Highlights from a Funders Call on the Social Innovation Fund

Last month, the Corporation for National and Community Service (the Corporation), the federal agency that manages AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, and Senior Corps, released its draft Notice on Funds Available (NOFA) for the $50M the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). The Corporation is accepting comments until January 15.

Earlier this week, three affinity groups of the Council on Foundations – Grantmakers Income Security Taskforce, Grantmakers In Health, and Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families – hosted a funders discussion on the Social Innovation Fund (SIF).* The call included Steve Gunderson, President and CEO, Council on Foundations, Michele Jolin, Senior Advisor, Social Innovation, Domestic Policy Council at the White House, and Marta Urquilla, Senior Advisor for Social Innovation, Corporation for National and Community Service (the Corporation). The audio of the conference call will be posted, although I have yet to see it on the Corporation’s website. Until then, and with the hopes that it might generate additional comments on the draft Notice of Funds Available for the SIF, here are a few points from the call.

As Steve Gunderson noted, the SIF presents an absolutely unique moment in time but that some challenges still exist. He cited foundations’ concerns with the 1:1 cash match, which can only be addressed through legislative recourse and not through changes in the guidelines. And Steve cautioned that foundations which will take federal funds will face high standards of evaluation and significant public scrutiny.  

Michele Jolin and Marta Urquilla provided more context about the SIF, which represents a part of a concerted White House effort to support innovation broadly (e.g., the Department of Education’s i3 program). Already, more than 1,000 people have provided input on the SIF and over 150 comments and questions have been received by the Corporation on the draft NOFA. The success of the SIF hinges on a robust partnership with philanthropy.

To that end, Marta stressed that the Corporation is very much interested in funding intermediaries that will support local organizations that have the ability to create transformation. As such, evidence and impact will play a big role in both assessing proposals in order to fund projects with the best opportunity to generate local transformations. Marta also clarified that the Corporation deliberately left the definition of an intermediary vague in order to encourage further collaboration among funder and other philanthropic-oriented organizations. The Corporation is also less concerned with the type of organization that will serve as an intermediary and more interested with its track record of using evidence to monitor grantees and history of conducting robust reviews to select its grantees.

Marta concluded with three points that may affect who applies and the selection process. One, she noted that foundations may use planned allocations – for example, an initiative already approved but not awarded to local grantees – as match resources. However, she stressed that the Corporation prefers for intermediary applicants to allocate new resources (i.e., unrestricted and unassigned funds) as cash match.  

Two, she noted that the restrictions on administrative costs (5%) and direct program costs by the intermediary (15%) only apply to the Federal funds awarded by the Corporation. So, the intermediary may allocate more of its funds to those two areas and still have those funds qualify for the 1:1 match requirement.

Last, Marta noted that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act requires that the Corporation award a geographic wide array of funding. In my opinion, that might end up forcing the Corporation to select a lesser-quality proposal in order to obtain that geographic distribution. Unfortunately, Marta was not able to expand on that last comment.

At this point, the last few comments should be submitted to the Corporation and we will begin the wait for the release in February of the final guidelines on the SIF.

* I participated on the call as a member of the Avram Miller Foundation, with which I am affiliated.

 

UPDATE: The audio for the call is now available here.

 

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