Funder Guidance

5 Tips for State Funders: Partnering with Government for Strategic Use of Federal Relief Funds for Early Childhood

State and local foundations can play an active role in supporting transformational implementation of new federal relief funds. Following on previous relief bills in 2020, the new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA includes an additional $49 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and a new grant-based Stabilization program. The responsibility for implementation falls to state leaders. Yet, these same leaders may be exhausted from a year of responding to the pandemic crisis and operating at low staff capacity. They need support from executive leadership and the state legislature for transformative reforms. Private foundations can help alleviate these barriers and partner for transformational change. Here are top ideas from experienced state funders.


1) Offer Ongoing Thought Partnership:

State leaders are hearing demands from multiple constituencies. As a neutral partner focused on the best for children and families, foundation leaders can reach out and ask what the state officials need and how they can help. Building a close relationship with the decision-makers and staff internally is potentially a more useful position than being another constituency that is demanding action. This may mean refraining from public criticism of state government in order to have a trusting connection with internal leadership. This can make it more likely that a foundation partner has an “inside track on new program design,” said one state foundation leader who helped a state develop a family child care network strategy. Foundations can help state leaders analyze implications of state data and identify what more is needed. They can link states to national experts and identify effective community partners.

2) Act as a Convener:

State offices are likely too stretched to have the research and administrative capacity to conduct outreach, research national and local expertise, and organize learning opportunities with speakers from outside the state that could shape thinking. Foundations can offer to underwrite and organize events, hearings, and meetings that support the learning and planning process. Foundations may be able to attract a wider audience at and can pay for amenities like event space and catering. One state foundation convenes regular meetings among local early childhood councils in the state to gather input to share with state leaders.


3) Center the Voices of Families and Communities:

The past year has brought collective realization that governments have not listened enough to the communities they serve. State leaders may welcome support from external partners to thoughtfully engage with communities representing the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity in their state. Foundations can make linkages to their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) led grantees and grassroots organizations, offer to host forums, and share ideas about ongoing strategies to listen and respond to families, early educators, and other practitioners. State foundations can underwrite parent surveys and analysis, organize and host Parent Cafes, support leadership development for parents, and support translation services for non-English speakers. They can offer stipends to people with lived experience for taking the time to share their stories, and remove barriers to participation like transportation costs. Private funding can also support candidate forums to highlight early childhood when possible, and provide factsheets on the state early childhood system to candidates.


4) Expand State Staffing Capacity and Access to Experts, Consultants, and Researchers:

The opportunity at hand calls for strategic planning, research on innovation and models to address long standing inequities in provider payment and compensation for early educators, and systematic elimination of barriers to change. Without staff to spare or lengthy bureaucratic processes needed to hire staff,, some states may appreciate outside support to enhance capacity quickly. Foundation leaders have paid for consultants with specific expertise – such as the ability to analyze the streams of federal relief dollars coming into the state and how they compare to estimated needs – as well as skilled facilitation and project managers. Some have funded “policy fellow” programs to place a full-time staff person in a state agency, thereby bypassing some of the bureaucracy involved in hiring state workers.


5) Use Your Social Capital:

Foundations have more access to high-level executive and legislative branch leaders. Now is the time to work your own connections to create a political environment that is supportive of reform and equity. For example, one foundation leader worked with a member of the state legislature to write a resolution requiring the creation of a target wage scale for early educators in the state.

Where to get started?

Early childhood funders seeking thought partners to get started can reach out to  Shannon Rudisill,  ECFC Executive Director.

For full printer friendly versions of these tips for state funders, and additional ECFC thinking on strategies for funders, download: