October 26, 2015

INNovation Fund FAQs: Round 4

The Institute for Nonprofit News is now accepting applications for the fourth and final round of the INNovation Fund, the $1 million microgrant initiative to help online news providers diversify their revenues and experiment with technology to help increase their prospects for long-term viability.

Knight Foundation and the Institute for Nonprofit News launched the INNovation Fund in January 2014 to encourage experimentation, collaboration and lesson sharing, and above all increase the ability for these organizations to have long-term, positive impacts on the communities they serve.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions we hear about the fund. If you have further questions, please email info@inn.org.

Q: We're getting a lot of questions in this fourth and final round about repeat applications: If your organization has won an innovation grant previously, can you apply again?

The answer is a qualified yes — your application will be considered but will face a steeper hill than first-time applicants. One purpose of the INNovation grant program is to identify and fund new approaches in new places. So if two proposals are equally impressive in scope, innovation levels, execution plan and the potential for large-scale impact across the sector, judges are likely to favor the new applicant. However, if a prior winner submits a clearly superior proposal, we do not rule out a repeat winner. So if you have a new and big idea — bring it on.

Q: Who can apply?

A: Nonprofit, online news organizations in the United States and public media organizations. Organizations that don’t have their own 501(c)(3) exemption but operate under the fiscal sponsorship of a 501(c)(3) can also apply.

Q: What about projects that are not in the US?

A: Projects must be part of a US 501(c)(3) nonprofit or be a fiscally sponsored project of a US 501(c)(3) project.

Q: Am I required to use INN's Largo WordPress platform to apply?

A: No.  Applicants can use any content management system (CMS) or platform.

Q: How much are the grants?

A: We will accept grant proposals for up to $35,000 but expect grants to average about $25,000.

Q: What is the deadline?

A: UPDATE: The deadline has been extended one week to midnight Pacific Time on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. The original deadline to apply for Round 4 was midnight Pacific Time on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. This is the fourth and final round of grants.

Q: How can I apply?

A: Complete the online form at INNovation Application Form and the budget projection worksheet (which must be uploaded to the online form).  Keep in mind that we will need as much detail as possible.

Q: What types of projects will you fund?

A: Projects may be proven approaches that you are applying in your market for the first time or implementing in new ways. The Fund favors proposals that have the potential to generate new business models or revenue streams that could be replicable elsewhere.The types of projects we expect to fund include but are not limited to:

  • Events: e.g. money to create a new event that builds community or revenue supporting the news organization
  • Technology: e.g. money to reach readers in new ways or build and market innovative digital or mobile applications
  • Sales Development: e.g. money to fund expert development of a corporate sponsorship or local advertising offering
  • Services development: e.g. money to develop a data or news application or development services for paying customers
  • Membership development: e.g. money to launch or expand subscription or membership programs
  • Operations development: e.g. money to hire a business consultant to review internal costs or to develop a plan to reduce costs

Q: What about content?

A: Grants will be limited to investments in sustainability and initiatives that show how audience engagement can translate into revenue. We’re open to all ideas, but proposals must stipulate how the innovation will help the organization increase and diversify revenue, or increase audience size and engagement.

Q: What projects have you funded in the past?

A: Descriptions of projects from the first three rounds can be found at the INNovation Fund homepage, along with interim and final reports from the first round, the only round completed so far. We've funded a variety of proposals, such as mobile apps, constituent relationship management (CRM) systems, radio shows, film festivals and native advertising projects.

Q: How should the projects measure success?

A: It is up to each project to determine what metrics make sense. Applicants are asked to show that metrics will be quantifiable, verifiable and sharable for future guidance on similar initiatives. For instance, if a project aims to increase audience engagement, it could track the number of people who sign up for newsletters or attend events, not just general web traffic. Grantees agree to provide specific metrics in final reports.

Q: Who will decide the winners?

A: INN’s management team will review the applications and make recommendations to the INN board to pick winners.

Q: Will my project be made public?

A: Yes. If you are selected as a winner of an INNovation Fund grant, INN will document on its website and possibly on other platforms a public profile of your project, and update it at the end with “lessons learned” and results. You will be expected to share your experiences and results, the good, the bad and the ugly. We learn a lot even when we fail.

Q: What about the intellectual property created by the INNovation Fund projects?

A: All intellectual property  for any work, including technology or systems developed under this fund, will be shared with INN and open sourced for use by the sector. Example: if a new piece of software or mobile app is developed, the source code would be posted publicly and available for use under an open source license.

Q: What are the reporting requirements under the grant?

A: INN requires grant recipients to submit an interim report after six months and a final report after one year. These reports should include narratives about the project and lessons learned, plus metrics used to gauge the project's progress and budget information. INN will provide reporting forms for all winners.

Q: What if I have questions?

A: Submit questions via email to info@inn.org. You also may request an appointment to speak with someone at INN about your proposed project.