Why did MacArthur decide to run a competition for a single $100 million grant?
Solving society’s most pressing problems is not easy work. But we believe it can be done. Three years ago, we set out to do something bold and different, launching the first round of 100&Change. And now, we are launching the next cycle to help address another of the world’s most critical issues.
Most foundation grants are closer to $100,000 than $100 million. Only four $100 million grants were awarded in all of 2016, according to the Foundation Center. By funding 100&Change at a level far above what is typical in philanthropy, we sought to address problems and support solutions that are radically different in scale, scope, and complexity. We believe $100 million can enable real progress toward a meaningful and lasting solution to a critical problem of our time.
MacArthur is focused on big bet initiatives that strive for transformative change in areas of profound concern, such as climate change and criminal justice reform. But we do not know it all and recognize there are other significant issues worth solving. 100&Change is a way to encourage and support ideas from any field.
What is different about this round of the competition?
The first round of 100&Change offered opportunities for learning. An evaluation of the selection process from the inaugural competition informed changes to the selection process for the 2020 award recipient.
For example, we created a new organizational readiness tool to help potential applicants determine their readiness to compete in 100&Change. We added a peer-to-peer review process, where applicants within the same domain will score and provide feedback to each other’s proposals.
Introduction of the organizational readiness tool and peer-to-peer review, before judges review proposals, should address the feedback we received from judges asking for more pre-screening to remove non-competitive proposals. For the top applicants, we have also included domain specific technical review panels in which proposals will be assigned to a technical reviewer with expertise in the field of the proposed project.
These changes are intended to provide an enhanced level of feedback and ensure that all applicants benefit at each stage of the competition.
What is Lever for Change and what is its relationship to 100&Change?
Lever for Change is a new charitable organization created by MacArthur whose mission is to unlock philanthropic capital and help donors leverage their resources to accelerate social change. Building on the success of MacArthur’s 100&Change competition, which attracted more than 1,900 applications from over 50 countries and generated dozens of high-impact opportunities, Lever for Change seeks to connect donors and nonprofits to deliver the bold, impactful change they both dream of implementing. Lever for Change will offer donors a marketplace to leverage their charitable giving through customized competitions or by matching donors with proposals vetted by Lever for Change in its online database of the strongest projects submitted to 100&Change and other competitions.
MacArthur’s 100&Change competition will be one of the customized competitions managed by Lever for Change. For competition applicants, Lever for Change will offer access to transformational awards of $10 million or more, along with a variety of technical support to ensure organizations have the capacity to execute bold ideas. For the philanthropic sector and donors, Lever for Change will create a marketplace of tested solutions seeking support now; over time it will create a pipeline of high-impact projects that can effectively address challenges at scale.
What makes 100&Change different from other philanthropic competitions?
What is unique about 100&Change is its focus on problems and their solutions, and the requirement that proposals address both. It is also unique because no single field or problem area is designated, unlike some prizes and challenges. And proposals from all sectors are encouraged. Of the more than 87,000 active, independent, community, and corporate foundations in the United States, 70 percent do not accept unsolicited proposals, according to the Foundation Center. More than $27 billion of the $71 billion distributed every year by foundations is not up for grabs—you need an invitation.
Working with the Foundation Center and others, Lever for Change is creating new infrastructure to allow willing and interested funders explore some of the ideas that are excluded from consideration by “invite only” policies regarding proposals.
The openness and transparency of the 100&Change application process is also distinctive. Applicants know exactly what they are being scored on, and every applicant receives meaningful feedback on their proposal from the "wise head" evaluation panel. The process provides vital feedback—and useful public exposure—to applicants, even if they do not ultimately receive the grant.
Why does MacArthur have “a panel of wise heads” review applications?
We considered three different models.
The first was a crowdsourcing model. We liked the idea of people proposing which problems to solve and having a crowd vote whether a proposal is meaningful or compelling. But we did not want 100&Change to turn into a popularity contest.
The second approach was the specialists’ panel model, where we would define a field of work and then identify experts to evaluate applications. There was a sense, however, that experts in a certain field tend to struggle with new ideas that come from outside of their discipline.
What we realized is crowds provide a way to take more risks and innovate. And the wisdom of experts is important. So, we decided to create a crowd of wise experts. We refer to them as our “panel of wise heads.” We will randomly assign proposals to them and ask them to score proposals based on their broad knowledge. Each application will be judged by a panel of five experts.
In the inaugural round of the competition we ended up with an evaluation panel of judges that included 413 thinkers, visionaries, and experts in fields that included education, public health, impact investing, technology, the sciences, the arts, and human rights.
What criteria will peers and the “wise heads” panel consider when evaluating proposals?
We will ask them to determine whether projects are impactful, evidence-based, feasible, and durable.
Impactful is the goal of the competition. Does the proposal describe the urgent problem worth solving, and will the solution have a transformative impact?
The second criteria is evidence-based. We want to know, will the solution work? Does the proposal present evidence that the solution or critical components of it have previously yielded practical and concrete results? This is not a competition to test a new idea or theory. Does the evidence suggest that the solution can be adapted to other contexts, such as expanding to new populations or geographies, or to reach a greater number of people over time, and still retain its effectiveness?
The third criteria is feasible. When it comes to feasibility, the kinds of questions we want peers and wise heads to consider are: Does the team have the skills, capacity, relationships, and experience to deliver its proposal?
The last criteria, durable, is the one that sets 100&Change apart. If we were focused on solving a problem, we want the $100 million solution to have a sustained impact.
How will the judges score proposals?
The judges will score criteria on a 1-5 scale. We do not want to disadvantage a proposal that is assigned to a judge who tends to give low scores or tip the scale in favor of a proposal that has a judge who tends to score high. Judges’ scores will be statistically normalized to ensure that no matter which judges are assigned to an applicant, each proposal will be given equal consideration.
We applied the first time. Can we apply again with the same project?
Applicants learned how their proposal was evaluated and received comments and feedback from our expert panel of judges. That feedback might help strengthen proposals for future funding requests or even the next cycle of 100&Change.
Yes. However, applicants should incorporate the feedback received from judges into a revised proposal. Applicants should also review changes to the scoring rubric.
Note to Media
Members of the media seeking comment or to interview a 100&Change semi-finalist, finalist, winner, or staff person should call MacArthur Communications at 312.917.3690 or email Kristen Mack.
Updated February 2019