The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a key White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that awards grants to identify, validate, and grow promising approaches to challenges facing local communities. SIF works with and through existing grantmaking institutions, or “grantmakers,” to direct resources to innovative community-based nonprofit organizations, or “subgrantees” focused on youth development, economic opportunity, and healthy futures. The operating model of the Social Innovation Fund has been explicitly designed to advance these objectives and is distinguished by the following six key elements:
The Social Innovation Fund is committed to investing in innovative solutions that displace stale, ineffective programs. For SIF, “social innovation” means “new ways to solve old problems that are faster, cost-effective, data-driven and lead to better results for the public good.” Although the practice of social innovation is commonly understood to be the invention and testing of new ideas, the Social Innovation Fund seeks to support innovations that have advanced beyond the beginning stages, are showing signs of effectiveness, and have the potential for greater scale.
All programs funded by SIF must be able to demonstrate a preliminary level of effectiveness and then take part in a rigorous evaluation to strengthen their base of evidence and to document and assess whether their approach works more effectively, costs less, or leads to better results for our country’s communities. Too often, effective nonprofits lack the expertise, resources, or infrastructure to conduct meaningful evaluation that demonstrates impact and can take their programs from promising to proven. In fact, many grant programs do not adequately support program assessments. However, SIF provides both technical assistance and funding for required evaluations of all selected programs. These evaluations will provide robust information about which programs and models generate strong results for individuals and communities and how they can be replicated successfully.
SIF subgrantees not only implement and evaluate programs that get results, they grow those programs to make a deeper or broader impact in communities. To ensure the successful expansion of awarded programs, SIF selects grantmakers that have expertise in assisting nonprofits in building their capacity to reach more people and change more lives, and provides training and technical assistance to support the process.
Recognizing that Washington does not have all the answers , the Social Innovation Fund makes grants to experienced grantmakers with strong skills and track records of success in competitively selecting, validating, and growing high-performing nonprofit organizations. Grantmakers, who themselves are selected through an open nationwide competition, run their own open competitions to identify innovative nonprofits. Partnering with these grantmakers saves time and taxpayer dollars as it leverages the significant on-the-ground knowledge and experience of philanthropic organizations and the nonprofit sector.
Through the Social Innovation Fund, limited federal investments mobilize considerable private cash resources and collaborations. Grantmakers receive between $1 million and $10 million per year for up to five years. The award requires grantmakers to match every federal dollar 1-to-1 in cash from nonfederal sources. Grantees then select nonprofit organizations (subgrantees) for awards of at least $100,000 per year for up to five years. These grant awards must also be matched 1-to-1 in cash from nonfederal sources. This match requirement triples the federal investment, augments working capital and sparks new collaborations, helping subgrantees more effectively transform lives beyond the initial grant period.
SIF is committed to improving the effectiveness of nonprofits, grantmakers, and government agencies by rigorously documenting and sharing best practices and lessons learned. SIF facilitates this formally, through annual convenings and the release of reports, and informally, through webinars and social networks. The lessons shared will include the promise and challenges of SIF programs, both in execution and in scaling. In addition, these sessions will cover recommendations for the fields of philanthropy and social service on how to integrate ongoing evaluation and feedback into their programs.