The Unfunded List Evaluation Committee read and reviewed 216 proposals in 2021, 156 of those in the Fall round. Between the two rounds, 280 different evaluators participated. In the Spring, we co-reviewed proposals submitted to Kettering Family Foundation as well as some submitted to the Next Gen Giving Circle in DC and the Circle for Justice Innovations. In the Fall, we co-reviewed with six different challenges (Digital Inclusion, Equitable Classrooms, Resilient Ecosystems, Health Security & Pandemics, Anti-Racism in the US, and the Indigenous Communities Fellowship) run by SOLVE at MIT, as well as with The Elevate Prize, also organized by SOLVE. In three years of co-reviewing with SOLVE, we reviewed and assembled over 250 feedback reports for their applicants and either Margaret Chapman or I spoke to most of the applicants about their submissions.
Thoughts on our Co-Review Pilot
After our first year of co-review with SOLVE, we chose to highlight all 32 of the non-selected finalists on our official Unfunded List update. SOLVE receives thousands of applications from around the world and our opt-in offer for Unfunded List feedback is not shared until the semi-final round (when about 300 or so applicants remain). Unlike many other grantmakers, SOLVE does publish all of their submissions on their website, including their non-selected finalists and semi-finalists. This practice guarantees exposure even for those who do not win prizes at the competition. These applicants also receive feedback reports from us and I know from our follow-up conversations that many of the applicants received substantial benefit from applying even though they did not win at SOLVE.
“Kudos to SOLVE for building a program where even the non-selected applicants believe that applying was valuable to them. “
When we co-review with a partner, I read all of the proposals as soon as they opt-in. I then assign them to evaluators who produce the reviews that make up our reports. But for now, I am the only one who reads all of our submissions here at Unfunded List. In the last three years, I have read the vast majority of semi-finalist submissions to SOLVE across all of their categories and I have read comments from experts on many of these submissions. Margaret and I have both had the opportunity to speak with over one hundred different SOLVE applicants. We regularly meet to debrief about these report discussions and to compare the selected and non-selected cohorts. All of the proposals selected at SOLVE are stellar, well-written submissions from talented teams working on promising solutions. The only other thing that all of the selected programs have in common is that they were selected and the others were not. Many of the strongest programs were not chosen because they did not align with the approaches taken by SOLVE’s partner organizations or the RFPs issued by the challenges. Many programs that need to improve were selected and selected precisely because SOLVE is in a good position to help them improve.
In the most recent round, the applicants were given the opportunity to opt-in to our review before SOLVE made final decisions. That meant that none of the SOLVE applicants knew the status of their application when they asked for our review. By the time we delivered their reports and scheduled conversations, SOLVE had finished their process and selected their winners. At the semi-finalist round, about 35% of the cohort chose to be reviewed by Unfunded List; amongst the finalists and those who won that number shot up to nearly 80%.
Finalists who opted-in for review (Selected Solvers who opted-in):
Health: 12 out of 15 (6 out of 7)
Anti-Racism: 13 out of 15 (5 out of 7)
Digital Inclusion: 12 out of 15 (5 out of 7)
Equitable Classrooms: 9 out of 14 (6 out of 7)
Resilient Ecosystems: 11 out of 15 (5 out of 7)
There is an old adage in fundraising: “Ask for money and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice and you’ll get money.” I think I may have just proved that is true. The staff at SOLVE could have saved themselves a lot of time in their final selection process if they had just given Fellowships to everyone who requested feedback. The two lists would have been basically the same.
I am often asked to quantify our program and I find it difficult. It is hard for me to put into words and numbers how much I just learned this round. I spoke to 77 different proposal authors from all over the world (thanks to Google Meet I spoke face-to-face with folks in Copenhagen, Kampala, Cape Town, Sao Paolo, the Flathead Indian Reservation, Uttar Pradash, and even Charleston, South Carolina). These conversations were wide-ranging and varied. For some, this was their very first grant proposal. Other conversations were with department chairs at prestigious universities—professionals who have written hundreds of grant proposals. I wish I could have been more helpful to them, but I am sincerely grateful that we were able to be of some assistance to so many of the world’s problem solvers.
They are, on the whole, a satisfyingly grateful group. We get thanked for our service regularly so it is our pleasure to share a small sampling of the thank yous we have received in the past year.
“I want to thank you so much for this report. It is a GIFT. Never have we received such detailed feedback. Again, thank you so much. This is fantastic.”
~ Jigyasa Labroo, Arts for All
“Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity. I have read through and really appreciate the time and expertise from the reviewers. I will now share with our team, discuss and reflect on next steps. Many thanks indeed.”
~ Nicola Willis, Zvandiri
“Thank you for sharing! It’s so helpful to have this candid feedback on our proposal and opportunities to improve going forward, and look forward to the follow up on next steps.”
~Nick Haynes, Read to Lead
“Thanks a lot, David, for taking your time and sharing your thoughts with us! We really appreciate it, and look forward to incorporating these suggestions!”
