The nonprofit world is starting to digest yesterday’s announcement of $50-million in federal grants by the Social Innovation Fund.
Since the program was first announced, its objective has been unclear, Nathaniel Whittemore, founder of Assetmap, writes on Change.org. Was the fund’s purpose to help proven programs grow or to provide support for cutting-edge, risky experimentation?
The intermediary organizations that the program selected to award the money to nonprofit groups shows that the government chose “what works” over “innovation,” writes Mr. Whittemore, who regrets the decision.
“The relative smallness of the amount of resources being deployed lends themselves well to this being the ‘sandbox space’ where the government could support really experimental efforts that could go nowhere, but could also have the disruptive potential that just couldn’t be enacted through a government structure that is designed fundamentally to be incremental,” he writes.
Marcia Stepanek, editor-in-chief of Contribute Media, agrees with Mr. Whittemore’s assessment while remaining neutral on the merits of the selections over lesser-known groups.
“The grant makers chosen as the recipients of the fund’s first outlay are predominantly those with extensive track records in moving the needle on social problems, measuring results, and proving what works,” Ms. Stepanek writes on JustMeans.
By contrast, Sean Stannard-Stockton — chief executive of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors and a Chronicle contributor — is “thrilled” by the list of grant recipients.
The intermediary organizations that the fund selected, such as the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New Profit, and Venture Philanthropy Partners, “see their role as funder as identifying great and potentially great organizations and providing them the funds they need to grow and thrive,” he writes on his blog.
“The fund seems to have rejected calls for them to fund truly early stage ‘innovation’ and recognized that effective organizations that are building their evidence base are themselves innovative,” writes Mr. Stannard-Stockton.
The three grants awarded in the area of education all seem to focus on older students, Sara Mead, a senior associate at Bellwether Education Partners, notes with surprise on her blog for Education Week.
“While there’s a real need for better educational and employment services for older youth,” she writes, “we also know that the pathway to poor youth outcomes starts early, and that preventing problems with early intervention can be a lot more cost-effective than addressing them later.”
Mapping the Recipients
John C. Ronquillo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia, created an online map that shows where the intermediary organizations are located. He has also started to add foundations that have committed matching money.