Grant Ideas: Look Here!

Grant Ideas Progressive Multiplier Fund

Since the early days of the Progressive Multiplier, we have come across a lot of innovative grant ideas. While we’ll continue to steer organizations towards techniques that we discover that work (e.g. Free Will), we’d be loath to over-steer, because we truly want your best ideas, not ours. In that spirit, we thought we’d share some of the questions that you can ask yourselves when coming up with your proposal, and share examples of grants that we believe fit the line of thinking raised by these questions.

Question 1: What worked in the past that was not part of your plans, and therefore you didn’t pursue? Could this idea be your idea for a grant?

I still recall the day that Frank Canata returned to my door-to-door canvass office in Chicago in 1998, gregariously shouting towards me that I had not given him enough houses, but that he’d still beaten his daily goal by standing on the street corner and asking for money. I thought “only Frank could pull that off” and brushed past his surprising success. Years later, after someone had paid attention to a similar, accidental success in Austria and launched street canvasses, door-to-door canvasses were largely replaced with the street canvass. I even launched a street canvass for Greenpeace, which raised $23 million per year. Since then, I’ve always asked what has worked that wasn’t in the plan, and should that surprising success be tested further.

Paid Leave for the US (PL+US) is an example of an organization that discovered something unplanned that worked, and now they’re testing it more fully. PL+US found that they were the beneficiaries of Facebook crowdfunding hosted by people who were sharing birth announcements and paying their own paid leave “forward” by asking their friends and family on Facebook to donate to PL+US. Their Test & Innovation Fund grant is helping them build lookalike models, target them through Facebook Ads, and recruit them to host crowdfunding campaigns on Facebook.

Question 2: How can you play to your strengths, and test one new thing at a time?

Many organizations approach the PMF asking for funds to test lead generation and test email fundraising for the first time at the same time. Trying too many new things that don’t play to your strengths is likely to fail. Don’t get me wrong; the PMF aims to fail 80% of the time with the experimental grants we provide. But the kind of failure we like is by organizations, staff, and their partners who have experience testing one or two things that stretch them, but aren’t all brand new to them.

Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) is a great example of an organization playing to its strengths — legal training — and testing one new thing with its grant idea — marketing legal trainings — as an experiment. TAVP designed three legal trainings that are qualified to be Continued Learning Education Credits. The trainings are focused on preventing future traumatization from the criminal justice system, and promoting restorative, nonviolent responses, all while generating income from attorneys paying for the courses. With TAVP’s grant, they are testing a wide array of marketing techniques to determine the best methods for generating paying customers. Their objective is to find successful, replicable marketing techniques that TAVP and other organizations can use to market CLE courses.

Corporate Accountability International based its grant idea on its expertise in house party fundraising and distributed organizing. With their grant, CAI is activating and training their volunteers to host fundraising house parties. Through these house parties, they are building their monthly giving program and engaging their current base to be even better advocates for their cause.

Question 3: How can you take what you’re doing well to 11 to design your grant ideas?

PushBlack is building off of their 1,000,000 Facebook Messenger list and their experimentation sprint culture. Through a series of 2-4 tests per week over a year, PushBlack will very quickly learn and adapt to what increases and engages their audience and what doesn’t. With each test, they’ll look at subscriber engagement, acquisition cost of new subscribers, viral growth, format and campaign ask effectiveness, and adapt accordingly. All of their tests seek to optimize the cost and return on investment of increasing their subscriber count and income per subscriber.

Let’s Go Negative

If you were to ask these questions in the opposite way, you’d get a great list of things not to do in your proposals:

  1. Don’t ignore things that surprisingly work when thinking of an idea for a grant. Those are the best next things to test;
  2. Don’t propose to do a big plan that includes multiple new things, none of which play to your strengths. Stretch yourselves or test one new thing in your tests, but do it with staff or consultants who have skillsets that can be applied to these new ideas;
  3. Don’t rule out improving your current programs. Just optimizing them, in some cases, could lead to millions of dollars.

For more examples of grant ideas we’ve funded, check out the Center of Excellence. If you aren’t registered yet, go here to sign up.

For a full list of our guidelines and our FAQ, please click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the PMF

What is the mission of the Progressive Multiplier Fund?

The PMF finances revenue generation projects for progressive organizations, and in turn, shares fundraising knowledge gained with the progressive movement.


What does the PMF do?

  • We offer grants for experimentation in revenue generation, as well as recoverable grants and loans for nonprofits to scale projects; and
  • Provide a resource center, the Center of Excellence, for progressive nonprofits on earned revenue techniques.


How do I access the Center of Excellence?

