In the spring of 2009, Michelle Obama announced the launch of the Social Innovation Fund — $50 million dollars that will be directed to nonprofits in the social sector — to staff members of the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York. “By focusing on high-impact, results-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of the public trust,” she said. Five years later, the money (now increased to $70 million a year) has been matched with over $400 in non-federal dollars, reaching 217 nonprofits around the country.
Michael Smith, the current head of the fund, says the money funds two things: measuring the impact nonprofits are having on their communities and scaling proven projects. “It’s not ‘how many kids are you serving?’ but what impact are you having on their lives and can you prove it?”
Some have pointed to the potential dangers that can come from such a close relationship between the federal government and private philanthropic donors. Howard Husock has noted in Forbes, “By helping a cause or organization with which an elected official is associated — and may be directly involved — donors have a chance to put themselves in the good graces of those same officials.”
Smith sat down with NationSwell to discuss the fund and its potential to reshape the nonprofit sector.