Special Alert – Your Feedback needed on Social Innovation Fund NOFA

Last week, the Corporation for National and Community Service released a draft Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Social Innovation Fund. The Social Innovation Fund plans to give $50 million divided between five to seven grants to “funding intermediaries” from which possibly 200 sub-grants will be made. The funding intermediaries are required to match their grant.

Nonprofits have the opportunity to give the Corporation feedback on the NOFA and the Fund itself, supplementing what Nicola Goren, the acting CEO of the Corporation, said were the Corporation’s “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.”

The NOFA itself poses some questions and we encourage you to examine it in full here but we also had some additional questions. Our concerns include these:

  1. On the call, CNCS chairman (and former Indianapolis Mayor) Steve Goldsmith addressed the appetite of “national funders” in providing the anticipated matching funds. But he also referred to national funders’ potential interest in “repurposing existing resources.” Should foundations that may be applying to be SIF regrantmaking intermediaries be allowed-or encouraged-to reprogram existing funds as opposed to putting up new money as matching funds for the program?
  2. According to the NOFA, “social innovation” is “the development of a potentially transformative practice or approach to meeting critical social needs.” Is this a definition that works for you? What kinds of organizations might be inadvertently excluded under some interpretations of innovation per this scheme? Note the three topical themes that the Corporation is stressing for the NOFA: economic opportunity, youth development and school support, and healthy futures.
  3. By statute, SIF intermediaries must select subgrantees on “a competitive basis” in annual amounts of no less than $100,000. But at the same time, this call and previous SIF calls have referenced the notion that some intermediaries will come with preselected subgrantees. How does “competitive basis” work with national funders that already have a predetermined slate of subgrantees selected through their own often opaque decision-making processes?
  4. As a potential example of a regrantmaking intermediary, the draft NOFA suggests the possibility of a “high-engagement philanthropy organization working with a handful of innovative community organizations in two areas: workforce development and poverty alleviation.” This sounds like a venture philanthropy fund, where the grantees are closely related if not significantly influenced by the grantmaker. Based on this and other examples of regrantmaking intermediaries, how open a subgrantee selection process does this appear likely to be?
  5. Interestingly, the draft NOFA also offers the possibility of a local government office as a regrantmaker. Do you imagine that municipal agencies will be good candidates as SIF regrantmaking intermediaries? Many certainly have experience in selecting grantees in a more open and transparent way(for example, with Community Development Block Grant funds, etc.) than foundations, but in some localities, those selections may be heavily influenced by political considerations and pressures. How do you think public agencies should be positioned in this process, or is the inclusion of public agencies a feint (to the public sector) by the Corporation to suggest that they might consider more than foundations as regrantmaking intermediaries?
  6. What do you think of the language that “no more than 5 percent of the Federal funds awarded by the Corporation may be used to pay for administrative costs” and “no more than 15 percent of the Federal funds awarded by the Corporation may be used to pay direct program costs (other than subgrants awarded) of the SIF Intermediary in carrying out its approved program?” It sounds like there’s more administrative latitude for the intermediaries than for the subgrantees.