Responsive Grant Guidelines

About the Early Childhood Initiative

The San Diego Foundation is committed to creating a thriving region. Understanding that early childhood care is essential to supporting families and ensuring long-term success for children, the Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) strives to increase access to quality, affordable early childhood education and developmental care in San Diego County. The Early Childhood Initiative works collaboratively with regional partners to:

  • Strengthen families
  • Reduce inequality, break the cycle of poverty
  • Bolster the regional workforce
  • Support economic growth

The Funding Opportunity

The San Diego Foundation has $250,000 in total funding available for the Early Childhood Initiative 2021 Responsive Grant. Organizations may request a maximum of $25,000 each in funding support.


The 2021 ECI Responsive Grant aims to support nonprofit organizations addressing emerging needs in the San Diego region. According to the December 2020 report Roadmap for Resilience: The California Surgeon General’s Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences, Toxic Stress, and Health, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma represent an urgent public health crisis with wide-reaching health and societal impacts. Informed by this report, as well as by regional data and local stakeholders, this important issue is recognized as one that is impacting many children, families, and service providers that deliver care in San Diego County.  Ensuring young children have opportunities to thrive, and families have access to supportive services is crucial to nurturing early childhood development and care. For this reason, the 2021 ECI Responsive Grant will focus on supporting the following strategies: abuse prevention; mental and behavioral health support and early intervention; and health equity.


The following are strategies that support the goal of the ECI grant that will be eligible for funding for the 2021 grant cycle. Organizations will be asked to identify the primary strategy they plan to employ in their application. All applicants are encouraged to address service and support for low-to-moderate income families, and communities experiencing negative social determinants of health.

  1. Abuse Prevention: Strengthen and expand access to prevention, intervention and recovery services for children ages 0-5 and their families, including family strengthening efforts that expand abuse prevention and related services.
  2. Mental/Behavioral Health & Early Intervention: Strengthen and expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children ages 0-5 and their families as part of an effort to increase intervention and developmental support for children and parents, and decrease and mitigate trauma.
  3. Health Equity: Respond to the needs of children ages 0-5 and their families experiencing negative social determinants of health, historic inequities and/or racial bias. These strategies should include access to critical resources and must also identify plans to connect children and families to care for children 0-5 and related services.

Grant Criteria & Eligibility

Each proposal must be led by a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) public charity status, located in and serving San Diego County. A 501(c)(3) public charity may serve as a fiscal sponsor for another applicant to administer the grant and provide regular financial reporting to The San Diego Foundation.


  • Projects must be completed within a 12-month timeline.
  • Previous applicants or recipients of Early Childhood Initiative funding are eligible to apply.
  • The San Diego Foundation will not fund endowments, existing obligations/debt, scholarships, or projects that promote religious or political doctrines.
  • Projects must work to expand care for low-to-moderate income communities and/or populations experiencing inequities or negative social determinants of health.
  • Projects will serve children from ages 0-5 and their families in the areas of: abuse prevention; mental/behavioral health and early intervention; and health equity.


  • Articulate a strategy for project success
  • Show potential for measurable impact
  • Exhibit organizational strength, past performance and strong community partnerships
  • Demonstrate ability to connect authentically with the community served
  • Leverage funds from other partners

Important Dates

March 11, 2021 FY21 Early Childhood Initiative Responsive grant guidelines released
April 13, 2021 Grant Guidelines & Application Process Webinar. More information below.
April 23, 2021 Proposals due via Smarter Select online application by 5:00 p.m.
June 30, 2021 Applicants will be notified

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we apply?

Applications will be accepted from March 11, 2021 to April 23, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. PST. All applications must be submitted online using the link here or click on the “Apply Now” button below.

How much can we request?

The San Diego Foundation will accept requests up to $25,000.

Who is eligible to apply?

To be eligible for an Early Childhood Initiative Responsive grant from The San Diego Foundation, organizations must have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and provide services in San Diego County. An organization may serve as a fiscal sponsor for a charitable organization that does not have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status if an established cooperative relationship between the two can be clearly demonstrated. The fiscal sponsor must be willing to administer the grant and complete related reporting, if awarded. Please see Eligibility & Recommendations above.

What is the grant period?

Projects must be implemented within 12 months of grant approval.

What is the age range for early childhood?

Early childhood is identified as 0-5 years of age, including prenatal care.

How do we define low-to-moderate income?

For the purposes of this grant, low-to-moderate income will be defined based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant guidelines.

Who can I contact if I have a question about the grant program?

Due to high volume, we will only be able to answer questions about the application during a scheduled Q&A webinar on April 13, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. PSTPlease register for this webinar here

When will applicants be notified?

Applicants will be notified by June 30, 2021.

What if I encounter any technical issues?

Please contact the Grants Manager at

Apply Now