• February 1, 2015

Nearly $50-Million From Foundations Added to White House Social Innovation Fund

The White House put the Social Innovation Fund on center stage Thursday, sponsoring an event to announce that grant makers have pledged almost $50-million to support the new federal grants program for promising nonprofit groups.

"Just as the best ideas don't come from Washington alone, we believe Washington shouldn't be alone in funding them either," said First Lady Michelle Obama, who made the announcement at a White House gathering attended by a variety of philanthropic and nonprofit leaders.

Five grant makers -- the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, John and Ann Doerr's family foundation, the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Institute's Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, and the Skoll Foundation -- have pledged a total of $45-million over two years.

That money will be available to provide matching funds for recipients of social-innovation grants or for other activities that support the program's goals of pumping private and government money into projects that are effectively tackling pressing social problems.

In addition, a coalition or more than 20 foundations and venture-philanthropy groups have agreed to spend almost $5-million over three years to broaden the impact of the Social Innovation Fund, for example by helping organizations that receive federal funds share the lessons they have learned. (See The Chronicle's previous report on the coalition.)

'Community-Based Solutions'

The Council on Foundations also released a letter, timed for the event, signed by 140 community foundations that endorsed the Social Innovation Fund "as a tool to find and invest in more community-based solutions."

Community foundations -- along with United Ways, private foundations, and venture-philanthropy groups -- are among the organizations that have applied for money from the $50 million fund.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates the program, plans to award grants in July to "intermediary" grant makers, which will in turn award money to nonprofit groups with proven results in the areas of economic opportunity, youth development, and healthy habits. Both the grant makers and the nonprofit groups must provide matching funds.

Paul L. Carttar, director of the Social Innovation Fund, said in an interview that the new financial commitments are an encouraging sign that the federal program is meeting one of its key goals.

"The [fund] is not about doing it by itself," he said. "It's about being the catalyst for the collaboration of a lot of different parties at a lot of different levels who want the same ambition of improving American communities -- and have different capabilities, assets, or resources to bring to bear."

New Models

Ms. Obama praised three nonprofit groups during her presentation -- the Building Educated Leaders for Life, in Boston; the Family Independence Initiative, an antipoverty group in San Francisco; and J.U.I.C.E., a group that promotes health education and exercise in urban St. Louis.

The first lady said the Social Innovation Fund could create a "powerful new model" for overcoming the country's social problems, and she hopes it will outlast the Obama administration. She also encouraged other philanthropists to step forward. "We want to grow this thing," she said, "so talk to your friends. We need to get this done."

A fact sheet about the philanthropic commitments is available on the national-service agency's Web site.


1. geri_stengel - May 28, 2010 at 11:38 am

I love it when people work together and make something happen. The fund started with $50 million. With the contributions from others, not just those mentioned above, it will have grown to close to $200 million.

As an expert reviewer of the SIF applicants, I can say that I was wowed by some of what I read and learned (http://ventureneer.com/vblog/what-donors-grant-writers-can-learn-competition-reviewers). I look forward to the final announcement to see if what impressed me also impressed the final decision-makers. I can honestly say that whoever wins will deserve it. And to those who don't win, keep on plugging. The judging guidelines were strict and some really good ideas won't make the cut because they didn't fit the criteria. But they are still good ideas, well worth pursuing.

2. anthonyartis - May 28, 2010 at 02:54 pm

As a grantseeking health organization, how does one apply for these funds?


3. mgj1000 - May 28, 2010 at 02:57 pm

I also will be looking forward to the final announcement of intermediaries.

The link provided in the first comment, above, was to a generic site that had nothing to do with SIF.

Working for an organization that is not likely to be a recipient of "social innovation funding," I see the SIF as a means to divert existing philanthropic resources to particular kinds of community organizations. Open Society, Atlantic Philanthropies, and such funders have particular kinds of grantees and expected project outcomes, and I expect SIF grantmaking is likely to have similar outcomes.

Maybe this leveraging of resources by the Obama administration is a good thing, and maybe it isn't. But I don't think that the funding is going to go to my favorite youth symphony orchestra, unless it wrenches its mission around so that it can chase these kinds of dollars. My local nature center probably isn't going to get much chance at the funding, either. The number of traditional funders that make grants to such community organizations, in my recent experience, is shrinking fast. I suspect that the list is going to shrink even more as community foundations get on the SIF funding bandwagon, some even serving as "intermediary" institutions, presenting their current unrestricted funds as "matching funds" to SIF.

Usually SIF-type funding goes to "transformative organzizations" that "train" people in "jobs" such as "lobbying for change," i.e., get out the vote and lobby for legislation. Or it will go to pay minimum wage Americorps workers, earnest college grads who have little hope for getting a real job in a stagnant economy and are grateful for some kind of experience.

Overall, this is called "Hope and Change." We are all QUANGOS now.

4. adinmiller - June 01, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Suzanne, thanks for the great summary article. Can you clarify one point? Will the $45M pledged by the grant makers go to SIF intermediares or to the subgrantees? The Corporation's website doesn't make a distinction.



5. suza1440 - June 02, 2010 at 04:11 pm


The Corporation tells me that the money can go to either the intermediaries or the subgrantees (as well as to projects that don't get SIF money).


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