Social Innovation Fund Launches New Grant Competition: Opportunity. Innovation. Impact.

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Social Innovation Fund
By: 
Michael Smith
In 2009, President Obama created the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) with a simple goal: Find solutions that work and provide the resources and spotlight needed so they can work for more people. Nearly five years later, the Social Innovation Fund represents more than a half billion dollars in public and private funds that are evaluating, expanding, and igniting innovative community solutions nationwide. Our unique public-private partnership with leading grantmakers is supporting over 217 nonprofits that are evaluating 72 models and so far have reached more than 270,000 people. 
 
Today, I am excited to announce the launch our fourth funding competition in search of grantmaking institutions seeking to disrupt the status quo and transform communities by taking tested social innovations to scale. Thanks to a significant increase in this year’s Congressional appropriations, the Social Innovation Fund will have $65.8 million to invest in grants in fiscal year 2014. The increased budget is a strong signal of the importance of scaling solutions that work, and of Congress and the President’s continued confidence in our unique approach and extraordinary network of grantees and partners.
 
We’re thrilled to launch this new competition and welcome a new crop of applicants that will help us identify new solutions, expand our reach, and deepen impact. The Social Innovation Fund provides grants between $1 million and $10 million to eligible grantmaking institutions (organizations that provide grants to nonprofits as an essential means of fulfilling their mission) that run open competitions to find and fund innovative, community-based solutions with evidence of results in low-income communities. The competition opens today and will close on April 22, 2014. 
 
While our approach stays the same, applicants will notice some changes and new priorities in this year’s funding notice that result from significant lessons learned during the past four years. In addition to our focus areas of healthy futures, youth development, and economic opportunity, this competition prioritizes applications targeting opportunity youth, vulnerable populations, and collective impact approaches. We have also expanded our eligibility criteria so that in-network affiliate organizations can apply, so long as they are willing to open up their SIF competitions beyond their exclusive networks.  
 
In conjunction with the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) release, you’ll also notice we’ve refreshed the Social Innovation Fund website, which includes new graphics and infographics that more clearly convey the process and progress of the SIF, spotlights SIF programs on the ground, and a brand new section we call the “Knowledge Initiative: Reflections, Resources, and Results.” The Knowledge Initiative pages make up the online home of our effort to collect and share best practices, lessons learned, tools, and tips stemming from the work of our grantees and subgrantees, and from the Social Innovation Fund overall. 
 
Lessons Learned
This new competition is built upon many great lessons since we made our first grants in 2010. Our grantees are on track to meet their scaling goals,  which means we’re helping nonprofits grow their evidence-based initiatives but also helping them scale their programs right away to further test promising solutions and to ensure needs are being met today.  Also, many grantees are building stronger relationships with their grantees and partners as they work together to stand up new efforts, raise dollars and implement evaluation programs. For example, renowned grantmaker Edna McConnell Clark Foundation took the SIF’s Subgrantee Evaluation Plan toolkit and “Clarkified” it so it can be used for all of their grantees. 
 
The SIF is seeing some fantastic early results in terms of interventions and scaling, and we look forward to sharing many more soon as our inaugural portfolio of grantees begin to wrap up their grant periods in the next year. A few highlights:
  • Jobs for the Future/National Fund for Workforce Solution’s Milwaukee grantee quadrupled the SIF investment and placed 1,144 individuals in jobs, costing the federal government just $326 per job gained.
  • Single Stop USA has nearly doubled the amount of resources available for low-income students at Miami-Dade College and has produced double-digit gains in retention. 
  • College Summit Miami has grown from two to 12 schools, 2,000 to 12,000 students, and seen a 12 percent increase in college enrollment.

The Social Portfolio
While the Social Innovation Fund network is quickly growing, we still only represent a few threads in the tapestry of foundations, nonprofits, federal agencies, and universities that are working diligently to demand a new way of doing business that accelerates the pace of change for communities in need of new, more-effective solutions. We’re all in this together and we look forward to doing our part to invigorate and strengthen the field. 
 
Please take a look at our NOFA and encourage eligible grantmakers to apply, peruse our refreshed website, and take advantage of the resources in the Knowledge Initiative. Be sure to let us know what you think and send your suggestions on anything else that we can do to find what works, and make it work for people—today.
 

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