In 2018, we started Children’s Funding Project based on a simple idea—kids can’t thrive without sustained financial investments in the programs and services that support them. Throughout our years in direct service, we experienced firsthand the constant challenge of securing the funds needed to support the programs our children and youth deserve. We also saw how easy it is to believe that resources for our work were, and always would be, scarce—a mindset that still affects far too many advocates and leaders for children and youth services.

In the absence of robust public funding, coming from a family of means is a prerequisite for accessing high-quality early childhood care and education, after-school and summer programs, mental health support, college and workforce preparation, and other essential services. Children from households with fewer resources get left behind; they are the ones least able to access the programs and resources they need and deserve.

Like advocates across the country, Elizabeth knew this had to change. The only way to expand equitable opportunities for kids was to think differently about how cities, counties, and states fund the full set of experiences that young people need during their first two decades of life. Our country needed a team of leaders who could wake up every morning focused on the flow and use of money to support kids in communities nationwide. So Children’s Funding Project was born.

When the organization launched in 2018, no one knew that we would soon be heading into a historic disruption to both public health and child and youth development. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, colleges, child care centers, and after-school programs, the vital services that these institutions provide to society took center stage. At the same time, organizers for racial justice lifted their voices and demanded that the nation face its legacy of injustice and white supremacy.

Through the awareness raised during this long season of change, recovering from the pandemic no longer meant returning to the status quo. Our communities and states had to build more equitable systems and services—and the infusion of federal COVID-relief and stimulus dollars offered them the chance to start doing just that. The flexibility of the relief funds gave local leaders a burst of energy to think boldly and creatively about child- and youth-focused services as well as an opportunity to rewire the funding systems that support them.

Sustaining the investments and improvements made with the federal dollars requires a deliberate effort to build the capacity of state and local leaders to track, administer, and analyze the flow and impact of public funds and deploy resources equitably to improve outcomes for children and youth. Children’s Funding Project helps state and local leaders build this capacity in three ways:

  1. Delivering services and tools to support state and local leaders with their strategic finance planning and to grow their awareness about the true costs of programs and the flow of funds into and through communities.
  2. Coaching state and local leaders to help them develop the skills to create and execute their own strategic public financing plans.
  3. Building a movement among state and community leaders to promote additional funding for children and youth services by elevating local and state success stories and best practices, inspiring a racially and geographically diverse pipeline of professionals to pursue strategic public financing, and partnering with advocacy organizations and funders across the cradle-to-career spectrum.

During Children’s Funding Project’s first five years, our collective work reached 151 communities and states. We helped localities track and organize $179 billion in local, state, federal, and local philanthropic funds that support kids. Meanwhile, among past attendees to our three Children’s Funding Institutes, eight community teams successfully created voter-approved children’s funds that collectively generate approximately $313 million annually for kids. Since collaborating with us, our partners in communities like New Orleans, LA; San Antonio, TX; and Whatcom County, WA, have sustained and expanded the work they started with us to grow strategic investments in children and youth. You can read more about their work in our recently released five-year impact report.

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the valuable contributions our funders, partners, and staff have made to support our success. In many ways, Elizabeth’s prior work with Karen Pittman, one of Children’s Funding Project’s initial board members, inspired Elizabeth to create Children’s Funding Project as an organization focused specifically on the funding communities need to create the system of supports that contributes to positive youth development. Meanwhile, our long-term partnership with Margaret Brodkin, founder of Funding the Next Generation, provided a foundation for our biennial Children’s Funding Institute and continues to inform our work on local ballot measures for voter-approved children’s funds. Finally, Olivia Allen, our strategy director, worked side by side with Elizabeth to launch Children’s Funding Project.

Slowly but surely, advocates for children and youth are shifting from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. They are learning to use their newfound budget prowess to challenge their local leaders to invest in programs and services for kids.

Even amidst politically polarizing times for our nation, these advocates are building bridges in their communities around a shared belief in the importance of giving all children a strong start in life and a shared desire to ensure they have every opportunity to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives. We invite you to join them—and us—as we work together to help communities create robust and sustainable funding systems that ensure all children and youth can access the programs, services, and resources they need and deserve.

To read more about our organizational impact, read our five-year impact report.

Elizabeth Gaines is founder and CEO of Children’s Funding Project. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon is CEO of UP Partnership and chairperson for Children’s Funding Project’s Board of Directors.