Smart boost for Smart Start

By Todd Cohen

A national public-private model for early-childhood programs, North Carolina’s Smart Start has faced big fundraising and organizational challenges since its 1993 launch.

The problem is rooted in politics.

Smart Start, which supports 82 local partnerships throughout North Carolina, has raised more than $200 million privately, and this fiscal year is getting $192 million from the state.

But Smart Start gets only half the state dollars it says it needs, funds that depend on how much it and local partnerships raise privately.

And state law organizes Smart Start boards to reflect local constituencies, not to raise money.

Now, thanks to $5 million it will get over five years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Smart Start can train local partnerships’ boards and leadership to better reflect and tap their communities’ diversity and support, while also advising similar programs in other states.

Kellogg’s capacity-building support is critical.

In spending those operating dollars, rare in philanthropy, Smart Start should avoid the philanthropic correctness, and the consultants pushing it, that infect the nonprofit world and have limited the effectiveness of this pioneering early-childhood initiative.

Smart Start also should require local partnerships to show measurable improvement.

Smart Start needs performance and fundraising progress, not philanthropic correctness.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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