Impact Investment Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy.

As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.

Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.

The Foundation is not accepting unsolicited proposals for work in Impact Investing at this time. Recipients are identified through staff deliberations resulting from consultations with current grantees and others in the field.

Overview

Impact investments are financial instruments (loans, bonds, stock, limited partnership interests, guarantees, letters of credit, etc.) deployed to generate economic, social, or environmental benefits rather than solely focused on a financial return. Recipients may include traditional nonprofits, for-profit social enterprises, and special-purpose funds, as well as public agencies or quasi-governmental entities.

At MacArthur, we make catalytic investments that help bridge capital gaps and drive financing toward organizations, enterprises, and initiatives focused on the world’s most pressing problems. We also make grants that further advance those efforts: funding new products and platforms, supporting research and education, and fueling industry collaborations and demonstration projects. The goal is to build a more robust, more dynamic impact-investing marketplace.


Questions about Impact Investing can be addressed to Director of Impact Investments Debra Schwartz or Associate Directors Allison Clark and John Balbach.


Investments

The MacArthur Foundation has dedicated $500 million to impact investments, one of the largest allocations of its kind among private foundations. The focus of this investing is the segment of the market dedicated to achieving deep, transformational impact – nonprofits and social enterprises whose missions and business models produce investment profiles that fall outside commercial norms. As a result, they require investment capital that is patient, flexible, and – above all – especially risk tolerant. Our impact investing team fuels innovative models and anchors ground-breaking transactions, unlocking capital from new investors and driving impact well beyond what we could achieve with our own capital alone. 

We think of this growing effort as "market-making for mission." The Foundation continues to make impact investments that support our program priorities, like fighting climate change. But, beyond that, we look at new opportunities through a market-making lens. We focus on whether or not our capital is helping bring investors to the table in easier, more efficient ways. We support enterprises and intermediaries that have the potential for substantial growth and/or replication. We finance new approaches to long-standing challenges. And, overall, we expect significant leverage that multiplies impact. 

In practice, that means the Foundation participates in a range of investment activities, from leading syndication programs and managed funds to providing new kinds of credit and liquidity facilities. Our objective is to drive patient, flexible, affordable capital to organizations addressing tough challenges and, in the process, fuel market growth.

Grants

As part of our commitment to impact-focused investments, the Foundation makes grants that support innovation, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration. Our cohort of grantees is working on multiple fronts—developing new products and platforms that allow traditional investors to more easily participate in high-impact transactions; conducting research and advancing education to elevate the impact investing field; and expanding industry networks to advance best practices.

We fund approximately $3 million in grants each year that support our goal of a more inclusive, efficient, and effective impact investment marketplace. Recent grants have supported ImpactUS, which is testing a new online platform for impact investments; the Urban Institute, which is developing training materials for place-based investing; and echoing green, which helps social entrepreneurs become investment-ready. You can search our database of grants for more information on what we fund.

Building on a Track Record of Impact

Over the last 30 years, the Foundation has made strategic investments that support a range of impact objectives, such as preserving much-needed affordable housing, spurring financial products for low-income populations, and fueling social enterprises that create jobs and improve the economic outlook for their communities. Though not all are ongoing efforts, these pivotal investments continue to impact the people and places where they were made, often attracting tens of millions of dollars in follow-on investments to support increased impact and improve overall quality of life. They include:

Revitalizing and Strengthening Chicago Communities

MacArthur has provided more than $1.2 billion in grants and investments to our hometown of Chicago, fueling the work of 1,500 organizations and individuals in dozens of communities. As part of that effort, our impact investments are designed to stimulate public and private investment in Chicago neighborhoods and advance the work of other MacArthur programs.

This work includes a $50 million commitment to Benefit Chicago—a groundbreaking $100 million collaborative that is marshaling resources from dozens of individuals and institutions and channeling this capital into investments in nonprofits and social enterprises that are expanding employment opportunities and tackling other critical challenges facing our region.

Other Chicago-focused impact investments include: $42 million for a special Foreclosure Prevention and Mitigation Project; $6 million for the Energy Savers Loan Fund; $2 million for the Arts and Culture Loan Fund; and $5 million to the Chicago Community Loan Fund in support of Chicago TREND, an innovative social enterprise that catalyzes, accelerates, and finances strategic retail development to drive neighborhood transformation.

Our commitment to Chicago remains deep and unwavering. Through both grants and investments, the Foundation steadfastly supports the city's civic, cultural, and community infrastructure. Learn more about our Chicago Commitment.

Preserving Affordable Rental Housing

MacArthur's $150 million Window of Opportunity: Preserving Affordable Rental Housing was created to preserve and improve affordable rental housing, as well as to demonstrate the value of preservation as a strategy to help address the nation's affordable housing crisis. 

The Foundation's housing program is in a legacy phase, though we are still supporting organizations that focus on this pressing need. Over the years, the Foundation has provided grants and long-term capital to local, regional, and national nonprofit affordable housing owners that operate in nearly every state. We have also supported specialized financing vehicles across the country and public sector-led preservation efforts in Chicago, New York City, and 14 other states and localities. We have supported policy analysis, data collection, and expert assistance to encourage investment in rental housing preservation and foster sound federal, state, and local policies. We have also made a limited set of investments to identify how energy efficiency improvements can help preserve rental housing affordability.

See grants awarded through Window of Opportunity or download a list of impact investment recipients under the program.

Boosting the Scale and Impact of lLeading Community Development Financial Institutions

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), are a leading source of innovative, market-based solutions for economically distressed communities and underserved people across the United States. They include revolving loan funds, venture funds, banks, and credit unions, and provide more than $5 billion annually to individuals, nonprofit organizations, and businesses in every state. This financing directly benefits low-income and low-wealth people by increasing their access to homeownership opportunities, affordable rental housing, thriving small businesses, and critical services such as childcare, healthcare, and education.

MacArthur has been a leading supporter of the CDFI field, having provided approximately $250 million in grant and impact investment support since the mid-1980s.

 

Updated September 2017