Skip to content
March 10, 2014 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

Government + Philanthropy + Nonprofits = Social Innovation

By Tamara Copeland, President

The often contentious relationship between the President and Congress seems to have found a solid place of coexistence in support of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a public-private partnership that takes community-based solutions to scale. Launched by President Obama less than five years ago, Congress increased its allocation to SIF this year by 40 percent, raising its budget to $70 million. In an era of budget slashing, I don’t need to tell you that that is no small feat.

While the government investment is important and significant, one of the key elements of the program is the 1:1 match of government funds with private investment. SIF grants funds to what are called intermediary organizations, typically foundations, which then raise the matching funds from other foundations and donors to invest in local nonprofit organizations.

Last week, Michael Smith, Director of the Social Innovation Fund, joined a group of WRAG CEOs to discuss the Fund.

Since its establishment in 2010, 20 intermediary organizations across the country have supported 218 nonprofit organizations whose work has benefitted over 200,000 people. In our own backyard, Venture Philanthropy Partners is an intermediary working with six local nonprofits to provide education and employment services to 20,000 low-income youth in our region through their youthCONNECT initiative.

With an investment of $1 million to $10 million per intermediary, the Social Innovation Fund is a powerful means of taking evidenced-based solutions to scale. But, as several of the WRAG CEO attendees noted, coming up with that match can be hard for many communities, including the Greater Washington region. Michael Smith agreed that the 1:1 match model may not work for every community. As SIF continues to grow, perhaps this conversation will be the seed of an innovation for the Social Innovation Fund. We’ll see.

For more info about SIF (which just announced its latest grant competition), check out this fact sheet and read Michael’s recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Innovation to Impact: Obama’s Social Innovation Fund at Four.”


Michael Smith announced that this year, the Social Innovation Fund will utilize $14 million to explore pay-for-success models, or what are sometimes referred to as “social impact bonds.” This strategy will be the topic of the next CEO Coffee & Conversation on March 25. More information is available here.

%d bloggers like this: