Collaboration, Technology, and Education Grantmaking

Each year the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosts a competition for funding through its Investing in Innovation (i3) program. The i3 initiative was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and aims to provide grants to applicants with innovative solutions for improving education in the United States.

Out of roughly 600 groups that apply to the i3 competition each year, about 20 are selected as highest-rated applicants (HRAs); they range from local educational agencies (LEAs) to nonprofit organizations in partnership with LEAs to consortiums of schools. In order to receive their grant awards, these HRAs must secure matching funds equal to a certain percentage of their grant award from the private sector. This i3 match requirement allows funders to leverage almost five-to-one support from the U.S. Department of Education around promising models of public education reform, and helps to improve the process of collaborating with other funders around those models.

This year, 25 HRAs were selected from 14 states. Their program areas include improving the effectiveness of teachers or principals, serving rural communities, and STEM education, among others. These programs aim to boost student achievement, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, and increase high school and college completion rates.

For funders looking to easily and quickly find programs that fit their funding priorities and that have already been vetted for evidence-based approaches, the Foundation Registry i3 serves as an online platform that helps funders to navigate the selected HRA proposals.

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 enhance collaboration and improve efficiency through the use of technology. After conversations with U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and other funders, the Foundation Registry i3 was born. From its founding group of just a dozen funders, the Registry has grown to include over 70 foundations and corporations interested in supporting the i3 HRAs each year.

The Registry simplifies the discovery phase of connecting groups of like-minded applicants and funders during a time-sensitive matching period 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 words and categories, view other foundations’ interest levels, indicate match considerations for proposals, and collaborate by sharing notes and comments on proposals in a password-protected area.

This year, instead of one short matching period that ends in December, the cycle has two parts. The first period ended last week. All HRAs had to raise or repurpose at least 50% of their required matching funds, and we’re happy to report that all HRAs met the challenge and collectively raised over 12 million dollars. To complete the second half of the competition, 18 HRAs will still need to raise almost five million dollars by June.

If you are interested in joining the Foundation Registry i3 community, please contact us. There is no funding commitment required of foundations to sign up—just potential interest in providing support to the i3 HRAs. The web site is easy to use, and each foundation on the Registry maintains its own decision-making authority to determine if programs fit within their investment strategies. To get a more in depth look at one Registry funder’s perspective, click here.

The Foundation Registry i3 is administered by the Foundation Center, with generous support from AT&T, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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