Competition As a Tool for Equitable Grantmaking

We’ve had a busy past few months at Lever for Change. In March, we launched MacKenzie Scott’s $250 million Yield Giving Open Call. While there has been some pushback on the eligibility requirements, which require organizations to have budgets between $1-5 million, I’m happy to share that we’ve received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from around the country.

Seedlings grow from money

We recognize that smaller and larger nonprofits also need funding, but we are also realistic about how many applicants we can process with a limited number of grants. As always, we have been true to our values of transparency and equity, offering as much value as possible to both donors and applicants. The issue remains, however, that we wish there were more philanthropists like MacKenzie Scott.

According to a recent report, the richest Americans are sitting on $4 trillion—that’s $4,000,000,000,000—much of which could benefit families and communities in America and around the world. So, why is this money not moving where it is needed? We can and should find ways to channel these much-needed financial resources to creative thinkers in often-overlooked communities to help them implement their ideas and resolve the issues they know firsthand.

Since launching Lever for Change, we have partnered with philanthropists to address issues including racial inequity, gender inequality, lack of economic opportunity, and climate change. We have done this through eleven customized open-call challenges or competitions on behalf of a variety of funders and their advisors —from high-profile donors to institutional funders, corporate funders, and philanthropic advisors, as well as new and anonymous donors.

Competitions can break new ground and open doors to new networks and ideas. At Lever for Change, we are intentional about shifting the balance of power: our challenges are open calls because we want the best ideas out there. We actively promote equity by supporting not just the awardees, but finalists and other highly ranked teams we’ve identified as well. In fact, we try to find funding for as many bold solutions in our network as possible. So far, the sponsors of our challenges have committed a total of $644.81 million to 23 outstanding organizations, and we’ve facilitated another $671 million in follow-on funding to 87 teams.

While I am a firm believer in using this updated competition model to the advantage of historically overlooked communities, I recognize that it is not a silver bullet: it can’t meet all the world’s needs. Rather, it is one tool among many. We still need volunteers, individual donations, and small-scale funding. If we want to address social problems effectively at all levels, we need all hands on deck. We’d love to hear from you, whether you’re interested in funding a new challenge or have feedback about our model.

In service,

Cecilia Conrad

Accelerate Positive Change in the World

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