Growing Up: From Startup to Standout for an Early Childhood Nonprofit
All Our Kin took slow, deliberate steps to becoming a successful multi-state organization supporting home-based child care providers. Turns out that’s exactly the approach their investors were looking for.
February 13, 2020
Despite the best efforts of many bright people, this world has no shortage of complex social problems. Sammy Politziner (N.Y. ’99) thinks he knows one reason why: Today’s social innovators often feel tremendous pressure to grow quickly and cheaply—to design their solutions down to the level of an app. In reality, Politziner says, the human-centered problems that social innovators seek to solve will always demand the investment of time and resources to build trusting relationships.
That’s what attracted Politziner, co-founder of venture philanthropy group Arbor Brothers, to All Our Kin, an organization that develops long-term partnerships with home-based child care providers to help them improve the quality of their care, get licensed, and grow into sustainable businesses.
Politziner, along with All Our Kin co-founder and New York ’95 alumna Janna Wagner, is a recipient of Teach For America’s 2019 Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership. The award honors Wagner’s leadership of All Our Kin, which has grown in 20 years from a model classroom in New Haven, Connecticut, to an $8 million organization that directly supports nearly 900 family child care providers in five communities in Connecticut and the Bronx, New York. In addition, All Our Kin works with agencies and organizations across the country to increase the supply, quality, and sustainability of family child care in their regions. With continued support from Arbor Brothers, All Our Kin expects to expand its reach over the next five years in New York, Nebraska, and elsewhere.
Politziner, who runs Arbor Brothers with fellow New York ’99 alum Scott Thomas, has reviewed the work of 900 social enterprises. Of the 29 organizations they have chosen to fund, All Our Kin has been one of the most successful. “They’re the darling of the early childhood community in the country right now,” he says.
Politziner shared with One Day what he saw in All Our Kin that gave him the confidence to invest. His analysis provides solid advice for budding entrepreneurs building for the long term.
Q: Arbor Brothers has invested $400,000 in All Our Kin and provided nearly 1,000 hours of consulting and coaching. Among all the local, grassroots enterprises you’ve come to know, what qualities make All Our Kin a great investment?
They move intentionally. “To change the trajectory of someone’s life is not cheap, quick, or linear. If we want to make the best grants to the best organizations, we find the ones that will be invested in a person’s life over a long period of time, to withstand the ups and downs. All Our Kin embodies that,” Politziner says. All Our Kin’s staff coaches, many of whom started their careers as caregivers, spend three months helping family child care providers get licensed. They then mentor the caregivers for up to a year to help them become excellent at their profession.
“Even as they felt pressure to grow, they held off until they felt the outcomes were what they expected. Only then did they say, ‘Let’s put our foot on the gas and make this thing go.’”
They can hit three targets with one dart. Politziner credits All Our Kin with being a workforce program because it increases salaries for the caregivers, most of whom are women of color. And it’s a child-centered program because its work improves the lives of children and their working parents. “There’s even data showing they’re an economic driver because they allow more parents to be in the workforce due to the increased number of high-quality child care slots All Our Kin helps to make available,” Politziner says. Win, win, win.
They focus on quality before growth. “Janna’s and [co-founder Jessica Sager’s] rigorous focus on quality—which is extremely difficult to measure in home care settings—has always been at the center of their work. Even as they felt pressure to grow, they held off until they felt the outcomes were what they expected. Only then did they say, ‘Let’s put our foot on the gas and make this thing go,’” Politziner says.
They know their end goal. “All Our Kin has always had a clear rationale for growth. Their vision is to influence policy to professionalize home-based child care,” Politziner says. “For example, states should create rating systems to measure the quality of care kids get in homes. They should increase child care subsidies so that the mostly women who provide care make a living wage. Janna and Jessica knew that the only way to create a platform to influence policy was to be bigger than one successful demonstration project in New Haven.”
Complementary leadership. “There are some leaders who have a great vision. And there are some who are able to execute. It’s extremely rare to find someone who can do both. Janna holds the mantle for vision; she is the quality and culture and learning guru. Jessica embodies the person who can execute. The two of them together are what makes All Our Kin work so well.”
Illustration by Natalie Nelson