June 2020: Annual reports are retrospective documents – describing the year that was – not the present time. Currently, there is an ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19 exacerbating existing economic inequities and social injustices, leading to staggering fatalities, mass unemployment, and a state budget shortfall in the billions of dollars. As of the writing of this report in June, protestors have filled the streets for weeks in a united outcry against the killing of George Floyd and systemic, structural racism against Black people. We are on the precipice of enacting changes that have been a very long time coming.
The mission of Chambers Fund is to increase access to opportunities that improve the chances of success and quality of life for those most impacted by economic, social, and political injustice. We seek a fair and just society that ensures real opportunity for all. Social change does not happen overnight, and for more than two decades we’ve invested in nonprofits and leaders working to facilitate change. Now, more than ever, we remain committed to this work and to investing in advocacy for statewide systems change. This spring, we announced the launch of Chambers Initiative, a philanthropic endeavor that aligns the personal philanthropy of our founder and president, Merle Chambers, with the grantmaking of Chambers Fund. We recognize that what we do is only a small piece of what is necessary to create and sustain deep, systemic change. But we are dedicated to increasing our investments in social justice and women’s economic security, and partnering with other funders, nonprofits, and government to do all we can to support lasting change.
2019 ANNUAL REPORT HIGHLIGHTS
Social Justice and Equity
In 2019, Chambers Fund increased grantmaking in its social justice and equity program area, partnering with other funders and nonprofits engaged in fiscal reform and public education about economic issues facing Colorado, preparations and outreach to ensure a complete 2020 Census count, and building capacity to ensure the sustainability of statewide policy and advocacy organizations.
Several of the foundation’s grantees, including The Bell Policy Center, Colorado Center on Law & Policy, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, and Colorado Fiscal Institute are part of a broad coalition of organizations working to solve Colorado’s fiscal challenges. The foundation’s general support grants to these organizations provide vital funding for grantees engaged in advocacy for fiscal reform and structural changes in Colorado.
The decennial census underpins political representation from the federal to local levels, the distribution of more than $600 billion in federal dollars, and billions more in annual private investment. Almost every aspect of American civic and economic life is guided and informed in some way by Census data. Chambers Fund was a founding partner and continued supporter of Together We Count (TWC) a two-year project working to ensure a fair and accurate census for Colorado. In 2019, TWC implemented its statewide census engagement plan through three main strategies: trainings for community- and faith-based organizations, NGOs, and healthcare providers to leverage their status as trusted messengers in hard-to-count communities; open source communications and messaging focused on census education, safety and action; and a round of mini-grants to support nonprofits in their 2020 Census work. TWC raised sufficient funds to make approximately $300,000 in mini-grants, and announced its 39 grantees in December. All mini-grant recipients are required to attend a mandatory train-the-trainer half-day session in order to launch their grant projects in 2020.
The expansion of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Family Planning Program led to a dramatic reduction of unplanned births and abortions over a five year period for teens and young women in Colorado, and saved millions of dollars in public assistance costs avoided due to those reductions. Chambers Fund was part of the collaborative that provided bridge funding to continue the expanded program in 2016 before the legislature passed a $2.5 million increase in funding for the program. Colorado remains a leader in reproductive health, rights, and LARC access and provider training. During the 2019 legislative session, the Joint Budget Committee approved an additional $1 million to further expand the CDPHE Family Planning Program, only the second time in 40 years that the program has expanded.
Unrestricted access to complete reproductive health care is a critical component in achieving economic security for all women. Chambers Fund provides general support for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) and Cobalt (formerly NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Foundation), long-time grantees working to advance reproductive rights, ensure abortion access, and empower women to make informed choices about their reproductive health.
Women’s Economic Security
Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) leads the nation in researching and promoting the two-generation (2Gen) movement. They are the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and the adults in their lives to educational success, economic security, and health and well-being. As it approaches its first decade of existence, Ascend continues to innovate and intentionally seek input and feedback from a cohort of family voices.
In September, Ascend partnered with The FrameWorks Institute to publish Framing Two-Generation Approaches to Supporting Families, a 2Gen messaging guide and playbook. This publication helps 2Gen advocates and leaders move discussions about 2Gen out of a service delivery frame and into a human development frame, advancing the idea that people grow and change in an ongoing process shaped by environments and experiences. This framing counters the language of “vulnerable families” with language demonstrating that it is not families that have done something wrong to make themselves vulnerable; rather, broken systems have led to over-burdened and under-resourced families. Although the playbook was written specifically with a lens toward 2Gen approaches and solutions, it is applicable to many areas of the foundation’s work.
