The Costs and Benefits of Participation
March 8, 2018 | Perspectives | 100&Change

Senior Program Officer Jeff Ubois discusses how MacArthur is looking to enhance, develop, and extend the benefits of participating in 100&Change for the next cycle of the competition.


Most 100&Change participants had hopes—but not strong expectations—of going home with $100 million. Instead, they focused on other benefits of participation, and many found ways to win that we never anticipated. 

Applicants determine whether to participate in a competition based on the relative value proposition for those who are likely not to win, according to Jaison Morgan, CEO of Common Pool, which helped design and manage the 100&Change application process. By increasing that value, a funder can strengthen the relevance and quality of submissions, Morgan explained in a discussion with Kevin Bolduc from the Center for Effective Philanthropy

Given objectively small chances of receiving a grant, when is it worth answering a call for proposals?

We have been collecting information about these benefits formally—through structured evaluations and surveys—and informally, through word of mouth, unexpected e-mails, and interactions with participants. We have also learned more about costs of participation, including money, time, and other resources. We are looking to find ways to enhance, develop, and extend these benefits in the next round of 100&Change, and learn from participants which they value most.

From the beginning, we hoped that reviews and comments on qualifying proposals would prove valuable. Other benefits developed as the program evolved. 100&Change was designed as a competition for a single $100 million grant to solve a critical problem of our time. In the end, we also granted awards of $15 million each to the other three 100&Change finalists, and awards of $250,000 to the eight semi-finalists in recognition of the time and resources required to participate.

Many 100&Change applicants found that submitting a proposal provided focus, energy, and direction for their organization. The competition gave them a reason to dream big, to be ambitious, and to think more broadly than is commonly appropriate in institutional settings. As one email we received put it: "I was at Skoll Global Forum last week at Oxford, and I was in three different conversations with leaders who had applied to 100&Change and were not selected. But in each case, they noted (without prompting) that the preparation and thinking for that work shifted their thinking about what they were trying to do." 

"The application caused us to collaborate with others. The [required memoranda of understanding] were good, and we will use those in future projects," said one. Other applicants reported that participation increased their influence in the field. "Dozens (!) of orphanages have contacted us with requests for help," said another.  

For submissions identified in the top 200 scoring proposals; Charity Navigator's Charities with Bold Solutions; The Center for High Impact Philanthropy's Bold Ideas for Philanthropists to Drive Social Change project; or the Foundation Center's 100&Change Solutions Bank—participation provided visibility and credibility, sometimes leading to financial or in-kind donations from others, and often leading to new relationships. 

Given limited grant dollars, what can foundations do to ensure everyone who answers a call comes out ahead?

While it is difficult to know for certain which donations were a result of participation in 100&Change, we estimate their total dollar value so far to be in excess of $10 million, with many times that amount now under active consideration. This includes $1.6 million in contributed equipment, $2.5 million in large grants, and roughly $4 million in small donations. This does not include larger awards to finalists now under consideration, or awards of roughly $8 million and $33 million that participants found through other channels.

Yet we do not want to understate the costs. Competitions are expensive—for organizers, participants, and for those who lend their time, reviews, and advice. At their (hypothetical) worst, competitions may draw more resources out of the social sector than they contribute. Arguments like this forced us to reflect on costs for participants early on, particularly in staff time and opportunities for relationship-building with other funders, some of whom might wait for the outcome of 100&Change before providing support to applicants. And given the public nature of the competition, could our failing to provide support discourage others?

For the most part, these concerns proved unfounded. However, one participant reported to Abt Associates, which is conducting a MacArthur-supported evaluation of 100&Change, that "it's a dangerous thing when existing or future funders see you and are just on the fence watching while competition is going on. You are in limbo in terms of regular funding in a lot of ways; people are still waiting and watching."

As we move into designing the next round of 100&Change, we will continue to seek ways to increase the benefits for all participants and to limit the costs. We invite your ideas on how to do that.

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