In our February 2021 newsletter, we highlighted three issues to watch: K-12, infant vitality and women in the workforce. There are two more issues we’re watching closely this year: early learning and philanthropy. The Biden administration signaled early on that it would take on issues like universal pre-kindergarten and expanding access to affordable child care, among other issues that directly impact workforce and child development. Philanthropy pivoted quickly last year to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we predict more rapid-response giving as well as racial equity will be a focus in 2021. Dive into our newsletter and learn more!

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Featured in the Spring 2021 newsletter:

Early Learning Philanthropy New and
Updated Tools


Early Learning

ACS Early Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the challenges working parents have always faced in accessing affordable and high-quality child care. 

To jumpstart the economy and get people back to work, families need safe, nurturing, and cost-friendly child care to support their children. Although many states around the country have prioritized matters of early learning, prioritization by the Biden administration via the sweeping $1.9 million American Recovery Plan (ARP) will no doubt act as a catalyst to long-term systemic struggles from a policy and funding perspective. In addition, our research indicates that a second package from the Biden administration will tackle early learning matters that were not included in the ARP, such as universal pre-kindergarten. Below are the highlights from the ARP and what we might expect to see in the potential second Biden administration package. Watching how states use these dollars and their related outcomes will certainly shape the field for years to come.

ARP supports early learning directly and indirectly in the following ways:

ARP supports early learning

Is there more federal relief on the horizon?

The answer to that question is yes.

Federal aid

What does that mean for early learning? The Biden administration has indicated that they will seek another significant package to address issues such as Universal pre-kindergarten, further expansion of child care tax credit, infrastructure, community college funding, and climate change. Estimates of such a package indicate that a price tag of $3 trillion.

For the early learning community, if the United States were to adopt universal pre-k, it’s widely accepted it will set up young learners on a trajectory of success and studies have shown will be impactful on child development and cost effective. It is also key for the workforce supporting the early learning space, as those individuals have been traditionally underpaid. In fact, increasing compensation for teachers and staff will be critical to its success, and as such, a must within the potential Biden administration package.

The challenges stakeholders will face on this new package are two-fold. First is the price tag. Many Republicans and some Democrats will have a tough time absorbing another multi-trillion-dollar package from the federal government. Second, do all of the issues slated for this potential package fall within the auspices of the federal government? It seems advancing a nationwide infrastructure strategy has the potential of bi-partisan support, but other issues have not and might not experience that level of support, especially within a package that would be the largest in the nation’s history. Will universal pre-k have widespread, bipartisan support to help elevate it beyond the price tag and horse-trading that will no doubt occur in this potential process? Only time will tell. ACS will continue to watch this issue closely and provide you with updates.


In 2020, philanthropy changed: some funders took opportunities to pivot; others were forced to adapt. In 2021, philanthropists will be able to catch their breath and plan more strategically—but the effects of last year will not be reversed. The COVID-19 pandemic, the historic civil rights protests, and a hyper focus on elections have funders reconsidering who they give to, how they give, their role in communities, and who has a seat at the decision-making table.

Giving Trends

Rapid-response emergency funds quickly became available when the pandemic first surged, which forced funders to reevaluate their application processes. Food banks, housing nonprofits, educational support, and other community resources saw a need to grow exponentially overnight, and philanthropy responded. 

The report by Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, “Philanthropy and COVID-19 in 2020: Measuring One Year of Giving,” examined more than $20 billion in global philanthropic funding by institutional grant makers and high net worth donors for COVID-19-related efforts during 2020. The report found several key takeaways:

Communities also banded together across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, at least 850 emergency-response funds have been created nationwide. Foundations were suddenly funding initiatives that they had never planned to support. Dogwood Health Trust (DHT), based in North Carolina, is a new foundation that had only begun its grant-making in January 2020. Although they had never planned to fund Census work, they were compelled by the logistical challenge of ensuring every person is counted in the midst of a pandemic that encouraged social distancing. As a result of DHT’s prioritization, their region of NC had higher rates of Census completion than the rest of the state and they increased from the responses received in 2010.  The impact? The Census is one of the key drivers for many federal policy and funding decisions. This means that federal funding for states and local regions will be better aligned with the actual number of individuals and their related needs, in those communities.

Many funders are restructuring their application process to ask fewer questions that hone in on the information that was essential to have versus information that was “nice to know.” Funders knew that nonprofits were struggling with their capacity to respond to the needs of their communities, so they changed expectations and recognized the administrative burden of some grant applications. Foundations also have been pooling resources with other philanthropic institutions to move dollars more efficiently. 

The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a series of reports that identified the ways in which foundations changed to respond to the pandemic and found that funders became more flexible and responsive. The Center surveyed more than 800 foundations and nearly all of them indicated that they were loosening grant restrictions, making new grants less restricted, and asking less of their grantees–not just for COVID-19 relief funding, but across all program areas. More than half of the foundations surveyed plan to maintain these changes, and one-third were still undecided. This tells us that, even after the world moves past the pandemic, funders have fundamentally changed their giving processes. 

