Social Innovation Fund Finalizes Guidelines

Key Points

  • The final Social Innovation Fund guidelines recognize the limited availability of evidence in the social sector.
  • The guidelines lower the minimum grant size to broaden the range of grantmakers who can apply.
  • The Social Innovation Fund offers a chance for smart grantmakers to demonstrate effective philanthropy on a national stage and influence public perceptions about philanthropy.

Last month, the Social Innovation Fund released a draft of the guidelines they would be using to distribute grants and solicited public comments. They received over 200 comments and I hosted a number of those comments publicly here at Tactical Philanthropy.

To a large extent, the final guidelines have not changed dramatically. However, the Fund did make two key changes and attempted to clarify the level of evidence they expect from nonprofits receiving funds (the level of required evidence was at the heart of the comment I made on the draft guidelines).

This is what the Fund had to say about the level of evidence they expect:

Over 50 public comments were received on the use of evidence of effectiveness and impact in the SIF. Many of the comments encouraged the Corporation to be more inclusive about the types of evaluation that would produce strong evidence of impact. The Corporation has captured these insights in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), a companion document to the NOFA. The FAQ clarifies that the Corporation expects subgrantees to demonstrate some level of impact in order to receive a grant, but does not expect that most initial subgrantees will have the strongest level of evidence.The SIF is designed to build the evidence-base of programs over time using rigorous evaluation tools that are appropriate for the intervention.The Corporation is committed to ongoing discussion about evidence moving forward through learning communities and other forums.

While the final guidelines still express an preference for nonprofits that have strong evidence that their programs work, the summary of the guidelines says that the Fund expects grantmaking intermediaries that it funds to:

Complete a competitive subgrant selection process within six months of award
that seeks subgrantees with either preliminary, moderate or strong evidence of
impact and effectiveness… [and] Have an intentional approach to improving measurable outcomes that relies on evidence in decision-making and leverages the strengths of distinct innovations.

In addition to the shift in language around evidence, the Fund is making two changes based on public comment:

  • A lowering of the minimum grant award to $1 million from $5 million in the draft NOFA.
  • The elimination of an explicit preference for intermediaries that have already selected their subgrantees at the time of application.

The lowering of the minimum was the subject of a number of the comments hosted here on Tactical Philanthropy, notably those authored by Adin Miller and Eileen Ellsworth.

My reading of the new releases and the public comments made by the people running the fund is that they get the tension that exists between requiring evidence and funding innovation and that they appreciate the fact that very few nonprofits exist today that have a rigorous base of evidence that prove their effectiveness.

I think that the Fund is off to a great start. I applaud the vast majority of the choices made in designing the fund. I hope very much that grantmakers who pride themselves on supporting and scaling innovative nonprofits will apply to be a Fund intermediary. Not just because they could use the additional funds, not just because it will help clarify the link between private philanthropy and public sector funding, but because the Social Innovation Fund offers an opportunity to showcase an effective approach to philanthropy on a national stage.