Update: Obama’s Social Innovation Fund

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    The Obama Administration’s Social Innovation Fund (SIF) has now been in operation for several years. SIF was created to fund an annual competition to identify innovative nonprofit programs that provide measurable, scalable solutions to community problems. SIFIn those five years, it has provided $177 million in grants to 20 grantmakers who match those grants dollar for dollor with their own money. Its portfolio has resulted in more than $500 million of cross-sector investments in 217 nonprofits. Those grantmakers then partner with SIF to identify and support high-impact nonprofits implementing those effective solutions.

    One measure of its success is that Congress increased SIF’s budget to $70 million for fiscal 2014, a 40% increase at a time when most budgets are steady or decreasing. It has already reached more than 270,000 people.

    You can read more about SIF’s accomplishments in an article written by its director in the most recent edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR).

    Not surprisingly, SIF also has its critics. The SSIR article is very long on superlatives and dollars invested, but does not provide any specifics on actual on-the-ground accomplishments. Dollars is almost always a very poor measure of success, especially when it comes to federal spending.

    What’s uncertain, at this point in time, is what impact SIF has actually had on people’s lives. Counting numbers of people reached is not by itself a credible measure of impact. Here’s an NPR article from about a year ago with questions about what SIF has achieved.

    Truth be told, it’s probably too early to be able to evaluate the real success of these investments. The reality of the kinds of changes SIF is focusing on cannot be measured in a quarterly or annual impact statement. That said, they are very data-driven as an organization, and so we can hope that in time more complete measures of impact will become available.

    Good luck!