Social Innovation Fund

Most funding opportunities for non-profit organizations, regardless of source, can usually be classified in one of two categories: short-term grants provide resources for a time-limited program or specific event, while operational funding supports an organization and its activities over a longer stretch of time. New initiatives can usually tap into the former category with relatively little difficulty, but the bar to entry for more stable long-term funding can be much higher. It’s not enough to have been successful in the past; grantmakers also want to see evidence that an organization has the capacity to continue and thrive. With most early-stage funding focusing on specific activities over organizational development, it’s difficult enough for mainstream programs to make the leap from start-up to maturity; if your program takes an innovative approach that does not have widespread recognition (yet), reaching that next level can be nearly insurmountable.

Fortunately this gap has been recognized by some grantmakers, including the JW McConnell Family Foundation. The McConnell Foundation has supported a number of initiatives in Canada related to social innovation, including the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) group that counts Getting to Maybe author Dr. Frances Westley as one of its leaders. The website of the foundation also contains a number of resources on social innovation including a primer on Developmental Evaluation, an approach to supporting innovative programs through research that was developed by another author of Getting to Maybe, Dr. Michael Quinn Patton; I’ll be exploring this methodology in a future post.

Recently, the McConnell Foundation announced a new fund for social innovation, aptly named the McConnell Social Innovation Fund. Recognizing the chasm between successful one-off programs and long-term sustainability and change, the fund provides support for both “Early Stage Consolidation” that helps move pilot projects to sustainability, as well as “Re-tooling for Growth” that assists established organizations scale-up or modify existing innovative approaches (a third stream, to be launched this coming winter, will focus on funding large multi-sector efforts that focus on broader systems-level change). The types of activities suggested in the granting guidelines (PDF) include strategy formulation, improving internal systems and infrastructure, assessing impact, improving knowledge transfer, developing new business models – not what you normally see in the eligibility section of a grant!

I’m personally excited about the difference that this grant could make, and hope that non-profits around Canada generally and Saskatoon specifically will be able to strengthen themselves and grow as a result. If you think this new fund represents a great opportunity for your non-profit but aren’t sure how to best make use of it, let’s talk! Strong Roots provides services that fit well with the objectives of this grant, especially around strategic planning and community-based research, and can also help with the preparation of the grant application itself.

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