In October, Ascend hosted its fourth Aspen ThinkXChange, a signature Ascend program and field leadership convening. More than 240 cross-sector leaders focused on building an intergenerational cycle of opportunity for families with low incomes attended, including representatives from 20 Colorado nonprofits, state or county agencies, and 2Gen staff from the Governor’s office.
Early Care and Education
Early Milestones Colorado (Milestones) works with local, state, and national partners to advance opportunities for children by accelerating innovation, use of best practices, and systemic change. It strives to create equitable and sustainable solutions to challenges facing children, families, and service providers with initiatives spanning the three domains of the Early Childhood Colorado Framework. One of those projects in 2019 was a commissioned report in partnership with Colorado Department of Education and Denver Public Schools to research the real and perceived barriers around the implementation of whole child education programs, such as Montessori and Tools of the Mind. Scaling Ideal Learning Programs in preschool through third grade has demonstrably been shown to increase academic achievement and minimize achievement gaps. Milestones published its final report detailing barriers, including low per-student funding that is part of Colorado’s broader fiscal issues, and realistic opportunities to expand the use of these models statewide.
In September, Milestones received the El Pomar Foundation Award for Excellence, one of three nonprofit awardees this year.
The Colorado Children’s Campaign (the Campaign) leads or participates in approximately 30 different coalitions, providing data, expertise, research, communications, and advocacy leadership in pursuit of its mission to realize every chance for every child in Colorado. In 2019, the Campaign received the inaugural Harvey Cohen Women’s Health Champion Award in recognition of advancing women’s health and safety in Colorado. It was recognized for leading the coalition that passed the strongest Maternal Mortality Review Committee statute in the country this year.
For eight years, Clayton Early Learning (Clayton) and Colorado Children’s Campaign have strategically collaborated as the Colorado Early Learning Policy Initiative to advance state level early childhood policy and capacity building objectives through a partnership with and funding from the national Alliance for Early Success (the Alliance). Funding from the Alliance provides $100,000 a year to the Colorado Early Learning Policy Initiative, contingent upon a required local match totaling $50,000. Chambers Fund, Rose Community Foundation, and Buell Foundation were initially selected by the Alliance as partners for this policy initiative, and have contributed local matching funds since 2012. In recent years, two additional funders have contributed to the local match. In 2019, the Colorado Early Learning Policy Initiative received an additional contribution from the Alliance of $25,000 for its grassroots work with the Raise Colorado Coalition.
In 2018, Milestones and the Campaign partnered with the Early Childhood Leadership Commission to develop early childhood information for the incoming state administration. The new Governor prioritized universal full-day kindergarten and preschool programs. In 2019, we celebrated the State of Colorado passing legislation for universal full-day kindergarten in 178 school districts. The real, measurable achievement learning gaps based on income and race need to be addressed, but full-time kindergarten is one step toward ensuring a strong start for all children. This kind of success does not happen overnight, but is an example of what can happen with long-term investments and collaboration with other funders, nonprofits, and government to bring about change.
A Year of Transition and Strategic Planning
After 22 years as executive director, Letty Bass retired from Chambers Fund at the end of June. Her insights, leadership, and passion for the priorities of the foundation contributed to Chambers Fund becoming an innovative funder and partner. We are grateful to Letty, not only for her contributions to Chambers Fund, but also to our community. It has been a wonderful journey together.
Letty’s retirement was a catalyst for the foundation to focus on strategic planning during the second half of 2019. Through this process, the Chambers Fund Board of Directors decided to significantly increase grantmaking in the foundation’s Social Justice and Women’s Economic Security program areas, and to discontinue its Early Care and Education (ECE) program area. Merle Chambers and foundation staff held one-on-one calls with core ECE grantees about the change in the foundation’s funding priorities and discussed transition grants. We have committed to providing consistent funding through 2022 to the foundation’s exiting ECE grantees. Although the foundation will not make any new grants in the ECE program area, it is important that our core ECE grantees have sufficient time to plan for their own transition away from the support of Chambers Fund.
The early childhood landscape in Colorado has transformed dramatically during our more than two decades of funding in this area. Chambers Fund focused on improving the early care and education of children by partnering with organizations leading systems change, educating the public, and advocating for children and their future. Over the course of 22 years, the foundation has invested more than $4.8 million dollars in this program area, making 134 grants to 28 different organizations. We are proud of our investment of time, leadership, and grantmaking that has contributed to the health and well-being of Colorado’s youngest children and their families.
The decision to narrow the foundation’s grantmaking focus is part of a broader philanthropic endeavor fueled by a heightened commitment in the areas of social justice and women’s economic security by both Merle Chambers, personally, and Chambers Fund. We are excited to share more about this initiative at Chambers Initiative.