Between family vacations and work conferences in cooler climates, a small yet mighty group of Arizona Grantmakers Forum members has been meeting this summer to strategize advocacy efforts for early childhood issues. AGF spearheaded this initiative, known as the Arizona Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, in the fall of 2016. Participating foundations include the Arizona Community Foundation, First Things First, Helios Education Foundation, The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation and Vitalyst Health Foundation.

As a group of funders, we collaborate by exchanging and linking ideas, knowledge, research and resources by focusing statewide attention on a seamless continuum of quality early childhood services that strengthen Arizona’s young children, families and communities within the context of their cultures, values and beliefs. We will engage government, businesses, organizations and philanthropic partners from within and outside of Arizona to bring additional knowledge and resources to our efforts.

With guidance from Frontera Strategy and the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) and a $10,000 seed grant from the Alliance for Early Success to AGF, we are replicating TEGAC’s proven model to engage a diverse array of philanthropists in statewide public policy and advocacy. This work will lay the foundation for future collaboration in Arizona’s philanthropic community.

Specifically, Frontera Strategy and TEGAC are assisting AGF in creating a focused research and advocacy strategy that respects the limits of each member by:

  • Guiding a process to educate AGF members about state/federal rules related to advocacy
  • Introducing the Alliance for Early Success’ State Policy Framework and how it can support early childhood policy advocacy in Arizona
  • Facilitating (as needed) a process to find consensus around a shared agenda
  • Attracting new funders interested in policy advocacy on behalf of young children
  • Working with a consortium of funders to have a greater impact on early childhood health, development and well-being

The Arizona collaborative is similar to those formed in Texas and New Mexico where each participating organization contributed $10,000 to fund and oversee an early childhood-related research and advocacy project.

‘Lightning in a bottle’

The collaborative didn’t just form overnight; it was a thoughtful process, starting in spring of 2016 with a survey of AGF members, in which two-thirds of respondents said their organizations have funded advocacy efforts in the last three years, especially coalition building, grassroots organizing, messaging and communications support for advocacy organizations. Fifty-nine percent of respondents expressed interest in “joining a collaboration to jointly support advocacy for early childhood issues.”

“AGF has lightning in a bottle,” Frontera Strategy Founder Jason Sabo said.

We learned that AGF members want to work together to increase the power and effectiveness of their advocacy, particularly for children. The majority of survey respondents shared that they prioritize investments to improve the physical and mental health of children and to increase early literacy and access to quality preschool.

Finding our focus

After the initial meeting of the collaborative, members agreed that the best way to avoid reinventing the wheel is to align with a local organization that is already tackling this line of work: the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance. Dana Naimark and Kelley Murphy, who through Children’s Action Alliance’s role as the backbone/administrative arm of AZECA shared a couple of AZECA’s priorities, specifically young children’s access to health care and high-quality preschool, as top areas of concern.

To narrow our focus further, the collaborative is researching the immediate needs of the two priorities and where the collaborative can have the most significant impact. As we move forward, our activities will include crafting the messaging on data and research, being the voice of the philanthropic community on the chosen issue, and supporting work to identify areas of need/improvement  within the systems impacting early childhood.

Growing the collaborative

AGF members invest their time and talent to improve the quality of life for all Arizonans, including young children, but they know philanthropy cannot do it alone. As an AGF member, I understand the importance of public policy and recognize that philanthropy can and should engage in advocacy to move the needle for Arizona’s most vulnerable populations. It requires the power of many to achieve outcomes for all.

You do not have to change your organization’s mission to participate in the Arizona Early Childhood Funders Collaborative. AGF designed the collaborative to be inclusive, so the contribution amount is flexible. To accommodate members who identified themselves at various places on the advocacy spectrum, members are welcome to join at any stage and in whatever capacity they are comfortable, whether it is funding research projects or directly engaging with policymakers.

If you are interested in joining the collaborative or need more information, please contact AGF President and CEO Laurie Liles.

Karen Ortiz, Ph.D.
Vice President, Early Grade Success Initiatives, Helios Education Foundation
Chair, Arizona Early Childhood Funders Collaborative