Request for Services

Strategic Learning Partner: Supporting Grassroots Efforts to Promote Equitable Early Childhood Systems 

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (Blue Cross NC Foundation) requests the services of a strategic learning partner to lead evaluative work to understand the impact, and inform the ongoing efforts, of multi-year grantees working to advance equitable early childhood outcomes.

RFS Release Date:
May 12, 2021

Full Applications Due:
June 14, 2021

Response Format:
Electronic submission to

RFS Contact:
Sarah Smith
Director, Learning and Evaluation
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation

Note: Pre-submission inquiries regarding this opportunity may be addressed via email to Sarah by 5 pm May 31.

About the Blue Cross NC Foundation

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is an independent, charitable foundation with the mission of improving the health and well-being of everyone in North Carolina. Since our founding in 2000, we have invested more than $150 million into North Carolina communities through 1,150 grants, collaborations, and initiatives. In our grantmaking, we strive to address the key drivers of health, and we take a flexible approach designed to meet identified needs in partnership with the community. We also work closely with our grantees, and other nonprofits, to support their growth through capacity building, training, and leadership development opportunities.


To address inequities in the early childhood system, the Blue Cross NC Foundation, in partnership with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a three-year, $100,000/year ($300,000 total) flexible funding opportunity with the aim of funding approximately 10 organizations to advance changes to early childhood policies, practices, institutions, or other components of early childhood systems. Eligible organizations for this funding opportunity are grassroots organizations led by and serving Black, Latino, American Indian, and other communities that have been negatively impacted by inequities in early childhood systems.

Grantees funded through this opportunity will be part of a cohort that meets regularly to share learnings from the field, to build relationships with each other, and to participate in technical assistance opportunities funded by the foundations. Grantees will be encouraged to access technical assistance and capacity building resources, such as policy and advocacy trainings, research, communications support, fund development support, racial equity trainings, and more. Grantees will have the opportunity to identify which of these resources meet their needs and to help select consultants and nonprofits to provide support.

The goals of this work are to:

  • Build the capacity of local organizations led by and serving Black, Latino, American Indian, and other communities that have been negatively impacted by inequities in early childhood systems to advocate for early childhood system change.
  • Enhance the power of these organizations to influence state policy discussions.
  • Support the implementation of local policy and system advocacy goals to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), improve early childhood education, and reform practices and policies that perpetuate racism and racial inequities in systems of early childhood.

Initial Cohort Timeline

Date(s) Deadline or Activity
May / June 2021 Grantees notified
July 2021 Orientation & Kick-off Meeting
July – September 2021 Identify and onboard cohort facilitator
October 2021 First cohort meeting
October – November 2021 Cohort facilitator conducts 1:1 meetings with grantees
December 2021 Second cohort meeting

Description of Strategic Learning Services Requested

The Blue Cross NC Foundation is seeking proposals for a strategic learning partner for this cohort of grantees to develop and explore a core set of questions to better understand ongoing efforts to promote equitable early childhood outcomes.

While we anticipate refining these questions with the cohort members and strategic learning partner, our initial questions span three dimensions:

Cohort Approach & Experience

  • How effective are the meetings and additional forms of support being provided for achieving the goals of the cohort?

Organizational Advocacy Capacity

  • How is the advocacy capacity of organizations participating in the cohort changing over time?
  • In what ways have participating organizations made progress toward their policy and system change goals? What contributed to this progress?

Field-Level Impact

  • In what ways, and to what extent, are organizations funded through this effort connected to each other and to statewide networks?
  • Is there increased inclusion and support for the priorities of the organizations funded through this effort in statewide early childhood practice and policy discussions?

Work and Deliverables

Over the course of three years, the strategic learning partner will work closely with the grantees, cohort facilitator, and foundations to explore and answer key questions pertaining to the goals of the cohort.

We anticipate the work will include:

  • Co-designing a learning and evaluation plan
  • Gathering and analyzing a mix of qualitative and quantitative data
  • Sense-making sessions with the cohort and foundations to digest and apply findings

The strategic learning partner will work with the cohort and foundations to identify the most effective deliverables to support real-time learning. Work should include a baseline, mid-grant, and final report or comparable deliverables.


Desired Skills, Qualities, and Attributes

  • Proposed project team reflects the diversity of the grantee cohort.
  • Employs qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Committed to and demonstrates the values of equitable evaluation.
  • Can lead and support facilitated learning sessions.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the dynamics between nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.
  • Experience evaluating advocacy and cohort-based efforts.
  • Knowledge of the early childhood system.

Anticipated Budget and Timeline

Up to $300,000 is available for this work.

Key Activity Estimated Date
Learning Partner RFS Released May 12, 2021
Applicant Questions Due May 31, 2021
Responses to Applicant Questions Posted June 4, 2021
RFS Due June 14, 2021
Proposal Review (The foundations may reach out with follow-up questions and/or to clarify aspects of the proposal.) June 15 – July 31, 2021
Contract Start August, 2021
First Cohort Meeting October, 2021
Baseline Data Collection October – December 2021
Baseline Report or Comparable Deliverable January 2022
Mid-Grant Report or Comparable Deliverable Summer 2023
Final Report or Comparable Deliverable Summer 2024
Sense-Making Sessions To be developed in partnership with the foundations and cohort

Questions & Answers

Answers to pre-submission inquiries regarding this opportunity have been compiled for review by all potential applicants. Download.

How to Apply

To apply, download the full RFS below to respond to this request.

Full applications are due by 5:00PM on Monday, June 14, 2021.