New Project to Share the Lessons of the Social Innovation Fund

GEOIn my writing on the Social Innovation Fund I’ve repeated stressed the idea that the big promise of the Fund is the opportunity it has to shape the practice of philanthropy by focusing attention on evidence-based grantmaking. So I’m thrilled to hear that Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has launched a $4 million, three-year project called Scaling What Works to share the learnings of the Social Innovation Fund and other efforts to bring effective nonprofits to scale.

In my recent interview with Paul Carttar, the director of the Social Innovation Fund, Paul said that “The goal of the Fund is not just to fund great organizations. What this is really all about is changing how capital is allocated in the philanthropic sector.” He also stressed the importance of the “learning communities” that the Serve America Act calls on the Fund to create to help spur the creation of a marketplace to connect smart funders and great nonprofits. Scaling What Works is exciting because it is the first independent project that I’m aware of that will attempt to leverage the attention being paid to the Fund to encourage more support for providing growth capital to effective nonprofits.

The program is being funded by 21 of the highest profile funders in the country (see full list here). While some of the funders have already been involved publicly in the Social Innovation Fund, many of the organizations have not made public comments of supports and so their involvement in this project is hugely validating for the Social Innovation Fund model.

The objectives of Scaling What Works include:

  • Serve as an intermediary and information broker between the field of philanthropy and the public agencies involved with the Social Innovation Fund.
  • Expand the number of donors nationally who are prepared to support the evidence base, capacity and growth of promising nonprofit organizations.
  • Support collaboration and knowledge sharing among the network of intermediaries being funded by the Social Innovation Fund so they can most effectively invest their resources and importantly “so the lessons they learn are translated for the broader field.”

The Social Innovation Fund’s $50 million in annual grantmaking only represents 0.017% of annual charitable giving. But then the annual grantmaking of the Gates Foundation, the biggest foundation in the world, only represents 1% of annual charitable giving. That means that any philanthropic project that hopes to have systematic impact must incorporate strategies for leveraging or influencing outside financial resources.

I think Grantmakers for Effective Organizations understands this concept perfectly and their president Kathleen Enright confirmed as much when she told me via email, “Scaling What Works holds the potential to contribute to the overall capacity and effectiveness of hundreds of grantmakers and thousands of nonprofits far beyond those directly involved in the Social Innovation Fund.”

In other words, Scaling What Works is about extending the reach of the Social Innovation Fund so that the impact of its $50 million in grants reverberates far beyond the circle of organizations that receive direct support from the Fund.

One Comment

  1. Justin Massa says:

    This is a fantastic development. There’s a huge emphasis on evidence and measurement in the SIF but many potential grantees are not likely to have the internal capacity for the rigorous analysis and evaluation that’s needed. I hope that this opens the door for other non-profits (like MCIC) that do high quality evaluation to become a part of this new field.