News and analysis
September 17, 2014

Social Innovation Fund Names 7 New Grantees

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the nation’s largest community foundation in terms of assets, and the Boston Foundation, one of the oldest, are among seven new Social Innovation Fund grant recipients. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers the fund, announces the fifth class of grantees today.

The newest recipients include:

  • Silicon Valley Community Foundation: $7.5-million to increase third-grade reading-proficiency rates
  • Boston Foundation: $2.7-million to increase post-secondary completion rates
  • AARP Foundation: $3-million to focus on women’s financial security
  • Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas: $10-million to implement integrated behavioral-health models
  • Share Our Strength: $1.5-million to eradicate child hunger
  • United Way of Greenville County, S.C.: $3-million for dropout prevention efforts
  • Jobs for the Future and the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund: $6-million to improve education and career outcomes for youths

They join 19 active grantees.

The flow of money does not stop with the Social Innovation Fund grantees. Rather they act as intermediaries, vetting and making grants to nonprofits with documented success. The initial grant amounts are at least tripled with required dollar-for-dollar matching funds from the organizations receiving the money and their nonprofit collaborators.

Launched under the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the Social Innovation Fund champions groups with proven ideas, and grantees and subgrantees are required during the application process to show that their programs are producing results and can be expanded. They must also rigorously assess programming and results after the grant, with an eye to capturing and sharing the knowledge that emerges.

"It is precisely those requirements that made us feel that this is the perfect opportunity for us at the perfect time," says Erica Wood, chief community-impact officer at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, whose project focuses on third-grade reading proficiency. "We have to now invest in what works, and what better way to do this than through this tough process that is going to require, out of the gate, that we start with evidence-based strategies."

Making Big Bets

Including today’s newly announced grants, the Social Innovation Fund has given $243.4-million since 2010, not including more than $540-million generated by matching funds, according to a breakdown from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Michael Smith, director of the fund, says that for the first time this year, special consideration was given to applicants whose proposals included collective-impact models, which group partners from different sectors around a common goal.

"We are excited not only about this idea of cross-sector groups coming together on goal setting and working together, but we are also excited about running a real test of how, when, where, and why collective impact best works," he says.

There was also renewed attention to what Mr. Smith, who assumed his current role in June 2013, describes as the "big bets," or riskier proposals with larger potential payoffs. It was born, in part, out of a yearlong fact-finding mission during which Mr. Smith conducted extensive interviews with grantees and their partners.

"The Social Innovation Fund was designed to be a grand experiment, and maybe had slipped a little bit into the incremental—we’re going to fund a program here, we are going to make this program better, do a slight tweak," Mr. Smith says. "We really wanted to have a return to big ideas, the bold solutions that were about bringing the community together to solve problems."

Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, says the Social Innovation Fund is one of seven federal evidence-based programs created in recent years. A highly selective application process that demands prior evidence of success is paramount, he says, because otherwise you run the risk of throwing money at fruitless efforts.

"We have been very pleased with the way that the evidence-based elements of the program have been implemented," he says.

Planning for Growth

Rebecca Brune, vice president for strategic planning and growth at Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, says the organization has budgeted about $1.3-million a year for an evaluator to work with as many as 10 subgrantees. In addition, each subgrantee will be asked to budget at least 10 percent of its awards, which will range from $250,000 to $2-million, for additional evaluation expenses. Results will be measured using a shared evaluation plan, which will include measurements agreed upon by all of the partners, Ms. Brune says.

"One thing we are very interested in through the evaluation process is building each subgrantee’s capacity to measure and evaluate, so they can increase the level of evidence supporting their programs," she says.

Social Innovation Fund dollars have already helped scale up several successful programs, Mr. Smith says.

Five years ago, grantee College Advising Corps, which seeks to increase the number of low-income students who enroll in post-secondary education, employed 175 college advisors. This year, it has 455.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation is now operating 75 of its financial-opportunity centers in 14 states, up from 32 in six states five years ago.

And the fund is beginning to see the first of five-year evaluation reports from its inaugural grantees, says Mr. Smith.

"I think the next five years is about the return on investment and getting these solutions back out into communities so they can replace and displace those solutions that are no longer working," Mr. Smith says. "I think it will also be about continuing to think about innovative financing models."


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the dollar amount of the grant awarded to the Boston Foundation. The amount is $2.7-million, not $1.8-million. 

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