This past September, the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund (PGCSIF) launched the Small but Powerful Funding contest. Our aim was to identify ‘big ideas’ for social/economic development in Prince George’s County and offered a start-up prize of $1,000 to either launch or expand a locally-focused, community-oriented initiative. Well, here’s what happened…
We received nearly 18 entries for the contest. Admittedly, most of the entries were incomplete, so we were able to quickly short-list the applicants to four viable proposals. The proposals largely focused on youth development through coaching, mentoring, and reading/comprehension improvements. Each proposal touched on important issues impacting Prince George’s County youth. The review panel – consisting of a Prince George’s County resident/artist-entrepreneur (Tamara Wellons), a PGCPS teacher (Mbahlia Colson), and a nationally recognized teaching artist and trainer (Gayle Danley) – felt that each proposal would have benefited from a more developed concept, a more focused implementation plan, a target audience, and identification of success indicators (or evaluation criteria). After some deliberation and with a bit reservation, the panel agreed on a winner.
Then, PGCSIF staff called each of the short-listed organizations and shared the reflections from the review panel – - both the optimism about the proposed work; and along with the reservations about the proposals as they were presented. We first spoke with the proposed ‘winner’ and floated the idea of rather than funding a single organization with the $1,000 prize, redirecting the prize money to support a group session on concept development and fundraising for start-ups for all of the applicants. In essence, PGCSIF was abandoning its original commitment. But after speaking with each of the four short-listed organizations, sharing our concern, and listening to their needs and feedback; we all very quickly agreed with that the suggested alternative.
As such, PGCSIF will use the resources intended for this prize to organize a session for the four short-listed organizations – One by 1, Inc., The NM Project, Beyond the Surface, Inc., and Put it in Perspective and other interested organizations – on effective proposal development and fund-raising strategies for start-up initiatives. To quote Eddie Ellis of One by 1, Inc., “I would rather you teach me to fish, than give me a fish”. All four of those short-listed recognized the need for capacity development and are excited about the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a sustainable local contribution.
PGCSIF also learned quite a bit from this experience. We recognized that 1. Real innovation sometimes means abandoning your original idea and moving to something that is even more effective; 2. A conversation between funder and potential grantee can often lead to better outcomes (hiding behind the brick wall of donor/recipient relationship is less effective and far less powerful); and 3. We need a fishing school. There are people with great ideas about how to address local needs and many have taken on small-scale initiatives with little to no external support. We should be more intentional about finding these individuals and supporting their capacity development needs in order to more sustainably address local issues.
We appreciate the time, interests, and commitment of the review panel and the applicants. Please look for details a workshop for the ‘Small but Powerful’ on proposal development and fund-raising strategies for start-ups/locally oriented initiatives in early 2013.