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The Social Innovation Fund

Analysis of Social Innovation Fund Results

By July 26, 2010September 2nd, 2021No Comments

The Corporation for National and Community Service’s announcement of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) results last week left me feeling mixed. Frankly, I expected more. Nevertheless, I congratulate the eleven intermediaries on their successful proposals.

To borrow a phrase from Sean Standard-Stockton, I did not think that the intermediaries selected read like my own wish list. In some sense, I think the commentators’ reactions to the list of final intermediaries and the eight pre-selected subgrantees mirror the tensions the Corporation and its reviewer teams had in managing expectations and the focus of the Social Innovation Fund. Both Nathaniel Whittemore and Sean have written eloquently on the different perspectives.

I side more with Nathaniel and wish the process had focused more on true innovative and risk with the chance of creating true disruption instead of taking the safer route by funding what works. My stated hopehas been that the SIF would “significantly affect philanthropy by making it both more transparent and reshaping how it distributes funding.” For now, I’m not convinced we’ve moved in that direction. The final assessment, though, needs to include an analysis of all the subgrantees and so far, we only have a fraction of that total.

For now, let’s assess what we do know. I took some time to analyze the specifics of the announcement and to extrapolate data that can inform the assessment. My dataset is publicly available here.

The Intermediaries and Pre-Selected Grantees

The list of intermediaries and the pre-selected grantees certainly reflects an interesting mix of institutions. Part of my disappointment stems from the absence of significant philanthropic heavy-hitters. In my estimation, we would have benefited from the inclusion of funders such as W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the California Endowment, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Duke Endowment, and John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as intermediaries. Instead, many of them are on the sidelines as funding partners for some of the intermediaries (see below).

The intermediaries include three institutions primarily identifiable as grantmakers: the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and the Missouri Foundation for Health. The latter two represent two health conversion foundations that have been recently established.  Three of the intermediaries represent venture philanthropy approaches: New Profit, REDF, and Venture Philanthropy Partners. One represents the United Way model: the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. The remaining four intermediaries primarily represent nonprofits that use grantmaking as part of their overall implementation strategies.

Not in the mix are any community foundations, some of whom had expressed concern about the matching requirements initially proposed by the Corporation. Even after lowering the threshold, I wonder if the match still represented a barrier for their participation.

Two of the intermediaries – the National AIDS Fund and Local Initiatives Support Corporation – have existing grantee relationships with the Corporation through AmeriCorps, while I suspect the Mayor’s Fund for New York City could always tap Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, who served on the Corporation’s board of directors (and as Chairman under President George W. Bush and for a few months this year). Two of the subgrantees selected – Year Up and the Latin American Youth Center – also have existing AmeriCorps grants.

Of the eight subgrantees pre-selected, seven fall under the Youth Development category. Both College Summit and Year Up are affiliated through their national offices and DC regions with two of the intermediaries. College Summit and its DC affiliate will collectively manage $2,372,000 of the SIF dollars, while Year Up and its DC affiliate will manage $2,207,000 of the SIF dollars. How the two organizations will implement their projects will be of continued interest, especially considering the resources allocated to them so far.

The Issue Areas

As outlined in the SIF guidelines, applicants could address issues in three priority areas:  Economic Opportunity, Youth Development and School Support, and Healthy Futures. Applicants could also combine issue areas, which was the approach taken by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. In this round of funding, Economic Opportunity and Youth Development were the clear funding winners. Together, the intermediaries in these two areas account for 80.5% of the SIF dollars. Collectively, the intermediaries will also distribute at least twice as much funding per year in their priority areas.

There is a larger issue involving innovation and health-focused funding, which I believe is reflected in the SIF results. I’ll circle back to that idea in a post later this week.

Funding Partners

A real interesting story involves the founding partners. Eight of the intermediaries brought at least two funders to the table. The list is an impressive grouping of 35 foundation and grantmaking institutions that could have been expected on the list of intermediary applicants. Of those, only the Open Society Foundations overlaps with the five funders that came forward to augment the Social Innovation Fund.

Several of the partner funders – the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the California Endowment, Open Society Foundations, and the Walmart Foundation – are each supporting between two and three of the intermediaries. Interestingly, Jobs for the Future pulled together three of these funders while the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City got support from two.

While highly anecdotal, I suspect the funders found it both easier and more palatable to support the intermediaries than to go through the SIF application process and end up as government grantees.

Follow the Money

John C. Ronquillo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia, pulled together a great Google map of the intermediaries, matching funders, and subgrantees. Let’s dig deeper into the data.

Ultimately, and assuming the intermediaries cover all the possible geographic areas they identified in the proposals, the SIF might distribute funding to 32 states and the District of Columbia. There’s a huge unknown about the actual distribution of funding since only a handful of subgrantees are known, but it most likely leave communities in 18 states and 5 US territories outside of the initiative (Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, plus the US territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands).

Of the $6,735,000 already allocated to subgrantees, nearly all ($6,485,000) has been awarded to organizations based in the northeast corridor between Washington, DC and New York. Some of those funds could be channeled into other communities; certainly the funds awarded by New Profit to its three subgrantees could still go out to areas outside of this corridor. However, tracking those dollars will become more difficult unless the three subgrantees provide information about the ultimate destinations of their funds. The challenge of actually geo-locating the dollars provided presents an ongoing issue in the philanthropic community and will apply in this case as well.

Other Brief Observations

  • Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that the SIF announcement didn’t involve the White House, which was prominently involved in the announcement of SIF additional funders?
  • Only one of the collaborating partners identified will work with more than one intermediary. MDRC will work with both the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
  • Of the intermediaries, only the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation appears on the list of grantmakers tracked by the Foundation Center. There has to be a more effective way to track the disbursement of funding by organizations.

What’s Next?

Besides more commentary over the next few weeks, the field will now transition to the implementation of the subgrantee application processes. The intermediaries have six months to finalize their subgrantees. In theory, their calls for proposals should be issued shortly, which will provide us with further insight into their implementation plans.

Tags: Social Innovation FundPhilanthropyNonprofitFoundationsCorporation for National and Community Service

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