs for parents, teachers and children.

Donors who are interested in this approach (or other approaches featured on the website) can use an online mapping tool to find the nonprofit organizations that use Incredible Years and make philanthropic gifts to these organizations.

A Model for Fundraising

The center’s descriptions of promising efforts provide a useful template of an outline that any nonprofit early childhood organization can use to create fundraising materials:

• define the problem

• describe the solution

• explain how the solution works and add supporting evidence

• explain the solution’s impact, and

• list the costs

Early childhood offers exciting opportunities for donors to see their dollars fund life-changing programs that prepare children for enduring success.

“As always, our hope is that our work will give donors the confidence to invest well — and to invest now,” the center explains on its blog. “Because children don’t wait to grow up, and we can’t afford to fail them any longer.”