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Funder Tools for a More Efficient Marketplace

August 06, 2012

(Lisa Philp is vice president for strategic philanthropy and director of GrantCraft at the Foundation Center.)

I3-groupTwo years ago, the Foundation Registry i3 was a lifesaver for me.

I was working as a philanthropic advisor and was looking for an opportunity to lead a group of emerging philanthropists interested in education reform from talking about collaboration to taking action. The U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation (i3) competitive grants program seemed tailor-made for my crowd: a marketplace of ideas, evidence-based approaches, and five-to-one leverage. I informed several dozen high-net-worth donors about the i3 program and vetted the highest-rated applicants based on the quality of their project designs, evidence and evaluation, capacity, financial review, and need for a match. My clients pooled over $5 million in flexible new funds to provide matches for i3 projects working in sixteen states and D.C. and, along with other private funders, leveraged $145 million in public funds.

The vetting and matching all happened within a few short weeks. How did I have access to i3 applicants for review? How did I know which ones needed matching funds? How did I benefit from the knowledge of other foundations? Simple. The Foundation Registry i3.

The registry was started by a group of presidents from the largest U.S. foundations focused on education who recognized that the i3 program created new opportunities to use technology to enhance collaboration and improve efficiency. After conversations with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, their staff members, and other funders, the Foundation Registry i3 was born. Starting with a founding group of a dozen funders, the registry now includes sixty foundations and corporations.

The registry combines an easy-to-use online platform with responsive people behind the scenes -- an example of technology augmenting relationships and networks. It simplifies the discovery phase of connecting groups of like-minded applicants and funders during time-sensitive, matching grant competitions and helps to create a more efficient marketplace. Applicants are encouraged to upload their materials to the registry to increase the awareness and reach of their proposals to participating foundations. Registered funders can sort applicants by tag and category, view other foundations' interest levels and match considerations for proposals, and collaborate by sharing notes and comments on proposals in a password-protected area. During the 2010 and 2011 i3 grant cycles, forty of the sixty-six highest-rated applicants were matched by one or more registry funders, to the tune of over $68 million.

The Foundation Registry i3 template has been adapted for use by the 100Kin10 initiative, a multi-sector mobilization focused on training one hundred thousand science, technology, engineering, and math teachers over the next ten years. It also inspired the SIF Registry, which is designed to simplify the process for eligible Social Innovation Fund intermediaries and sub-grantees to obtain matching funds from foundations.

Fast forward to the 2012 i3 grant cycle, now under way. I'm pleased to report that the Foundation Center is administering the Foundation Registry i3 for this year's grant cycle. We're encouraging i3 scale-up, validation, and development applicants to upload their U.S. Department of Education proposals and are reaching out to education funders to register for the site. Right now -- well before the matching period begins in the fall -- is a great time to become part of the registry. There's no cost to applicants to showcase their applications to a group of motivated funders, and no funding commitment required of foundations to sign up -- just potential interest in providing support for i3 applicants.

If you are a 2012 applicant to the i3 program or a funder interested in U.S. student achievement, please contact us so we can add you to this online community.

-- Lisa Philp

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