5 posts categorized "author-Gabi Fitz"

A Conversation With Barbara Chow, Heising-Simons Foundation, and Shannon Rudisill, Early Childhood Funders Collaborative

December 04, 2018

This month, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, and Foundation Center will be launching a joint effort to map the last ten years of philanthropic giving in the field of Early Childhood Care and Education. The resulting interactive map of the funding landscape is publicly available and offers a valuable starting place for funders and practitioners to explore historical giving data in the context of demographic and education indicators. The map also includes deep dives into the evidence base around professional development and family engagement efforts, two areas of particular growth and interest to the field. A free webinar about the project will be held starting at 1:00 pm EST on December 12.

In advance of the launch, we spoke with Barbara Chow, director of the education program at the Heising-Simons Foundation, and Shannon Rudisill, executive director of the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, about the project.

Headshot_chow_rudisill_compFoundation Center: Tell us about your motivations for commissioning and/or participating in this effort.

Barbara Chow: Well, we were about to start a strategic planning process, so naturally, the first question we set out to address was, how does our past and future funding fit into the larger funding landscape? We recognized that our understanding of the landscape was largely anecdotal as opposed to empirical. So, our interest was in figuring out whether what we had assumed to be true could be validated by grants data.

I realized that this was not the first time I had encountered this question. Usually, a foundation works with a consultant to conduct a series of interviews for the purpose of understanding the funding priorities of other foundations. The limitation of this approach, in my experience, is that as soon as the scan is completed it’s often out of date because one of the foundations has embarked on its own strategic planning process and will soon be on to something different. The real value in working with Foundation Center on this is that the map is dynamic and continuously updated with new data. It doesn't require human beings to go back and redo it every time a foundation wants to scan the field.

Shannon Rudisill: This project and the idea of hosting it with the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative is a natural fit for us. As our name says, we are about helping philanthropic collaborations in the area of early childhood get started, deepen their work, and thrive. The map is a fantastic tool for helping both national and regional foundations identify others who are working on these issues and who have similar goals.

The other reason this is a great resource to have sitting with the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative is because, as a publicly available resource, it’s not only available to ECFC members and early childhood funders, it’s also available to funders who are focused on K-12 education, poverty alleviation, and family economic success. We’re seeing a lot of outreach from folks working in those areas, and this tool can serve them as well.

Foundation Center: After spending a significant amount of time with both the grantmaking data and the evidence review, what are some of your takeaways?

Barbara Chow: I have four main takeaways.

My first takeaway is that, according to the map, between 2006 and 2016, philanthropy invested a little more than $6 billion in early childhood education. It's not a huge amount, especially when you think about it in relationship to public-sector funding for the issue, which is a much bigger number, and the clear and unequivocal return on investment for the field. Even though so many foundations are supporting powerful work, the scale overall is pretty small.

Shannon Rudisill: One way to think about it is that when looking at the total philanthropic funding over ten years, it's about two-thirds of annual public funding for the Head Start program.

Barbara Chow: The second thing I took away from the map is that the ECE funding landscape is fairly fragmented. When we look more closely at the $6 billion of funding over ten years, we see that the number of recipients and number of funders is not that different. Unlike some other fields, the bulk of the money is not going to a few nonprofits; in the case of ECE, it's going to a lot of different groups. In some ways that mirrors the fragmentation of early childhood care and education generally in this country. Unlike K-12, which has a lot of challenges and can be a hard system to move but nevertheless is a system, ECE isn’t. It's an amalgamation of many, many different funding sources, each with their own interests and each subject to different regulations from different levels of government, whether federal, state, or local. And that has resulted in a lot of challenges for providers, who struggle to meet all the different requirements from different government agencies, as well as for families, who have to contend with a maze of different, non-intersecting requirements. This fragmentation is a topic that the ECE field talks and worries a lot about, and it is something that philanthropy is trying its best to address. But the numbers here suggest a lot of dispersion, despite what in my experience has been a high level of collaboration in the early childhood grantmaking community.

