Rapid Response Grantmaking: From Day 1 to 100, We Made it 100 Days of US

  • By The Sprout Fund, January 19, 2018

by Matt Hannigan, Tricia Monticello Kievlan & Diana Avart of The Sprout Fund

This post kicks off our newest Perspectives series on rapid response grantmaking. Following Election Day in 2016, many members shared how they have adjusted or changed their grantmaking to provide the support that nonprofits need most. This series shares some of these stories and lessons learned.

Image Source: The Sprout Fund

For more than 15 years, The Sprout Fund has been an engine for positive community change in Pittsburgh. Working in partnership with dozens of regional and national philanthropic partners, we’ve supported thousands of creative people and innovative ideas with small investments to yield big results in our hometown.

We design grassroots grantmaking programs that tap the ingenuity of community residents and enable them to contribute to larger regional goals. Immediately following the 2016 presidential election, we knew we had to act quickly and create a new funding mechanism to enable a swift civic response.

Calling upon $100,000 from our own operating reserves, what resulted was 100 Days of US — an initiative we announced only eight days after the election — which helped Pittsburghers set their own agenda for the first 100 days of the new presidential administration.

We requested proposals for new ideas and infusions of fresh capital into ongoing projects that would empower people to act locally and advance positive, solution-oriented responses to issues of national importance. Proposals focused on a diverse array of topics including immigrants & refugees, women in politics, racism, disabilities and voter outreach. Inclusive outreach, respectful engagement and extensive applicant support were key to the program’s success. From the over 150 applications received, more than a third came from community members who were outside of our prior grantee network.

A group of 60 community advisors helped make decisions by reading subsets of the application pool and providing recommendations. And, finally, a public online voting process generated more than 45,000 likes for video submissions from applicants.

Image Source: The Sprout Fund

We raised an additional $34,000 through community-sourced crowdfunding and donations from 250 individuals, including $10,000 contributions each from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

On inauguration day, about two months after the program launched, we announced funding of approximately $5,000 each for 27 projects in 12 issue areas. Throughout the first 100 days, we worked closely with our project leaders to build networks of mutual support for similar ideas. Project leaders were able to learn more about each other at a cohort-based first project meeting, where they were also introduced to Sprout’s project support services. Several new collaborations resulted from the initial meeting and enabled projects to reach broader, more diverse audiences than initially expected.

One of the featured support services provided by Sprout was enhanced communications and storytelling services for project activities through newsletters, photo documentation and active social media. All 27 projects were additionally showcased on Day 100, when we celebrated the projects’ achievements with an open house and shared ways for community members to stay involved with the work that would be continuing beyond the first 100 days.

All told, supported projects and events logged more than 500 hours of programming and engaged nearly 78,000 participants. For some, the first 100 days were just the beginning of their efforts. For others, 100 Days will be a small part of a longer story of activism and community action. At The Sprout Fund, the initiative has left a lasting impact, energizing our staff and board to be even more responsive in the future and reaffirming our organizational philosophy to take chances on community-minded people and their innovative ideas.

Image Source: The Sprout Fund

As other grantmakers consider their own rapid responses to pressing concerns, we think the following grantmaking approaches were key to this program’s success:

  • Start with the community. Although this program developed extremely quickly, before we launched we made sure to spend time sound-checking with community members to help ensure that the program reflected the people it endeavored to serve. By hosting one-on-one meetings and informal community listening sessions, we asked for constructive feedback to help anticipate likely challenges so solutions and alternatives were ready before we encountered them.
  • Support the people already doing this work. One key point of caution from the start was that the recent groundswell of enthusiasm should not diminish the efforts of people who have devoted whole careers to these issues. For this reason, we steered away from framing this support as “catalytic funding,” a type of grantmaking we are most well known for, and encouraged participation from those who were already engaged at the front lines of these issue areas.
  • Meet residents where they are. Like our other funding initiatives, we hosted information sessions at local community meeting places and businesses to help people learn about the program. These information sessions took place at multiples locations and at varying times in order to accommodate differing schedules of prospective applicants.
  • Provide one-on-one assistance. Holding open office hours and providing technical support enabled prospective applications to receive individual support before submitting their proposal. When we made video voting an important part of the application process, we knew there was also an obligation to provide support to help meet that requirement. Consequently, we hosted a “video day,” when people could sign up to have their pitch professionally filmed. Click here to see a summary video of these proposals.
  • Broker connections for project leaders. We’ve made a lot of connections since we were founded in 2001, and we often find ourselves making introductions between old and new “friends of Sprout.” With 100 Days, we structured the first project meeting to ensure that project leaders with similar interests would meet and discuss their work, and we organized our Day 100 Party to group projects with similar themes together. We followed up with project leaders to help them connect with past and present project leaders and key community members who could offer advice and support to help them achieve their project’s goals.
  • Engage community members during and after the decisionmaking process has concluded. We seated a decisonmaking committee that both reflected the applicant pool and represented the communities the projects endeavored to serve. We additionally incorporated public voting, crowdfunding and a Day 100 project showcase to help get more community members involved in the program, even if they weren’t going to apply for funding.

The Sprout Fund is a national leader in catalytic funding, network stewardship and the art of facilitation. Matt Hannigan is co-founder and deputy director of Sprout. Tricia Monticello Kievlan & Diana Avart are program associates at Sprout. To learn more about our work, visit sproutfund.org.