Catalyst Fund


It’s in the nature of innovation that each idea is different. But we are looking for creative approaches to problems or opportunities that share certain characteristics. The Catalyst Fund provides early-stage funding to new or existing organizations aiming to test or launch something new or seeking to creatively adapt an existing program, process or organizational model. Whatever the idea, it should be new, different, better and significant. Ideas and initiatives should have the potential to spur change beyond an individual project or organization.

  • Requests can be for either a new approach or a creative and significant change to an existing model.
  • Funds can be used to explore, test or launch innovative ideas or initiatives.
  • Ideas or initiatives typically will be less than three years old, although the applying organization can be more mature.
  • Organizations should be located in and serve one or more of the five counties in the Greater Philadelphia region.
  • Ideas should fall within (or be related to) one or more of our four areas of interest: Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services.
  • Organizations or initiatives should primarily serve low-income individuals and communities (with the exception of Arts & Culture).
  • Currently we support 501(c)(3) organizations.
Identifying Problems and Opportunities

First, projects or organizations in the Catalyst Fund should address a clearly defined—and timely—problem or opportunity. We want to know the problem an applicant is trying to solve, or the opportunity it is trying to seize. And whether it can be addressed through the proposed approach. Next, applicants should be able to explain what is happening now or what has changed to create the opportunity for the solution to be better and more effective. Why this approach? Why now? The opportunity or new solution may stem from a shift in underlying assumptions, or build upon new or emerging evidence. Most important, we are looking for approaches that are unexpected, bold and unorthodox, that can change the conversation and inspire and inform others.

What We Mean by Innovation

For an idea to be supported in the Catalyst Fund, it should exhibit the following qualities:

  • New and Different. Applying organizations should be the first to take the proposed approach, coming at a problem or opportunity with a fresh perspective or from a different angle. It should be different from existing or past solutions—a break from past practice.
  • BetterWe are looking for approaches that are not just novel, but that have the potential to be better than existing models. This means new ideas that create organizational efficiencies, improve services, reach new demographics or engage a community in a more effective way. Through your proposed project, you should be able to demonstrate meaningful results.
  • Significant. No matter how large or small the idea is, it should have the potential to catalyze change and have impact beyond the applying organization—whether it is a new idea or a significant adaptation of an existing program or model. We are particularly interested in efforts that can serve as a beacon to others facing the same or similar challenges or have the potential to create a ripple effect that influences how others think and act. Organizations and their leaders should be open to sharing the findings or lessons learned from their work with others.
Risk: Bring it On

We are interested in ideas that challenge the norm and take a new approach. That’s what innovation is all about. Ideally, the solution will aim to be a durable one. But not all ideas succeed at first; and, some never succeed. Risk, failure, learning and sharing are part of the innovation process. We want to help foster an environment where organizations take risks and share their lessons learned—successes, failures and things that changed along the way. What’s learned from these experiments is often quite valuable.

Leadership Matters

Leadership is an important factor in identifying, nurturing and sharing innovation. Projects should build upon a strong organizational and/or individual leadership track record.

How to Pitch Your Idea to Barra

We welcome ideas from organizations that align with our mission of investing in innovation to inspire change that strengthens our community. Review Tips for Applying, Get Inspired, Current Grants and Past Grants to learn more about our approach and priorities. If an idea is a strong match with our mission, we want to hear about it. Here’s how:

Because we appreciate that nonprofits have limited time and resources, our process for submitting an idea is streamlined so that we can quickly assess ideas and determine whether there is a clear possibility of working together—without applicants devoting substantial time to the initial inquiry.

The first step is to complete an online Letter of Inquiry (LOI) form. We review LOIs on a rolling basis. Our goal is to respond to all inquiries within 45 days, and notify organizations if they are being invited to submit a full application or not. (We may need additional information before making this decision.) Organizations are invited to complete a full application based on several factors, including funding availability. Funding requests are considered at quarterly board meetings in March, June, September and December. The process from LOI submission to grant approval typically takes four to six months.

When submitting an LOI, organizations may provide an application that was prepared for another foundation or a video responding to questions contained in the LOI.  Keep in mind that at the LOI stage, we are just trying to determine if the proposed idea meets the Catalyst Fund’s innovation criteria. We will follow up to learn more if we think there is a potential fit for the Catalyst Fund. We encourage organizations to choose the approach that is the most efficient for them.

We do not accept e-mail or telephone pitches about Catalyst Fund ideas because we find it most helpful to learn about ideas in the LOI process. We will only review correspondence that is submitted electronically. Please do not mail hard copies of inquiries or any supplementary material unless requested to do so.

A list of the questions contained in the LOI and Application can be found here.  Reports are required from all of those who receive grants.  Examples of our interim and final reports may be found here.

We will continue to encourage organizations to submit an LOI. However, if an idea is time sensitive, they should contact info to arrange a call and expedited review.

Click Here for LOIs, Applications & Reports

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