The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an interesting critical article (subscription required) on the Social Innovation Fund on October 14.
The article cites critics who complain that:
- Some grant recipients have complained of costly bureaucratic demands for data tracking, which have required hiring consultants to craft measurement plans.
- The average amount of each grant awarded has shrunk from an average of $3.3-million in 2010 to $2-million this year as total federal funds have fallen steadily—from $49.2-million in 2010 to $42-million this year.
- The fund’s process for spreading ideas that work has yet to be copied by other federal agencies or private foundations.
It also quotes Paul Cartarr, who recently left his position heading the Social Innovation Fund, who said that to ensure continued support it must continue to demonstrate results-driven approaches to solving social problems. “We’re not about spending more money for nonprofits,” he said. “We’re about spending money better.”
Two major goals of the fund are influencing other federal agencies and private foundations. The article quotes Cartarr as saying that the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services have both expressed interest, neither has started a similar program of its own.
Separately, the “Center for Effective Philanthropy found in a survey of foundation leaders that 38 percent were not familiar enough with the Social Innovation Fund to say whether it has ‘the potential to have an important positive influence on foundation practices.’”
Perhaps the biggest driver of its future will be the coming elections. According to the article, Governor Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has “already proposed eliminating the entire Corporation for National and Community Service, which would include the Social Innovation Fund.”