Social Innovation Fund Update

Last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service held a conference call to provide an update on the Social Innovation Fund now that the deadline for submitting an application has passed. I was unable to attend the call, but my friend Adin Miller called in on my behalf. Adin has been tracking the Fund closely and has published a number of excellent blog posts on the topic both on his blog as well as here at Tactical Philanthropy. Adin is currently a foundation and nonprofit consultant and earlier in his career worked at the Corporation.

You can read Adin’s analysis of the Social Innovation Fund update here.

The keys items from the call are:

  • 260 foundations, private investors, businesses, institutions of higher education, nonprofits, and local government entities collaborated to submit 69 applications to the fund.
  • The Fund expects to award 7-10 grants. Interestingly, that implies an average grant amount of $5-7 million, but the average size of grant requests is just $1.8 million.
  • The Fund has selected 50 expert reviewers to go through the applications. These reviewers were selected from a pool of 400 potential individuals. They all have substantial leadership experience and 10+ years of experience in their field.

On my behalf, Adin asked whether the Corporation approved of applicants making their applications public, since the Fund does not have plans to publish them. New Social Innovation Fund director Paul Carttar stated that while the Corporation is not allowed to make the applications public without permission, the applicants should feel free to make their own application public. Paul went on to say that he wanted to find ways for the Fund to encourage additional information sharing between applicants and with the public.

Similarly, the Corporation has no plans to release the names of the 50 expert reviewers, but made it clear that each reviewer should feel free to announce their role publicly as Charlie Brown, executive director of Ashoka’s Changemakers did via Twitter. However, the Corporation did say that they might consider releasing the names of the reviewers after the review process is complete.

I believe that the applications to the Fund represent a treasure trove of information about the practices of growth capital oriented funders. I strongly believe that the applications should be made public at some point. In recent weeks I’ve discussed with a number of applicants the possibility of them publishing their applications here on Tactical Philanthropy. I’ve received very positive indications from a number of applicants that they would be willing to consider doing this.

However, I believe that it makes the most sense for applications to be made public after the Fund announces who will be receiving grants. Releasing the applications prior to the awards being finalized may result in public discussion that affects the outcome of the award process in a way that unfairly helps or penalizes those applications who make their applications public.

Likewise, I think the names of the expert reviewers should be made public, but not until the award process is complete. Otherwise, the reviewers may be subject to lobbying by applicants.

However, if any applicant wants to publish their applications here on Tactical Philanthropy or any expert reviewer wants to announce their status, I’m happy to make that opportunity available at any time.


  1. Len Bartel says:

    I understand that it would be cumbersome, but why not post some portion of the applications for public comment? It offers greater democratic participation and has the potential to bring important local knowledge and the wisdom of the crowds to the proposed work, and these can be indispensable to the funder that wants to make real serious change on the local level or regional level. It’s one of the cornerstones of design thinking – doing with people not to people. The public certainly doesn’t have to have a final say in who gets funded, but their input could be invaluable.

  2. Len,
    I think that would be a great idea. But the Corporation has said that they are not able to do it without permission from all applicants. I hope they consider your suggestion next time.

  3. Len Bartel says:

    Maybe they can include it in their RFP next round. There’s a need to get past the proprietary disposition many funders and grantees have about their work – in any attempt to make progress on intractable social issues we have to openly share project ideas, solutions, and failures.