Find and build the best organizations with evidence of impact—that’s the simple theory of change articulated by Paul Carttar, the director of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). At the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, he discussed how the SIF proposes to create lasting change in low-income communities.
The model works like this: the federal government finds and funds grantmaking institutions that have a track record of finding and funding community-based organizations with evidence of success. Using public-philanthropic leveraged funds, grantmaking institutions hold open grant competitions to scale innovative, evidence-based work in communities around the country. Grantmaking institutions can propose to invest in organizations working on one of three issues—youth development, economic opportunity, or healthy futures—or in a specific geographic region.
You might ask yourself, what’s so innovative about that? Rather than select which community-based organizations should receive funds, the federal government defers to philanthropy’s knowledge to decide where to use scarce resources. In addition to empowering grantmakers, the federal government supports a grantmaking infrastructure that invests in, supports, and monitors the capacity of evidence-based organizations. In turn, those organizations have access to capital to scale interventions in low-income communities.
The SIF isn’t perfect for everyone. Grantmaking institutions must match federal funding dollar for dollar in cash ($1 million–$7 million), which is a significant financial hurdle. In addition to the matching requirement, accepting federal funds comes with burdensome accounting policies. Lastly, the complexity of providing funds to community-based organizations, which also match each federal dollar received, can dissuade potential applicants. If you are interested in learning more, the Council has a couple of particularly pertinent resources: “Essentials of Collaboration with Government” and “What Foundations Need to Know about Federal Funds.”
Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners—one of the 11 recipients of 2010 SIF grants—shares wonderful advice for potential applicants: (1) Do some organizational soul-searching, (2) make sure the broad objectives of the SIF are in line with the objectives of your proposed initiative, and (3) understand the organizational capacity and cultural changes that might be required. Read her full post to learn more about these valuable insights and why her organization applied for a SIF grant.
Now in its second year, the SIF is accepting applications for its 2011 grant round. The Corporation for National and Community Service plans to announce intermediary awards to grantmaking institutions in August 2011. Grant recipients will have six months to complete a competitive subgrant process.
The Council’s Public-Philanthropic Partnerships team has compiled a list of resources to assist 2011 SIF applicants. If your organization has further questions, please do not hesitate to contact our team.
Whether or not the SIF is right for you, it’s exciting to see government intentionally interact with philanthropy to identify, validate, and grow promising organizations. We hope that government will continue to explore the best ways to tap into what philanthropy knows about innovative investments in society.
Laura Tomasko is manager of Public-Philanthropic Partnerships at the Council on Foundations