Offered small non-competitive, multi-year grants to 49 communities
Prior to Discovery, the Memorial Fund supported policy research and advocacy, community change and parent engagement through the Children First Initiative. Children First provided funding and intensive technical assistance to 7 communities to improve educational outcomes for young children.
Many of the values that guided Children First were carried over to Discovery-- such as the value of parent and community voice, a commitment to building and maintaining grantee relationships, and a belief in the need for capacity-building support for communities and leaders. However, the Discovery initiative design and strategies also reflected the Memorial Fund's learning about what it takes to make lasting change.
Modest Grants to 49 communities
Fourty-nine communities joined Discovery in 2001, representing more than half of the children in the state. The Memorial Fund invited all of the communities defined as "high need" by the Connecticut State Department of Education to participate in Discovery. The ultimate goal was to develop a critial mass of diverse communities to advance the interests of young children. As Executive Director David Nee says, "We knew this battle could not be fought from the big cities alone.”
The Memorial Fund understood that it would not be able to provide the level of funding to 49 communities that it had provided to the 7 communities involved in Children First. Further, through Children First, the Memorial Fund learned that support for reflection, collaboration, and planning was both essential and difficult for most community groups to fund elsewhere.
Non-Competitive, Multi-Year Grants
Communities received grants ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 each year beginning in 2002 to participate in Discovery. All of the original 49 communities received funding from 2001 through 2009. Rather than make funding conditional on external measures of progress, funding was based on annual self-assessment that focused on building a collaborative infrastructure and community support for the work. The elements of this tool later evolved into the Community Self-Assessment tool to guide thinking on indicators of community progress.
The Memorial Fund viewed its relationship with grantees as a partnership; a learning process where community needs and interests drive the work, not funding requirements. Staff periodically visited all of the communities and maintained an “open door” policy with grantees and their partners.
This decision was based partially on the Memorial Fund’s strongly held value that deep and lasting change requires trust among the participants. It was also based on an understanding that this kind of work is developmental, for the Memorial Fund as well as for its grantees.
A key lesson from this period was the degree to which communities were willing to engage with the Memorial Fund in the initiative, even though the grants were modest. In 2010, Discovery still had the original 49 communities grantees, plus 5 more.
Another learning was the difference this type of funding made. Some of the communities lacked access to private funding because they had no funders that served their geographic area. Others had never received funds for planning and collaborative building and began "from scratch." For these communities, Discovery funding as they worked through the process of building a collaborative and developing community capacity to do the work was particularly valuable.