~Rohan Sukumaran, PathCheck Foundation
“We appreciate the feedback – there are some great comments and ideas in the document.”
~Stuart Fulton, Innovacion Azul
“Thank you very much to you and the Unfunded List team for reviewing LFAnt Medical’s submission! We really appreciate the feedback we received from your diverse panel of reviewers.”
~Adam Melnyck, LFant Medical
Yes, I have received the report. Also, I would like to mention that the report created was incredible. And I especially love the fact that 2 people autonomously generated this report. It gave immense feedback and has opened new doors on which we shall definitely try to improve.”
~Krish Yadav, BashaX
It is true, however, that not everyone thanks us. Receiving critical feedback on a proposal that you worked very hard on is difficult. Some folks were having their work criticized for the very first time. In some instances, we could have been more sensitive in how we presented our feedback. We are working to improve how our reports are delivered and we hope that anyone who was unsatisfied will consider giving us another chance.
“The” Unfunded List
We could very well decide once again to highlight all of SOLVE’s non-selected applicants. They are all strong programs working on real solutions to real problems. Funding any one of them would have real benefits for the world. You can check out the SOLVE website and see for yourself.
We will highlight some of them and some of our other applicants as well. This round we had a large number of non-SOLVE submissions. Many of them came from our co-review partnerships with Next Gen Giving Circle or Circle for Justice Innovations. Others came directly through our website or they were repeat applicants who had submitted before.
First, some quick honorable mentions: we have previously highlighted submissions from Mary’s Center and RespectAbility. Both organizations have been doing very exciting work this past year and have enjoyed great fundraising success. RespectAbility was recently awarded a seven-figure grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation and Mary’s Center won funding from CIGNA for a child nutrition program in DC. It has been a privilege to review submissions from both of these groups over the years.
Here are the four proposals we have chosen to highlight this round:
US-Africa Bridge Building Project
I sincerely enjoyed my report discussion with Imani Countess who leads the US-Africa Bridge Building Project. Her work is fascinating and complex and she has found support for it. Imani is the recipient of a prestigious Open Society Fellowship, but just because she was once funded by George Soros does not mean she has all the support she needs. Her plans are ambitious and she has fundraising aspirations to match. Read about her work in detail by checking out her proposal.
Flathead Rez Exergame
Faith Price applied to the Indigenous Communities Fellowship at SOLVE for her project which is an Exergame for the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. I learned from her proposal that Native American youth are considerably more likely to be obese than white American youth. The Exergame (a combination of the words “exercise” and “game”) is a culturally relevant Pokéman Go type game. Faith is still in the research and piloting phase and was very appreciative of the report and feedback. During the report discussion I was able to connect her with several of our evaluators who were interested in her project. I look forward to hearing about all the great success that Faith finds as she continues to pursue her work, which you can read about here.
It could be said that American philanthropists have been failing to save local journalism. With their strong local networks, narrower focus, and insistence on accurate and objective information, philanthropists could have and should have been helping local news outlets survive over the past few decades. Because they neglected local media, the current reality is that most news is produced by groups backed by billionaire publishers or venture capital firms. The last proposals we are highlighting in this update come from two different affiliates of National Public Radio, a bastion of local news. But first, something a little more entrepreneurial and innovative submitted by Blake Stoner of Atlanta, a very cool initiative called VNGLE (also a combination of words, this time “Various” and “Angle”). He is working on a tech-based, for-profit solution aimed at empowering local journalists. He is starting in Atlanta but has big plans for expansion. This round, two of my evaluators called me after their review specifically to say that VNGLE was a cool submission. That does not happen very often so highlighting this proposal was a no-brainer.
WUNC and NHNPR
We reviewed our first NPR affiliate (NHNPR) this Spring. They opted-in after applying to Kettering Family Foundation and then their grant writer joined our evaluation committee. She is an excellent evaluator. By coincidence, WUNC submitted a proposal to us this Fall. [Personal note: WUNC is a grantee of my parents.] It is a great station serving the Research Triangle area and central North Carolina. I listen to it often when I am in NC. They wanted feedback on their submission to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. When I was assigning proposals, I assigned it to Crystal, the grant writer from NHNPR. Kate, the grant writer from WUNC, was very appreciative of her thoughts. New Hampshire is a different market than North Carolina but since both women work for NPR affiliates they are well positioned to help each other out. During our report discussion, Kate and I started brainstorming a national initiative for grantwriters at all of the local NPR stations to review each other’s work by participating in our program. I am excited about that possibility and looking forward to pursuing it in future rounds and perhaps with other national, chapter-based organizations. For now, I am excited to share WUNC’s proposal.
The motto of Unfunded List is Exaudio, Comperio, Conloquor which translates to Listen, Learn, Speak. During our Fall 2021 round we lived up to our motto. We listened to over 150 different proposal authors and over 150 experts who wrote comments. We learned about great potential solutions from around the world. And we spoke to founders, grants consultants, development directors, associates, and assistants about their proposals and the next steps they should take. Thank you for taking the time to read about our work. I hope you will consider joining us for 2022.
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