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Introducing the Social Innovation Fund

by Stephen Goldsmith

America is facing some of the greatest challenges in a generation.  At the same time, promising nonprofit organizations across the country are making heroic efforts to meet overwhelming need and, implement effective and innovative ways to meet these challenges.  But their impact is often hampered by a lack of resources and support to evaluate and improve their programs, and expand them so they can serve more communities of need.

Yesterday, the Corporation for National and Community Service launched the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant competition, which takes a new approach to addressing our nation’s most critical social challenges.

The SIF will direct funding through innovative, hands-on grant makers (or intermediaries) across the country.  These grant makers will identify fund and support over a period of years promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities.

It’s an approach that has clear benefits.

It leverages private funding from grant makers and others.  Each federal dollar will be matched with at least $3 of private funding, for a total of $200 million or greater.

It offers nonprofits critical support with respect to management, staffing, data collection, fundraising and other challenges that they will need to overcome as they grow.

It provides for investments in multiple nonprofits in an issue area or geography, allowing the best innovations to rise to the top.

Critical to this last point, the SIF provides funding and incentives for nonprofits to evaluate their effectiveness.  Grant makers will be true partners in these evaluation efforts and be jointly held accountable for results.

The SIF’s focus on evaluation is so critical, especially for government.

Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year on programs in the issue areas that the SIF will focus on – economic opportunity, youth development and school support, and healthy futures.

What if that funding could be more accurately focused on the best solutions?  And what if the knowledge about what works were shared broadly, so it could be used in any community across the country?  The benefits would be enormous.  Through evaluation and knowledge-sharing, the SIF has the potential to transform how our nation tackles social challenges.

Discussing the SIF last year, the First Lady said it best when she noted:

“By focusing on high-impact, results-oriented non-profits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of public trust.”

SIF applications are due by April 8, 2010 and awards will be made by July 2010.

Stephen Goldsmith, Board Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service

This blog post can also be found the White House blog.

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