Racial Equity

The Center for Effective Philanthropy also saw foundations trending towards equity-focused funding. Seventy five percent of the 800 surveyed foundations indicated that they were creating new efforts to support organizations serving Black communities, and half said funding towards nonprofits with Black leadership increased during the pandemic. Interviewees pointed to both the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on Black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement as reasons for this shift. 

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy report, however, found only 35% of the dollars donated was explicitly designated for communities of color, clearly showing room for improvement. One approach was demonstrated by billionaire MacKenzie Scott who made a total of $1.7 billion donation to historically black colleges and universities and women’s and LGBTQ equity organizations. High-net-worth donors followed suit and designated a higher proportion of funding for communities of color than institutional philanthropy. 

COVID-19 uncovered the dire need for systems-level change and the role philanthropy can play in its upheaval. The Council on Foundations found that over half of the foundations surveyed invested in racial equity through community building and community organizing, and over a quarter invested through policy advocacy. 

Philanthropy is not only responding to the external need for equity, but also looking internally to see how philanthropic organizations contribute to systemic racism. The funding gap between white-led and Black-led organizations, although not new, has been brought into the spotlight.

Role in the Pandemic 


Philanthropy filled the gaps where the federal government failed in 2020: they distributed public funds, increased testing, funded vaccine creation, and more.

The Cleveland Foundation, the oldest community foundation in the world, is a prime example of all of these changes. In 2020, they established a COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund that brought together dozens of funders to quickly funnel money to nonprofits addressing the basic needs of the community. The Cleveland Foundation utilized its capacity and knowledge of the community to be the logistical champions of the response fund, which combined public county dollars with corporate, family, and community foundation grants. 

Cleveland Foundation also established the Black Futures Fund in September 2020. The Black-led, Black-serving fund was founded directly in response to the mass movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd. The dollars are strategically given to “elevate specific interventions to strengthen the ecosystem of Black leaders and Black-serving organizations in Greater Cleveland by providing intentional resources to help grow organizational infrastructure and capacity.” 

The foundation is changing nearly every grant process: asking different questions, getting money out of the door faster, and prioritizing racial equity. 

We expect that this type of work will continue and might grow in philanthropic circles nationally throughout 2021 to include trust-building around the vaccine. This expansion of philanthropy’s role could mean closer public-nonprofit partnerships and a greater interest in funding advocacy work that strengthens the public sector. 

New and Updated Tools 

Budget Season is Here. Know How to Talk the Talk

ACS budget termsIt’s state and federal budget season time, and ACS has updated our Federal Budget Glossary to help you make the most of your advocacy.

From Appropriations to Sequestration and everything in between, we included most of the terms you need to know this season. The number of federal budget terms and phrases can easily become overwhelming as you embark upon advocacy efforts at the federal level. To help take the confusion out of the equation, ACS has developed this Federal Budget and Appropriation Terms document, in order to make sense of those you are most likely to hear as you advocate at the federal level. Some of them apply to the state level, too.

View and download our tools.

In Case You Missed It: Kick Jargon to the Curb

ACS Kick Jargon to the CurbNow that you understand all of the federal budget terms, it’s time to reinforce that using jargon isn’t always the best approach. There are times when you need to “talk the talk” to reach politicians or other experts, but when you’re speaking with laypeople, it’s important that you’re easily understood.

Jargon often stands in the way of your message getting to your audience. When your communication doesn’t take into account the audiences’ knowledge of your issue, you waste time and effort. Your audience spends time deciphering what you’ve said, or in some cases, looking up terms on Google, instead of hearing your message and taking action. Just because everyone in your realm knows what “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” or “Social Determinants of Health” means, it does not mean all of your audiences do.

The average open rate for marketing emails (newsletters, e-blasts, etc.) is 21%. That means only one in five people who receive your communication actually click to open it. Make sure the individuals who open your messages understand what you say.

The average open rate for marketing emails (newsletters, e-blasts, etc.) is 21%. That means only one in five people who receive your communication actually click to open it. Make sure the individuals who open your messages understand what you say.

Important Tips to Get Your Message Across Loud and Clear

  • Provide some background information. Don’t assume everyone knows your issue.
  • Don’t overcomplicate your message. Simplicity is best.
  • Don’t make alphabet soup. ANY acronyms without definition are off limits.
  • Don’t use the same language you would use when you talk to peers. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not deeply familiar with your issue areas and does not run in the same circles that you do.
  • Use statistics and numbers, but not formulas. Make data easy to understand.
  • Demonstrate impact. Show why your issue matters.   

Banish Shop Talk

In addition to industry jargon, there are overused business-speak phrases that get in the way of a clear message. Evict these from your vernacular immediately:

  • Alignment
  • Bandwidth (when referring to people, not the Internet)
  • Sustainable/Scalable/Replicable
  • Incentivize 
  • Leverage
  • Deep dive
  • Synergy/Synthesize/Synergistically 
  • Innovative/Dynamic

Jargon Bingo

Use our Jargon Bingo Card to check your communication before you send it. Fill up your card. If you get a bingo, you can be pretty sure you’re free of lingo.

Want More?

Want to learn how communication, strategy development, advocacy, or capacity building can move your organization forward? Need an expert for training sessions or conference presentations?

Contact one of our team members, call toll free at 1-877-372-0166, or visit our website at

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