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Funders’ Forum (part 1)

Last week, I attended a forum highlighting grant opportunities for organizations based in Saskatoon. Speakers from seven funding agencies provided an overview of their respective grant programs, with time afterwards for questions to the group and general networking. Although I imagine that this idea of bringing funders and non-profit organizations together is not new, it was the first time that I had attended such an event: as someone new to the city, it was a great opportunity not just to learn about the opportunities that existed but also to meet with representatives from non-profits in the audience.

Before provide some information about the grants available, two take-aways from the event to share:

First, I was very intrigued by the idea of the Collaborative Funding Partnership. Three local funders, namely the local United Way, the municipal government, and the Saskatoon Urban Aborigianl Strategy, have developed a common application for their respective programs, so that one proposal gets viewed by all three. Interestingly, each funder has different priorities and required qualifications to apply; for example, the United Way only funds registered charities, the City also allows the applicant to be an incorporated non-profit or a co-op, while the Urban Aboriginal Strategy is willing to provide funding to for-profit ventures as long as there’s a clear social benefit and the funds aren’t used to generate profit (i.e. social enterprise). I think it’s great to see this type of collaboration happening between funders, with the obvious benefit for non-profits of saving limited staff time and energy on grantwriting; this approach could also encourage applicants to take a little bit more risk by including more innovative approaches in their proposals, with the hope being that at least one of the funders would find it interesting.

The topic of innovation brings me to my second insight from the event, or more accurately from some conversations afterwards. As I’ve written before, grants tend to fall in a few discrete boxes, with a focus on direct service delivery or specific programming. With a growing focus on accountability, it’s perhaps natural that funders focus on what has worked in the past; however, it excludes new approaches that go beyond the usual client-service model to address complex social issues. I’m not saying that the traditional programs and services supported by these granting bodies don’t play crucial roles in our communities – they most definitely do! However, new approaches, such as social enterprises with triple bottom-lines or a collective of software developers creating new online tools with social benefits, can be game-changers for non-profit organizations and the communities they work with. Unfortunately, because these models are new and (relatively) unproven, they are inherently risky. How do we support them? There’s no easy answer, and despite a few encouraging signs from the funder’s forum (such as some granters willing to consider applications for capacity building), there seems to be few answers coming from that quarter, at least at this time.

That’s my soapbox spiel for today. If you want to continue the conversation – perhaps you have some ideas for how to foster social innovation in Saskatoon? – that big comment field below is waiting for you to share! Before that, here is some information on the three Collaborative Funding Partnership funders: I’ll post my notes on the other funders soon.

Collaborative Funding Partnership

The following three funding bodies are using a joint application process, with a due date at the end of November. There will be workshops in October on applying to this suite of grants – I’ll make sure to post about them when I hear any news.

United Way of Saskatoon and Area – Community Initiative Fund

Priorities: United Way has three priority areas: “From Poverty To Possibility”, “Healthy People, Strong Communities”, and “All That Kids Can Be”. According to a handout from the event, their focus is “… to invest in programs that meet vital or emerging community needs …”. However, the representative at the event mentioned that they have supported non-program requests in the past, such as environmental scans.
Requirements: Applicants must be a registered charity: if your organization does not have charitable status, you can apply through a sponsoring organization only in “exceptional circumstances” (translation: if you’re thinking of taking this route, talk with them first!)

Saskatoon Urban Aboriginal Strategy – Community Investment Fund

Priorities: As its name implies, the Saskatoon Urban Aboriginal Strategy focuses on providing services for Saskatoon’s urban Aboriginal population. Priorities mentioned at the event included programs focusing on life and job skills, as well as those focusing on women and children. They also have a separate capacity fund for projects that help build capacity for organizations and clients.
Requirements: As mentioned above, this granter provides funding to a range of organization types, including for-profit endeavours as long as the money is not going towards profit-generating activities. The rep also emphasized that applicants do not have to be an Aboriginal organization, but they must demonstrate how their request is focused specifically on helping Saskatoon’s urban Aboriginal community.

City of Saskatoon – Social Services Grant

Priorities: The focus of this grant is primarily on direct service provision for vulnerable citizens/populations in Saskatoon that “enhances their quality of life, especially in relation to the family”. Other grants from the City focus on sports, recreation, and cultural initiatives, as well as economic development or capital expenditures.
Requirements: Applicants must be an incorporated non-profit or co-op, or a registered charity. The application must demonstrate the need for the program and the involvement of the “client group” in this need determination. There is a preference for preventative programs and collaboration/cooperation with other service agencies.

Diclaimer: I do not represent any of these groups and I provide this information for convenience only. Any errors are my own – if you’re a representative from one of these granting bodies and see a mistake, please contact me and I’ll correct it as soon as possible. If you’re planning to apply for any of these grants, I recommend checking with the funders directly for the most up-to-date information and to confirm your proposal’s eligibility.