Please follow these steps to sign up for the Center of Excellence:

  • Sign Up – Sign up for the PMF mailing list here.
  • Screening – All PMF mailing list subscribers are screened to ensure that they work on progressive causes.
  • Webinar – Once we determine that your organization is a fit, you will receive an invitation to an informational webinar, where we will discuss our funding priorities and the types of grants we offer. Please have the staff who would manage this program attend the webinar.  After you attend, you’ll receive an automatic invitation to the Center of Excellence.


Who will Center of Excellence resources be available to?

The Center of Excellence is open to 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, projects housed in these entities, LLCs in which a 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) are the only members, and their consultants that work on the following issues: Clean Energy, Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Criminal Justice Reform, Democracy/Voting, Disability Rights, Economic Justice, Education Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Control, Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Mass Incarceration, Minimum Wage, Neighborhood Issues, Protecting Medicare, Protecting Social Security, Puerto Rico Justice, Racial Justice, Refugee Crisis, Reproductive Rights, Gender Equity, Social Justice, Wilderness Protection, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, and other progressive issues.

You do not need to be a grantee of the PMF to have access to these resources.


About Grantees and Grants

About Grantees

What is your Grantee Criteria?

Grantees must:

  • Be US based, nonprofits and subsidiaries with 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s, projects housed in these entities, or LLCs in which a 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) are the only members.
  • Do some form of domestic policy or legal advocacy, civic engagement, or are a media organization in one of PMF’s issue areas.
  • Should have an operating budget of $500,000 or more (organizations that are smaller should email to see if they qualify).


Does the PMF fund Coalitions, PACs, or Political Parties?

The PMF would consider funding coalitions, but not for the purpose of those organizations acting as regranting organizations. We fund our grantees directly. The PMF does not fund PACs, political parties, or organizations that do not meet the criteria above.


What issues do you fund?

Clean Energy, Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Criminal Justice Reform, Democracy/Voting, Disability Rights, Economic Justice, Education Justice, Environmental Justice, Gun Control, Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Housing, Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Mass Incarceration, Minimum Wage, Neighborhood Issues, Protecting Medicare, Protecting Social Security, Puerto Rico Justice, Racial Justice, Refugee Crisis, Reproductive Rights, Gender Equity, Social Justice, Wilderness Protection, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, and other progressive issues.

If your organization does not consider itself progressive, but works on multiple issues above in a way that would be considered progressive while reaching out “across the aisle,” you may qualify for PMF funding.


How do I know that my organization fits the PMF’s definition of “Progressive”?

We understand that it is not for a small group of people to define progressive; if the issue you’re working on is not listed, please write us at to see if your mission fits.

Please note: as long as your organization works on the issues above, you fit our mission. Your particular revenue generation program does not need to be focused on any particular issue above.


About Grants

What types of funding does the PMF Offer?

The PMF gives grants from two funds, the Test & Innovation Fund and the Growth Fund, which have different funding criteria and priorities.

  • The Test & Innovation Fund provides grants to nonprofits interested in testing new revenue generation models, as well as testing the replication of revenue generation programs that have worked in other organizations. Grants range from $1,000 to $25,000, with an average grant size of $10,000. The Growth Fund is a valuable resource for organizations that wish to scale up their existing successful revenue projects.
  • The Growth Fund provides recoverable grants and market rate loans to support organizations seeking to expand their revenue streams and have a greater impact.  Recoverable grants and loans from the Growth Fund can be as large as $120,000.


What are the Grant Application Deadlines?

Our 2020 open call for grant applications will begin in February with application deadline in March.  Please contact with any questions.


How do I increase my chance of getting a grant?

The Center of Excellence has a leaderboard on the right side of the front page, and each person in the CoE is granted points. Having the most points can result in the following:

  • Getting your grant. We review grant applications in order of the points earned by organizations collectively. The higher you are on the leaderboard, the more visible your grant application is to us.
  • Getting more grants. When we learn more about your organization’s capacity and your expertise, you gain more points. When we see great funding opportunities that need a certain expertise and organizational capacity, we can reach out to those who match based on their shared info.

We have limited funds; participating in the community gives you the best chance of receiving a grant. So how do you get points?

  • Fill out as many fields as you can on your account
  • Ask and answer questions on the CoE
  • Endorse or be endorsed as an expert of a topic

Step by step instructions for getting points can be found here.


What are the grant obligations?

The PMF has the right to share all lessons learned, techniques, overall results and materials used from any form of grant given with ALL other progressive organizations. Best practices and lessons learned are shared through the Center of Excellence.

  • Recoverable grants are repaid monthly with all income from the project that the PMF funds until the grant is fully repaid, plus a 10% administrative fee within 18 months. Your organization retains the remainder of the earnings after both the grant and fee are repaid.

Any funding awarded through the Test & Innovation Fund is given in the form of a traditional grant without any repayment obligation.


Grant Criteria

What are your grant criteria?

