CNCS Posts Draft Of Social Innovation Fund Applications

December 18, 2009       Mark Hrywna      

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has released a discussion draft of the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the much-anticipated Social Innovation Fund (SIF). Feedback, due Jan. 15, will be considered for the final NOFA, which is expected by February. SIF grants will be awarded this summer.

“The SIF design has already been informed by conversations with hundreds of stakeholders but it will take the continued input of the public, including the leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, to get this right,” said Nicola Goren, acting CEO of CNCS, in a conference call Friday to announce the notice.

Described as the centerpiece of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, the SIF will award up to $50 million in the first year. Grants will be $5 million to $10 million – an average of $7 million – and awarded to five to seven intermediary organizations. CNCS, which will administer the fund, expects possibly 150 to 200 applications in the first year.

“While expanding AmeriCorps will provide nonprofits with the human capital they need to succeed, the SIF will provide the financial capital and the ideas needed to focus public and private resources on what works so that our nation can make dramatic progress on key social challenges,” Goren said.

The fund will focus on improving measurable outcomes for increased economic opportunity, preparing youth for success in school, citizenship, productive work and safe lives, and promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing the risk factors that can lead to illness.”

Grantees will match SIF funds dollar-for-dollar to make grants to nonprofits that can produce “measurable outcomes in specific issues or geographic areas,” add to “the evidence of effective approaches to achieving impact,” and/or replicate or expand proven initiatives to reach more people. Applicants will have to demonstrate the ability to meet half of their cash match requirement at the time of the application. The deadline for applications is still to be determined.

The SIF will channel funding through intermediary organizations and grantmakers with expertise in finding, supporting and monitoring the growth of promising nonprofits. “The lasting impact we’re hoping will be a massive upgrade to the nation’s challenge solving infrastructure, particularly in low-income communities. Rather than betting the house on one approach, the SIF will fund a portfolio of promising programs and approaches,” Goren said. As examples, grantees could be a local government office investing in new solutions to local problems, a “high-engagement philanthropy organization” working with community organizations, or a rural, nonprofit grantmaker with “deep local roots and a strong focus on community needs.”

The fund is focusing on a limited, manageable number of grantees to allow CNCS to “lay a solid foundation for the success of SIF in future years,” Goren said. Meanwhile, intermediaries can focus on those organizations that show the most promise, she added. The NOFA hopefully will attract broad cross section of attention from other government officials, nonprofits that want to participate, said Steve Goldsmith, interim chair of the CNCS board of directors. One of the important elements of the fund is that it’s not based on activity but on performance, he added.

Grantmakers will have six months from the time of the award to select nonprofits. “We have anticipated that we don’t want go with organizations that already have pre-identified nonprofits. We want to open it up to the entire spectrum,” Goren said.

Difficult times call for more effort at effective, transformative solutions, said Goldsmith, which might help in finding the necessary matching grants. “Doing things the same way, whether by government or philanthropy, I don’t think is going to be sufficient,” he said.

“At least from several of the national funders, we’re confident that there’s still an appetite and interest in matching. At the local level, it depends on how aggressive the intermediary wants to be, whether it’s a community foundation or otherwise,” Goldsmith said. Times of stress create more attention and emphasis on what organizations are trying to do and more possibilities for the match, he added.

Feedback on the NOFA can be submitted:

  • By mail: Corporation for National and Community Service, Attn: Stephanie Soper, Room 1078A, 1201 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20525.
  • By fax: 202-606-3466
  • By email: SIFinput@cns.gov

The SIF is included as a $50-million appropriation in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The Serve America Act was included in the Fiscal 2010 budget that gained Senate approval on Monday, providing CNCS with its largest ever budget, at $1.149 billion, a $260-million increase over last year.

Click here for the Notice of Funding Availability.