Education Funding

Survey Finds Education Grantmakers Getting More Strategic in 2011

By Nora Fleming — December 30, 2011 4 min read
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Philanthropies maintained consistent funding levels for education during 2011, on average, but were more strategic and deliberate with dollars, according to a new report on trends in education philanthropy.

The latest edition of the annual report was produced by Grantmakers in Education, a Portland, Ore.-based membership association of 280 public and private philanthropic organizations that fund education. The association assessed 2011 trends and changes in education funding based on survey responses from 184 members varying in size and type.

In 2010, there was a large jump in funding from the previous year, but 2011 funding levels remained fairly similar to those for 2010, the report says. Though philanthropic funding for education initiatives has grown in the past couple of years, funding levels still have not reached those from before the recession hit in 2008.

Instead of increasing overall financial support, the association notes, donors in 2011 were increasingly focused on supporting “new and emerging initiatives across the education pipeline.” Hot-button areas for change in education, such as teacher quality and preparation and common standards and assessments, were of particular interest to foundations in 2011, as well as the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); expanded learning time and out-of-school programs; and 21st-century skills—all topics that have gained a lot of traction nationally.

The findings of the report, “Benchmarking 2011: Trends in Education Philanthropy,” are also consistent with what the Battle Creek, Mich.-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation has found this year, said Alandra Washington, the foundation’s deputy director of education and learning. One of the larger members of the association, the Kellogg Foundation finances education and other community initiatives that focus on promoting equity for needy children and improving their well-being throughout the United States and, in some cases, overseas.

The foundation funded 116 new education grantees in 2011, with grants totaling close to $99 million.

Like other foundations, Kellogg has also been interested in targeting innovative ideas tied to education-system improvements for students deemed at risk of failure, Ms. Washington said. A teacher-training program in Florida and a parent-advocacy network in Detroit are among the examples.

“While we have particular focuses, we are always looking at new and innovative ways to approach our work and move the needle for children in poverty,” said Ms. Washington. She added that the foundation was pleased to see others placing a high priority on teacher quality and initiatives like community schools, both key components of Kellogg’s main interest areas in education: early-childhood education, school preparedness, and college and career readiness.

The previous Grantmakers in Education report found that funders in 2010 continued to view using their dollars for advocacy and reform efforts as important, particularly around these newer initiatives. For 2011, aligning dollars with advocacy remained an interest, but was not the biggest priority, the new report says.

According to Caroline Preston, a reporter with The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a Washington-based news-and-information organization that tracks trends in philanthropy, some of the trends listed in the report seem fairly consistent with what her publication has found nationally across the field of philanthropy, not just in education.

Last summer, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that organizations had become more strategic with their limited dollars, giving preference to efforts that aligned with their goals. In some cases, that meant building a stronger, better-trained workforce, particularly for corporate foundations.

Ms. Preston said that while grantees these days are often itching to use foundation dollars to make up for budget shortfalls created by the recent recession, such aid is not typically the goal of foundations. Instead, many funders see their dollars as a way to support and test innovative strategies for reform that could be scaled up later with public funding, she said.

“Many foundations are reluctant to fill in budget holes, as their money is tiny in comparison to government budgets,” Ms. Preston said. “The big theme here is ‘do more with less’; foundations have to get a lot smarter with their dollars [today].”

But while the Grantmakers in Education report found funders in education were more intentional with dollars in 2011, a majority of efforts they supported—for the fourth year in a row—were focused on the unified goal of addressing deep disparities in education and improving opportunities for underserved, at-risk, and minority students. More than 90 percent of the philanthropies surveyed said they invested in that area, with six out of 10 committing major amounts, the association reported.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2012 edition of Education Week as Survey Finds a Shift to Strategy Marked Grant-Giving in 2011

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