  • Your project should focus on engaging individuals who can be members, consumers, or donors (under $1,000).
  • You have the right team and capacity (in-house or in-house with partners or vendors) to execute the program.
  • A strong case that this effort can return a 2:1 return over three to five years, meaning if you were to spend $100 this year to acquire donors or customers, the income from those people over five years (without you spending more) would be $200.
  • A strong case that your program, if scaled, could raise your organization over $1m per year OR could be replicated by other organizations to generate millions for the movement.
  • The PMF has the right to share lessons learned, techniques, overall results, and materials you used with ALL other progressive organizations
  • Will only fund technology if it is a small part of the project.


What infrastructure or capacity is required in each organization to receive funding?

The PMF will evaluate the proposal you submit, and ask if you have the capacity to do that type of project.  For example, if you are generating interest on Facebook and calling interested people to ask them to join your organization, we would review your team’s background in Facebook marketing and telemarketing.

You can cover staff costs with PMF funds, but we evaluate your grant proposal based on the leadership and team that you have in place, including your consultants, and your vendors. If your proposal does not identify the staff person who will run this program who has a proven track record of success, we are unlikely to fund your project. If you need to use funds to add additional, junior staff, this may be acceptable.


Can I use funding from other sources to support my project?

No. Your requested grant amount should cover the entire cost of your fundraising effort, so that you can determine if this effort can truly return a 2:1 return over three to five years. This includes consultants, vendors, tools, staff time, and other direct or indirect expenses of the project (running ads, purchasing lists, renting lists, etc).

The Progressive Multiplier Fund does not suggest any specific vendors or technology.  However, the vendors that organizations have worked with on different projects are available in the write-ups of fundraising tests and projects in the Center of Excellence.


What can funds not be used for?

  • Matching Grants
  • Hiring of senior staff
  • CDFI Loans for Business readiness


Why can’t we use funds for hiring senior staff?

We evaluate your grant proposal based on the leadership and team that you have in place, including your consultants, and your vendors. If your proposal does not identify the staff person who will run this program who has a proven track record of success, we are unlikely to fund your project.


Can Grants be Used to Test Successful Techniques Used by Other Organizations?

Yes.  About two thirds of all Test and Innovation grants are used to test techniques that have worked for other organizations but haven’t been tried yet by the applying organization. One third of our Test and Innovation grants are used to fund wild new ideas that haven’t been tested yet.


Do I Need to Apply for a Test and Innovation Grant to Apply for a Bigger Recoverable Grant?

No. If your organization has a proven track record of running a revenue generation program that generates a 2:1 return, you can apply for a recoverable grant to expand that project. But, if you apply for a test grant, and it works, we would welcome an application for a Recoverable Grant to expand the project.


If an organization has more than one idea to test, will you consider more than one proposal from the same organization?

Yes, but the total budget requested for the different tests should not exceed the maximum grant amount (i.e. $25,000).


Can we reapply for grants?

Yes, with some caveats.

  • No one organization can receive more than 10% of the funds available from the Progressive Multiplier Fund’s different pools of money at any one point in time.
  • If you apply for a test grant, and the project works, we would welcome an application for a Recoverable Grant to expand the project.
  • Organizations that have had a proposal rejected can reapply with new or modified proposals (based on the feedback from the PMF).
  • Organizations that have not fully repaid recoverable grants are unlikely to receive additional funds from the PMF.
  • The PMF would give additional recoverable grants for the same project in future years if the project is succeeding.


Grant Process

What is the Application Process?

  • First you must be a member of the Center of Excellence.
  • Log in to the CoE. Poke around!
  • Schedule a call with the PMF – After you have attended a webinar, please send an email to to schedule call where you can ask follow-up questions or share proposal ideas.
  • Application – After you attend the webinar, you will be able to create one or more applications through the Center of Excellence portal.

Future Applications – Once your organization has access to the CoE, you can apply for future grants by logging in to the CoE here.


What makes a good application?

  • A revenue generating project that is a test, a wild idea, or a proven successful project
  • A sound financial model showing 2:1 ROI – explain your assumptions with text, but really focus your energy on the numbers
  • A good team


How Does the Budget Document Work?

  • Costs – Please outline the costs of the project, broken down into the different budget categories, by month of the year. The income your organization receives from the PMF should not appear in the project budget as income.  Your costs should be greater than or equal to the grant provided by the PMF.
  • Income – Please outline the income from the expenditures in this project monthly for 60 months following the expenditures (i.e. if you recruited monthly donors, how much money will they give in future years based on what you spent during the grant period).


How does the PMF track what revenue comes from the project you’re funding?

For testing and innovation grants, we will ask you to create a separate budget in your financial software, and to track your expenses and income. For recoverable grants, we may ask you to open a separate bank account in addition to creating a separate budget and tracking your expenses and income, and have all funds from the project flow into that account


What is the Turnaround Time for Grant Decisions and Funding?

