the Issue Environment
About 3 years into its existence, Preschool California was at a point to reflect on its past work and the best ways to move its policy agenda forward, still using local outreach to influence the conversation in Sacramento.

Preschool California and the Packard Foundation engaged FowlerHoffman to assess the policy environment around high-quality preschool in order to create a new strategic planning map for local outreach. This assessment included demographic projections about 4-year-olds; voter statistics; legislator support for preschool; and the presence of strong, existing preschool systems.

The mapping enabled the selection of target regions in which to base local organizing efforts. Preschool California then contracted with local organizers and hired a statewide field director to manage their efforts. This reinvigorated organizing has extended the organization's reach into key regions and new constituencies, including business and Latinos, which has further strengthened the saliency of preschool as a component of education reform. Preschool California has built a lot of success off this, including recent statewide policy change.


for Collaborative Action
In 2005, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund established the Birth to Five Policy Alliance "to help shift the odds for very young children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to narrow the achievement gap."

The Fund created the Alliance by making grants to the following statewide and national organizations that have an interest in children birth to five.

  • Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
  • Committee for Economic Development
  • Fight Crime: Invest in Kids
  • National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP)
  • National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
  • National Governors Association (NGA)
  • National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (NSCDC)
  • The Ounce of Prevention Fund
  • United Way of America
  • Zero to Three

Two years into the project, the Fund decided it needed to assess its progress and retained FowlerHoffman to conduct key-informant interviews with the Alliance leadership and grantees in order to ascertain what they thought was working, what they thought was not working, and what they thought the Alliance should be doing in the short and long terms.

Across the board, the grantees were eager to participate in the process. Having been assured that the interviews would remain anonymous, the grantees were able to give their candid opinions on the birth to five issues, the Alliance, and where both might or should go in the future. For example, grantees were able to express opinions on geographic focus of future funding (e.g., local, state, or national), which types of groups should be funded (e.g., national vs. local, researchers vs. advocates, etc.), and communication strategies to generate support for birth to five issues. Grantees also gave opinions about which issues the movement should focus on, such as home visits for new parents and/or pre-kindergarten.

After compiling the interview findings and conducting a rigorous review of them with the Fund's leadership, FowlerHoffman prepared a synthesis of the interviews and presented it along with long-term strategy recommendations on the first day of the Alliance's two-day annual meeting. A vigorous discussion followed the presentation, and the Fund and its grantees went on to integrate the strategy into planning discussions throughout the rest of the convening.

After the two-day meeting, FowlerHoffman consolidated the interview findings and evolved long-term strategy into a comprehensive final report that gave the Buffett Early Childhood Fund a straightforward review of the Birth to Five Policy Alliance progress from the people most involved with the effort as well as a vetted long-term strategy for the grantees to build upon.


System Change
In 2003, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation engaged FowlerHoffman to help launch a new organization to advocate for the expansion of preschool programs in California.

The firm provided both strategic counsel and staff support to help the new organization, Preschool California, formulate its mission and message and establish itself as a leading voice on bringing about voluntary preschool for all in California.

A particular challenge the new organization faced was moving preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds from the childcare world to the K-12 education world. Such a challenge required creating the right message and uniting a disparate field of players in education, childcare, and other interest groups behind it. And it had to happen within the context of California’s statewide, regional, and local politics and widely varying demographics.

FowlerHoffman worked with the Preschool California leadership and key stakeholders to design a communication strategy with a focus on local engagement that would change the conversation in the capitol to produce policy change. The foundation of this strategy included message research and environmental scans to determine who the essential allies would be, both in the field and in Sacramento. From this research, FowlerHoffman developed a message memo that would inform the creation of collateral materials including brochures, the website, and even the images and tagline that would represent the organization. The messages, buoyed by pictures of cute kids, focused on the learning potential of children and the idea that “kids can’t wait to learn” (a tagline that united Preschool California with other advocates around the country).

With the organization’s image set, FowlerHoffman then used the results of its environmental scan to organize six Community Leader Forums around the state to begin the process of gaining the buy-in of high-level community leaders representing diverse constituencies. These forums brought local leaders together to share perspectives about preschool and its potential benefits for their regions and to motivate them to take action locally and statewide on behalf of creating voluntary preschool for all in California. By grounding itself in the grassroots and cultivating diverse allies, Preschool California was able to create a broad chorus of voices calling for preschool as a way to give kids a firm foundation for success in school.


Change to Scale
FowlerHoffman has extensive experience in working closely with foundations and advising them on how to use their grant-making and communications to build public will and support bringing policy change to scale.

As the vignette below illustrates, we have direct experience in foundation-funded child welfare reform communications, having been for ten years the lead communication consultants to the Edna McConnell Clark Community Partnership Initiative (now housed at the Center for Community Partnerships in Child Welfare at the Center for the Study of Social Policy).

