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.


The Foundation’s Impact Investing team makes program-related investments (PRIs) and mission-related investments (MRIs), which together are called impact investments. Impact investments are financial instruments (loans, bonds, stock, limited partnership interests, guarantees, letters of credit, etc.) deployed with a deliberate intention to generate economic, social or environmental benefits for a particular population, community, geography or society at large. Recipients can include traditional nonprofits, for-profit businesses, “hybrid” or social enterprises and special-purpose funds, as well as public agencies or quasi-governmental entities. Impact investments are used to enhance the outputs and outcomes of the Foundation’s grant-making strategies by leveraging public or private capital, creating new connections, accelerating learning, expanding influence and supporting demonstrations that would not otherwise be possible.

Some of the ways the Foundation has used impact investments to date include providing capital to intermediaries that finance real estate projects serving low-income people and communities, such as subsidized child care centers or apartments for low-income people; leveraging capital from other public and private institutions by providing added loss protection through cash or guarantees; demonstrating the viability of underserved markets, new financial products, or emerging enterprises by engaging in transactions that ordinary investors consider too new or risky; and making long-term “bets” on promising organizations with good potential for growth by providing capital for added staff, upgraded systems or new activities.

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

What MacArthur Funds

Major programs and initiatives supported by the Foundation’s program-related investments include the following:

Preserving Affordable Rental Housing

MacArthur's $150 million Window of Opportunity: Preserving Affordable Rental Housing initiative seeks to preserve and improve affordable rental housing nationwide by showing that preserving affordable rental housing is a cost-effective way to extend past investments in housing; strengthen families and communities; and encourage a wide mix of partners to invest in and preserve affordable rental housing. The initiative aims to yield the evidence, models, momentum, and leadership needed to generate policy reforms that position the preservation of affordable rental housing as central to meeting the nation’s housing needs.

Grants and long-term capital has been provided to local, regional, and national nonprofit affordable housing owners who operate in nearly every state. We also support specialized financing vehicles across the country and public sector-led preservation efforts in Chicago, New York City, and 14 other states and localities. We also fund policy analysis, data collection, and expert assistance to encourage investment in rental housing preservation and foster sound federal, state, and local policies. Recently we have also made a limited set of investments to identify how energy efficiency improvements can help preserve rental housing affordability.

See Recent Grants for grants and program-related investments awarded.
Download a list of all Window of Opportunity PRI recipients.

Revitalizing and strengthening Chicago communities

Since 2005, the Foundation has committed PRIs totaling more than $100 million to stimulate public and private sector investment in Chicago neighborhoods and advance the work of other MacArthur programs including our support for arts and cultural organizations, foreclosure prevention and mitigation, energy efficiency and rental housing preservation and neighborhood revitalization.

These commitments include support for seven leading community development financial institutions, $10 million to help finance the transformation of Chicago’s troubled public housing into new, mixed-income communities, $42 million for a special Foreclosure Prevention and Mitigation Project, $6 million for the Energy Savers Loan Fund, $2 million for an Arts and Culture Loan Fund and $5 million in credit enhancement to Community Investment Corporation for a pilot financing program to provide permanent financing for investors assembling portfolios of 2-4 unit multifamily rental buildings.

Boosting the scale and impact of leading community development financial institutions

Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, are a leading source of innovative, market-based solutions for economically distressed communities and underserved people across the United States. CDFIs, which include revolving loan funds, venture funds, banks and credit unions, provide more than $5 billion annually in loans, investments and financial services to individuals, nonprofit organizations and businesses located in urban, rural, and Native communities. 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.

The MacArthur Foundation has been a leading supporter of the CDFI field, providing approximately $250 million in grant and impact investment  support since the mid-1980s. In 2007, the Foundation awarded its largest PRI — $25 million — to create the Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance and made an additional $5 million impact investment in 2012. The Opportunity Finance Network has run this program since its inception with additional support from others including Wells Fargo and the Kresge Foundation.


Updated May 2014