Shannon Rudisill: I agree that we are still a long way from a cohesive early childhood system, but when I look at this data, I draw a different insight.  Due to the lack of adequate public funding, I see a layer of philanthropic funding spread thin across a lot of areas. There are so many bases to be covered because there is no publicly-funded system. If we had a system, philanthropy could concentrate resources on innovation, cutting-edge professional development, or driving changes to an already functioning system. But a lot of funders are just trying to provide basic spaces for care because there is such a shortage. By any measure, only a third — or fewer — of eligible families are getting the public subsidies they need to pay for care. And what you get when you have an environment of scarcity like that is people trying to cover a lot of bases with limited dollars.

Barbara Chow: As for the more specific takeaways, there's a part of the map that lets you look at the kinds of strategies that foundations employ in supporting the field, and a couple of things really jumped out at me. One is that the level of general operating support — which is usually considered to be a best practice in philanthropy — is pretty small in the ECE space. In 2015, it was 14.6 percent, compared to 20.7 percent for K-12 funding. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it struck me as something we need to investigate. What also struck me was the level of support for policy and systems change, 5 percent, which is close to what we see in K-12 funding and is actually a little higher than what we see for the philanthropic sector overall. But given the importance of public funding in this field, it still seemed like a relatively low number to me.

Shannon Rudisill: I had the same takeaway as Barbara did in terms of the levels of public versus private investment. One of the things that ECFC has been particularly good at over the years is helping people think about the best use of private dollars in leveraging public money through public-private partnerships. This is a core ECFC principle. The data shows that to build the system we need for kids and families in this country, it's not going to be funded primarily by philanthropic money. The data helps us identify specific levers and best practices as we start to think about partnering with the public sector.

Foundation Center: Barbara, how do you think your program team members, and, Shannon, your members, will use the map?

Barbara Chow: Shannon already touched on this, but the Heising-Simons Foundation works both in California and nationally. We're already pretty familiar with our colleagues in California — although there are always foundations popping up that we haven’t worked with before. But nationally, for instance on the work we are doing around the ECE workforce, the tool will help us better understand the interests of foundations in states we are less familiar with.

I also foresee it being of assistance to us as we enter into new areas we have not yet worked in but are interested in exploring. The map gives us a set of other foundations and grantees we can look to who have already done work in a specific area and who we can consult with and learn from. For instance, we are interested in further supporting grassroots organizing. If you look at the data for that specific support strategy in the map, it quickly becomes apparent how little support there has been for it in the ECE space. I think it’s an area that is about to break out, but it doesn't yet command a lot of funding. The first name that came up when I searched for foundations supporting grassroots organizing was the Minneapolis Foundation, which is not a group I have worked with before, but now I know they have experience in this area.

It also can be helpful, if you’re working with a grantee for the first time, to speak with other funders of that organization to get a sense of how they work, what challenges they have experienced, and what’s the best way to support them.

Shannon Rudisill: We are seeing a real trend in new funders coming into ECE, whether they are new philanthropists who, after looking at a lot of the evidence, have decided that early childhood is going to be their focus or are funders who fund in related fields but want to add ECE to their portfolios. One of the things we do for new funders is to provide expertise on the topic and connect them with peer funders. The map will be a valuable tool in both orienting people who are new to the field and in helping them identify peers.

Foundation Center: As Barbara mentioned, it's not uncommon for funders to participate in scans that are static. But it's also become common for these scans to remain private. Can you speak to why it was so important to make public availability a guiding design principle of this project?

Barbara Chow: Like many others, we are huge believers in the value of funder collaborations. So, by making this work publicly available, we are hoping to stimulate even more collaboration. We also thought that if the map was made publicly available, many foundations would look at it and realize their data wasn't there. Our hope in making the map public is that it will stimulate other foundations to add their data and, more generally, report their grants data to Foundation Center electronically. There’s a network effect in that which is pretty important, but we only really benefit if the data is publicly available and accessible to lots of people. We very much see this as a first draft. It's a good one, but it will continue to change and get better over time. It's a start, not in any way an end, and the more foundations participate, the better the data will be.

Shannon Rudisill: When you really look at the map and the underlying data, it sparks really interesting conversations and new questions. Every time you look at it you're struck by something else. The biggest value might be the conversations that are sparked by the data.