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation launched its Community Partnerships for Protecting Children Initiative in the mid-nineties, a time in which sweeping welfare reform, a continuing crack cocaine epidemic, and record numbers of children in foster care were taking a significant toll on a child welfare system already in need of substantive reform. Intending to go beyond agency reform, the initiative sought to include parents, extended families, friends, neighbors, schools, houses of worship, police, courts, service providers, local businesses, and others in local efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Bringing together such disparate groups, many with a history of mistrust, was a significant challenge when FowlerHoffman was brought in to devise communication strategies and tools to support the initiative’s reform model. The firm’s task was twofold: To support and encourage communication efforts in four local demonstration sites (St. Louis, Cedar Rapids, Jacksonville, and Louisville) and to build national messages about reform. Balancing the unique nature of each site’s local work with the need for shared messages was another challenge of this endeavor. Both the local and national communication work also had to strike a balance between the need to tout positive gains and the need to convey the complexity of the issues surrounding child welfare reform. The initiative had to beware of oversimplifying, overselling, and over-promising on the reforms.

With those challenges in mind, FowlerHoffman worked with each site to identify key target audiences within its community, such as community members, service providers, and policymakers—and then helped them find compelling messages, spokespeople, and personal stories to drive a communication strategy aimed at bringing the community together behind the initiative. Working with David Sackett of the Tarrance Group, FowlerHoffman designed and conducted focus groups, first with child welfare workers and then with state legislators, in order to gain insight into their perspectives and further hone messages. A series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholders during the course of the project continuously informed the communications.

The primary tool developed from this work was a presentation kit to help each site reach out to potential partners. The kits included sample speeches, graphics, slides, and handouts. FowlerHoffman also produced a video about the initiative, with a separate trailer for each pilot community.

For the national initiative leadership, FowlerHoffman provided ad hoc communication counsel throughout the course of the work and communication assistance for the launch of the new Center, the annual conferences, and the 2002 Congressional Child Welfare Summit. The firm also managed visits to the pilot sites from multi-state teams of legislators and welfare administrators, in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

With the help of carefully balanced communication strategies, the initiative’s four pilot sites became stronger and generated some invaluable lessons on the new approach to child welfare. By 2005, the approach had spread to 50 community partnerships across the country.


for Change
The 2002 passage of Proposition 49 in California provided a $428 million increase in funding for the state’s After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program, funds that would allow the state to more than double its program offerings.

However, when it became clear in 2006 that funding would soon be released, there arose a concern that the field wouldn’t have the capacity to use the funds, particularly in areas serving high-need (i.e., high-poverty, low academic performance) schools.

To address this concern, FowlerHoffman, with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, developed a rapid outreach campaign called Act 4 After School. The primary goal of the campaign was to ensure that community advocates in high-need districts receive timely information on the new funding as well as resources and information to help them ensure that their districts apply for funds to provide after-school programs at their schools.

FowlerHoffman began by assessing the interest levels in applying for ASES funds within the 75 California school districts with the largest enrollments in high-need schools. Calls to the targeted districts revealed that, as of May 2006, only 12 of these 75 districts were committed to applying for all or most of their high-need schools.

Next, FowlerHoffman developed a multi-tiered outreach strategy to move these districts toward applying for funds, with special emphasis on the 15 districts with the largest percentage of students enrolled in unfunded, high-need schools. Local stakeholders were recruited as advocates for the grant application process. In a few instances, the campaign itself worked directly with school district staff and organized meetings and information-sharing events with local after-school leaders.

The campaign worked intensely with Bay Area Partnership for Children and Youth, Children Now, CalSAC, Boys & Girls Clubs, Save the Children, THINK Together, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and STAR Education in supporting outreach to these high-need districts to ensure they had the necessary information and technical assistance to apply for the grants. The campaign capitalized on these groups’ relationships and communication networks, providing them with fliers, e-mail newsletter items, talking points, and other materials to distribute to their members and allies.

The campaign worked with other organizations including the California PTA, California Friday Night Live Partnership, Central Valley Afterschool Foundation, PICO California, California Alliance of YMCAs, California School Boards Association, CCS Partnership, League of California Cities, Camp Fire USA, California Afterschool Network, Afterschool Alliance, the National Assembly, and the California Park and Recreation Society, encouraging them to spread the word to their members or hold member workshops.

The hub of the campaign was, which featured the latest news from Sacramento, links to resources for program providers needing technical assistance, and a web-based toolkit and advocacy guide. The campaign sent out regular “E-lerts” through the website to keep the advocates and the field up to date on the progress of the legislation and the release of the grant application.

The campaign-style approach to rapid outreach was a success: the grantee lists released in January 2007 revealed that 75 percent of the high-need schools in the largest 75 California districts were slated to receive ASES grants.