Day: June 27, 2017

Inside Philanthropy: Got an Idea and a Camera Phone? This Venture Philanthropy Fund Is Interested

This article appeared in Inside Philanthropy on June 27, 2017. 

Last fall, we highlighted a new philanthropic venture fund called Chicago Beyond that was created by a former high school principal, Liz Dozier, to fund early-stage ideas to improve opportunity for young Chicagoans. Back then, three Chicago nonprofits secured about $3 million in grants as part of a competitive challenge. The winners earned Chicago Beyond’s support for efforts involving young fathers, at-risk high school seniors, and research into ongoing program effectiveness.

While Chicago Beyond is a venture fund rather than a traditional grant-making foundation, it’s been interesting to watch it evolve from year one to year two. It moved millions through four large programs as part of its Go Together initiative, which was all about personalized learning, college success, high-risk students, and summer opportunities for teens. When announcing its second annual Innovation Challenge, Chicago Beyond emphasized its focus on youth safety and educational attainment.

Liz Dozier also announced the new opportunity with a little help from Chance the Rapper, who has suddenly started making waves in the Chicago philanthropy scene in a big way, as we’ve reported. This music star is getting involved with all sorts of local groups lately, and is helping funders of all shapes and sizes make giving back seem more hip and sexy.

The second-year challenge is called Go Innovate, and it was designed to support transformative programs, ideas and approaches with the potential to improve the lives of young Chicagoans. It’s a bit vague, but in its second year, the group is still pretty open to whatever ideas come its way. Once again, the geographic focus of this group is very tight and strictly focused on the city. But what’s different about this grant opportunity is that it demands a tech-savvy approach.

Interested grant-seekers have to submit a 90-second video to pitch their ideas and compete for grants. Apparently, all you need is a killer idea and a camera phone, because there’s no initial paperwork or forms to fuss with. Ultimately, the winners will get up to $2 million each.

Chicago Beyond is open to well-established nonprofits and newer groups with early-stage programs right now. However, there’s an eligibility requirement that your nonprofit must have a three-year history or experience working with a group that has been around that long. 

Past areas of interest for Chicago Beyond include youth summer jobs, helping violently injured youth heal physically and emotionally, and justice-focused storytelling for youth. Unsurprisingly, Chicago’s south and west sides have been heavily targeted.

In you’re thinking that this grant-making sounds a bit scattershot or gimmicky, it’s worth mentioning that Chicago Beyond says it’s keen to learn from its grant-making. It has partnered with the University of Chicago Urban Labs to assess the impact of its investments. It says about this outfit: “They pair rigorous scientific evaluation methods and expert analysis to ensure our investments maximize the good we do for young people across our city.” Let’s hope this evaluation work is shared publicly, so everyone can learn from it. 

You can learn all the details about Chicago Beyond’s Go Innovate challenge here. It all starts with a minute-and-a-half video, but selected applicants will need to submit a more detailed response about their ideas. The new Go Innovate challenge recipients will be awarded with their grants this December.