Catalyst Fund

Tips for Applying

Frequently asked questions (and answers) for those considering submitting a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) for a Catalyst Fund grant. 

How do I apply for a grant?

Begin by reading our Guidelines. Then submit a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) using our online system, which you can access by clicking on the “Click Here” button at the bottom of that page.

What do the icons mean?

The icons you see throughout the site represent our four areas of interest.

iconset-arts iconset-ed iconset-health iconset-services

How much funding is available?

We provide approximately $4 million in annual grants that are focused on supporting innovation in and across the fields Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services. Of that total, $1 million per year supports the Barra Awards and $3 million is available from the Catalyst Fund.

Must my organization be a 501(c)(3)?

Our investments are currently limited to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. We do consider projects from organizations using a fiscal sponsor. We do not fund individuals. If your organization is an alternative business model, such as a benefit corporation, that fits with the Catalyst Fund guidelines, please contact us at

Do you have a specific geographic focus?

We provide funding to organizations located in the five-county Greater Philadelphia region (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties).

Must my project be focused on low-income communities?

Yes, in Education, Health and/or Human Services, there should be a focus on serving low-income individuals and communities. Arts & Culture does not have this requirement.

Barra used to provide Project and Planning Grants.  I’d like to apply for support of some planning work.  Do you still support planning?

Yes.  The Catalyst Fund replaces Project and Planning Grants. Barra will continue to fund planning efforts that are focused on innovative approaches and initiatives through the Catalyst Fund.  Please see the examples in response to “What can I include in my budget?” for more information.

The guidelines talk about projects having the potential to catalyze change, but if our innovation is not large in scale, will we be disqualified from consideration?

We believe that innovation comes in all sizes and does not have to be a large-scale initiative to catalyze change. Your project, no matter the size, should have the potential to spur change beyond your own organization to a broader community or field. Others might be inspired by your work to think or act differently.

Our project is innovative in nature and we would like to expand. Would we be a fit for Barra?

While we understand that in order to have impact, innovative ideas need to spread, we do not fund expansions of existing programs. Ideas or initiatives supported through the Catalyst Fund will typically be less than three years old, although the applying organization can be more mature.

Does my idea need to be completely new or can it be new to the region?

We are open to considering ideas that have already been tested outside of the Greater Philadelphia region. If you propose bringing an innovative idea to the region that is in place elsewhere, we will ask why you think this approach will work here. 

What are some of the areas that the Catalyst Fund does not support?
  • individuals
  • budget deficits
  • endowments
  • capital campaigns and projects (unless a component of an innovative project), including feasibility studies for capital campaigns
  • international programs
  • environmental, religious or political organizations
  • scholarships and fellowships
  • stand-alone audio/video projects, publications, catalogues, performances and exhibitions
  • stand-alone symposia and conferences
  • stand-alone marketing or communications plans
  • stand-alone evaluations
  • expansion of existing programs
I am working with other organizations on this project and would like to apply as a collaborative, how do I do this?

If your project is collaboration, one organization should serve as the lead. This means they will also serve as the conduit for the grant funding and will have responsibility for grant reporting. In your LOI, tell us about the other partners and how you will work together.

How large are Catalyst Fund Grants? How much may I request?

We do not have a set range for Catalyst Fund Grants. Budgets, like ideas, can be large or small. We are looking for the best ideas, regardless of budget size. Sometimes the smallest experiments have the most radical intent and can inspire great change. Grant sizes are determined based on the proposed scope of activity, the size of the organization, the project budget and other factors. If you are invited to submit an application, a Program Officer will discuss the size of the requested grant with you.

May I request multi-year support?

Yes. If we invite you to apply, we will work with you to determine the appropriate length of funding. Some projects may just need funding for the planning phase, while others projects may need short-term initial funding, and still others may require several years of seed funding for implementation, evaluation and dissemination. However, funding is typically limited to a maximum of three years.

What can I include in my budget?

Any expenses related to the proposed idea may be included in your budget. If we have questions or do not fund any included items, we will let you know. Your budget should be structured in a way that would allow you to effectively carry out the proposed idea. For example, when undertaking a planning process, organizations could use Catalyst funds to hire consultants for planning work and feasibility testing before launching a project or to conduct research on a significant business model change. However, funds might also be used for planning activities conducted by an organization’s own staff, as appropriate.

May I include indirect in my budget?

Yes, although we cap indirect at 10% of project-related salaries and benefits.

Do you require that we demonstrate full funding for the project? What about sustainability?

While we understand that risk is inherent in innovative approaches, we do ask that you demonstrate an understanding of resources or research that indicates that you have considered the potential for sustainability, if your idea works. For example:

  • Do you have partners that you are working with?
  • Are other funders on board or considering your idea?
  • Does your idea have the potential to attract different or new revenue streams?
  • Does your project have the potential to decrease costs? 
In the guidelines, you say “risk, failure, learning and sharing are part of the innovation process.” Is learning from mistakes or failure considered a success if reflected on and applied?

Yes, we value the iterative process and understand that when trying something new, it may take time to work through the best way to implement a new approach. There is value in learning along the way. We think it is better to change or even, if necessary, abandon an approach if it is not working as envisioned. And we think these experiments can be valuable to others. 

I applied previously, may I apply again?

Yes, you may apply again at any time. 

Would you like to see supplemental materials to help support our request?

No, please provide only the information that is requested in the LOI. We will contact you if we need more information or additional materials.

Does the Barra application process require site visits?

Not at this time. However, when reviewing your LOI, we may contact you for more information. If you are invited to submit a full application, we will arrange in-person or telephone meetings to learn more about your idea and how we can best support its development.

We are having difficulty submitting the online LOI. Who should we contact for assistance?

Please contact us at to submit your questions.

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Philadelphia, PA
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