— Gabi Fitz

Why We Make Free, Public Information More Accessible — and How You Can Help

February 17, 2017

An appeal from our IssueLab colleagues Gabi Fitz and Lisa Brooks.

File_folder_lockOne of the key roles the nonprofit sector plays in civil society is providing evidence about social problems and their solutions. Given recent changes to policies regarding the sharing of knowledge and evidence by federal agencies, that function is more critical than ever.

Nonprofits deliver more than direct services such as running food banks or providing shelter to people who are homeless. They also collect and share data, evidence, and lessons learned so as to help all of us understand complex and difficult problems.

Those efforts not only serve to illuminate and benchmark our most pressing social problems, they also inform the actions we take, whether at the individual, organizational, community, or policy level. Often, they provide the evidence in "evidence-based" decision making, not to mention the knowledge that social sector organizations and policy makers rely on when shaping their programs and services and individual citizens turn to inform their own engagement.

In January 2017, several U.S. government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, were ordered by officials of the incoming Trump administration not to share anything that could be construed as controversial through official communication channels such as websites and social media channels. (See "Federal Agencies Told to Halt External Communications.") Against that backdrop, the nonprofit sector's interest in generating and sharing evidence has become more urgent than ever.

IssueLab's mission is to provide free and immediate access to the knowledge nonprofits and foundations produce about the world as it is — as well as the things individuals and organizations are doing to make it better. We know there's no such thing as a post-truth society, and we are committed to supporting nonprofits and foundations in their efforts to gather and disseminate facts and evidence.

Seeking Volunteer "Factivists"

Providing access to evidence and lessons learned is always important, but in light of recent events, we believe it's more necessary than ever. That's why we are asking for your help in providing — and preserving — access to this critical knowledge base.

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IssueLab at 10: The Technology and Art of Sharing Knowledge

June 13, 2016

Earlier this year, Foundation Center president Brad Smith noted that producing knowledge is one of the most important but least-developed sources of foundation influence.

Issuelab_splashI couldn't agree more. But as one of the staff responsible for managing the center’s IssueLab knowledge-sharing service, I can testify that it’s not because there's a lack of knowledge being produced by foundations. It's because too many of the evaluations, case studies, and reports produced by the sector never get shared or only reach a limited audience.

This week we are relaunching the IssueLab platform to address the problem head on. While the redesign has given us an opportunity to rework the platform's technology in a way that will enable us to more efficiently scale our efforts in the years to come, one of the most important things to come out of the process has been a much-needed reminder of how and why researchers, nonprofits, and funders use the site.

A New Approach to Synthesis

Consider the humble synthesis report. As an incredibly valuable but not yet widely adopted tool in the foundation toolbox, the synthesis report is an excellent example of what’s possible when foundations share — and apply — lessons learned from past projects.

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Isn't Our Research Already Free? Why Open Access Matters for the Social Sector & How You Can Get Involved

October 30, 2015

Open_repositoryLast week individuals and organizations across the globe, including Foundation Center's own open access repository IssueLab, celebrated Open Access Week. This annual event/celebration puts the spotlight on a concept that is of terrific importance to those of us who produce knowledge but also to those of us who rely on it to do our jobs.

According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC): " 'Open Access' to information —  the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need  —  has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole."

Many of us who work in the social sector — who fund, produce, use, share, and safeguard research and knowledge about social issues and social change  —  already know that open access is incredibly important. Why? Because we live that last bit about "direct and widespread implications...for society as a whole." We're the people who grapple with social issues that impact all of us, all over the globe, every day. Through our work we research, implement, and share strategies that attempt to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, conquer inequality, abolish injustice, and so much more.

Free and immediate access to information about social change strategies, and unfettered use and reuse of the results of that information, just makes sense. It lines up with why we produce knowledge in the first place: to build awareness about tough social problems and the creative and persistent solutions that are making the world a better place.

In the spirit of both Open Access Week and of the purpose and principles that drive us to produce knowledge in the first place, we invite our social sector colleagues to learn more about what open knowledge sharing means for our sector. To get you started, we'll explore two concepts you can implement today: open licensing and open repositories.

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A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

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Quote of the Week

  • "Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated...."

    — Kofi Annan (1938-2018)

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