  • We decide on grants within two months, and distribute funds within one month after the decision.
  • To move your application up in the grant review process, increase your activity on the CoE! This gives your profile more points, and moves your application up in the order of being reviewed.


Progressive Multiplier Fund Featured in Inside Philanthropy

Need to Raise More Money For Social Change? Apply For One of These New Fundraising Grants

A group of foundations and other donors have pooled their resources to provide grants and loans that help progressive causes test new fundraising ideas or expand existing fundraising efforts.

The Progressive Multiplier Fund, as the new grantmaking entity is called, has raised more than $2 million to be distributed in the next 12 months. Already, the six-month-old fund has made two grants totaling $50,000 to test new fundraising ideas.

It will make larger loans to organizations seeking to expand promising fundraising programs. In those cases, a charity would repay the loan, which is called a “recoverable grant,” and keep anything over the amount it borrowed. If an organization fails to earn enough to repay the loan, the Progressive Multiplier Fund will forgive the shortfall.

The next deadline for grant and loan applicants is October 19.

“The challenge social change groups face is that they need new ways to generate revenue,” says Linda Wood, a senior director with the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, which donated $125,000 to the Progressive Multiplier Fund. “Smaller groups are especially limited,” Wood says. “Midsize groups underinvest in fundraising, and even large groups leave money on the table. A lot of boards and nonprofit executives are reluctant to invest in fundraising.”

Read more at Inside Philanthropy here.

Fundraising Innovation: Study Shows Need for New Non-Profit Finance

Most progressive organizations can dramatically increase unrestricted, sustainable revenue through disciplined financing and information sharing according to a recent study on fundraising innovation.

In 2016, a group of fundraising innovation thought leaders conducted a six month study that unearthed a critical mass of progressive organizations that are ready to launch small donor and fee for service tests, and to roll-­out proven programs, but cannot find the needed financing. Of the 35 organizations interviewed for the study, each organization was testing an average of two scalable revenue projects. These project were primarily focused on small donor fundraising, fee for service, and certification programs. Half of the organizations surveyed could raise $500,000 more annually from proven models if they had the funding to invest.

The Results: Fundraising Innovation is Widespread, Financing is Inadequate

  • Widespread Fundraising Innovation, particularly among smaller organizations. Smaller progressive organizations are doing a higher volume of innovative experiments, which could benefit significantly from increased funding. While some of these non-profits lack the capacity to scale, there is no shortage of consultant and intermediary support organizations to complement non-profits’ existing capacities.
  • Proven Scalable Revenue Programs. A critical mass of larger progressive organizations have developed scalable fundraising models that, if expanded, could raise significantly more revenue. Unfortunately, the organizations lack the financing to expand these initiatives.
  • Experimentation and Innovation. A small number of foundations provide limited grants to progressive groups to conduct scalable revenue experimentation. Unfortunately, this form of financing is neither readily available, nor abundant enough, to optimize scalable revenue testing. Strikingly, the study found that smaller social, economic, and racial justice organizations conducted a higher volume of innovative experiments that could benefit significantly from increased funding.
  • Best Practice Sharing can Accelerate Learning and the Scaling of the Progressive Movement. While organizations share some best practices, there is no progressive-wide hub where results and techniques from rigorous tests are widely shared. Indeed, because the field is changing rapidly, even general best practices around grassroots fundraising are not easy to find for organizations with limited experience.

A New Path for Fundraising Innovation and Scalable Revenue

We designed the Progressive Multiplier Fund (PMF) from these findings to provide the following three core services:

  1. Create a Test and Innovation Fund to turbocharge experimentation and knowledge dissemination. An essential component of scaling progressive groups is to fund experimentation and prototyping. When such experiments succeed or fail, the next step is to share that information across the progressive movement. Small donor fundraising needs constant innovation as older methods (e.g. on-line, direct mail) lose steam. The Test and Innovation Fund will incentivize progressive groups to experiment more creatively. The fund will ensure that a diverse range of progressive organizations are able to participate.
  2. Create a Growth Fund that leverages donor dollars. Our research demonstrated organizations need a relatively unavailable type of funding: recoverable grants. These investments are risk-­free to the grantee. Any income returned to the Growth Fund will be reinvested in future projects. The grantee would pay back the Growth Fund (or not) out of gross revenue from the scalable revenue project proceeds, not out of its general budget. All net income after the loan repayment would go to the non-profit organization. This model leverages funder dollars in two ways: First, the Growth Fund would re-grant this money several times in the future. Second, as the Growth Fund builds a track record, it may take out commercial loans against its track record and balance sheet – which many organizations are unwilling to do – using its cash on hand as a guarantee to leverage larger sums to invest in progressive organizations; and
  3. Create a Center of Excellence on Scalable Revenue. Our findings support the need for a Center of Excellence (CoE). The CoE will share best practices in small donor, fee for service, or sales efforts across the progressive movement.