News from the Social Innovation Fund

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Getting to Know SIF’s Director, Damian Thorman

Damian Thorman

Since the Social Innovation Fund was created in 2009, grantees, partners, and nonprofit organizations working at the national and local level have made an impact on the lives of more than 400,000 Americans. In just five years, the Social Innovation Fund has proved to be more than just a funding source but a catalyst for impact changing the way the government serves the public. Get to know the Social Innovation Fund’s new Director, Damian Thorman, through the short Q&A below.

Why did you agree to lead the Social Innovation Fund?

In my work over the last 25 years, and now at the Social Innovation Fund, I have been committed to multi-sector, reciprocal relationships, with a consistent emphasis on an exchange between sectors and leaders. The SIF is, in many ways, ideally suited to deepen and advance these exchanges. Our combination of grantmaking programs rooted in public-private partnerships allows us to facilitate an exchange of ideas, a sharing and scaling of effective solutions, and the presentation of evidence-based interventions that are working for low-income communities across America.

This kind of layered approach, both funder-to-funder and funder-to-community is central to my mission.  I hope that my work with the SIF will serve as an example for ongoing work between the philanthropic and government sectors and with other strategic sector leaders.

What experience do you bring to the SIF?

My career spans many different areas from media to policy to nonprofit management. I was the policy and political director for Congressman Richardson of New Mexico and served as a Professional Staff member of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, where I led the committee’s passage of the landmark Child Care Development Block Grant.  As the Deputy Director of the Academy of Pediatrics, I led the strategy to pass universal access to health care in the 1990s, which resulted in the SCHIP program. 

I also helped the Kauffman Foundation move from an operating foundation to a foundation focused on strategic grantmaking and worked with the the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to increase citizen’s engagement in civic life. Most recently, I started my own company, True North Philanthropic Advisors to facilitate foundations, government and nonprofits working collaboratively to increase programmatic impact.

What are your priorities for the Social Innovation Fund?

My primary focus is to be the principal advocate for the SIF to Congress, media and the public. It is also a primary focus of mine to ensure that the SIF is providing the highest quality support possible to our grantees.  I want to significantly expand our capacity to tell the story of the people and families we are impacting and to help build the capacity of our grantees to scale their programs after SIF dollars end.

Finding What Works

The Social Innovation Fund is committed to finding and advancing what works. Through an open and highly rigorous grant competition conducted over the past several months, the Social Innovation Fund has selected eight grantmaking organizations to participate in its SIF Classic Program. Since late July, the 2015 SIF Classic cohort has been sharing the great news with government officials, funders, and key partners involved in their SIF project.

Learn more about the six grantees who have announced thus far:

AARP Foundation

AARP Foundation's $3 million grant award will help grow student reading success by matching volunteers aged 50+ with children in K-3rd grade, who are reading below grade level.

Local Initiatives Support Corporation was awarded $11 million to expand Bridges to Career Opportunities that offers job training and financial coaching to individuals struggling to find employment.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Damian Thorman, director of the Social Innovation Fund, joined the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City at a press conference to announce a $6 million grant award that will enhance access to mental health services for at-risk New Yorkers through the Connections to Care initiative

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation was awarded $2 million to expand Connected Youth Communities across rural Nebraska for young people with experience in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, struggling with homelessness, or who are disconnected from a family structure.

REDF was awarded $7 million to expand social enterprise solutions that will create jobs for individuals with multiple barriers to employment, including dislocated youth, formerly homeless or incarcerated individuals, and those with severe mental illnesses. Learn more, here.

United Way of Lane County will leverage a $2 million grant to implement the evidence-based Kids in Transition to Schools (KITS) program to ensure children entering kindergarten are prepared both socially and academically.

United Way of Lane County

Spotlight On: Education


As students across the country prepare to return to school after the summer break, the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is putting the Spotlight On its grantees that are focused on increasing educational opportunities, readiness, and academic achievement for today’s youth. 

  • The Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) program, The Big Lift, is implementing an approach to improving educational outcomes for youth that includes four components: preschool, family engagement, summer learning, and absenteeism reduction. “Our innovation is looking at four distinct, evidence-based interventions and seeking to implement them all together,” said Avo Makdessian, director of the SCVF Center for Early Learning. Learn more about this strategy to help early learners reach the third grade benchmark for reading. 
  • The quality of nurturing and care that children receive during infancy and early childhood has profound and lifelong impacts on their health, development, well-being, and self-sufficiency. The Institute for Child Success (ICS) is exploring how to best ensure children from low-income communities have the supports they need for a strong start in life. ICS is working with four jurisdictions, each of which is focusing on a specific early childhood programming priority and implementing established and/or evidence-based early-intervention and early-education models. Learn more about how this strategy is helping to create models of success.
  • Greater Twin Cities United Way (GTCUW) recognizes that while schools share accountability for children’s education, every child needs broader community support as well. Working with its partners through a local collective impact initiative, GTCUW is aligning strategies and resources around five “cradle to career” goals that promote equal opportunities for all students in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul areas. Learn more about this strategy designed to shrink the achievement gap, while improving grades and social skills. 

Remember to be on the lookout for next month’s feature when we will put the spotlight on programs that are celebrating one year with the Social Innovation Fund. Find out what they have been able to accomplish during the past year and their plans for the future.  


Photo of the Month

Connection Center Launch Event

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative to launch the Connection Center, which will serve as a one-stop resource to help Boston high school graduates, 20-24 years old, who are unemployed and out of school with no postsecondary degree. 

Read Mayor Walsh's announcement here.

Highlights from CNCS


As the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, dive into Kellie Bentz’s journey through AmeriCorp and her work helping to rebuild New Orleans. Read more here.

#IAmAmeriCorps Q&A

Lauren Rhoades, a Denver native, explains what led her to serve in AmeriCorps. Learn about the most surprising thing she learned during her team of service and plans to transition into the Mississip Food Corps as a fellow, here

Keeping Education at the Table

Individuals at table working together

During the last 15 years, our country has made some amazing strides. Few, however, compare to the leaps we have made in the field of education. More of our students are succeeding in high school. More of our students are graduating from college than ever before. And more of them are applying the skills they learned in the classroom to their work in nonprofit, corporate, and faith-based organizations.

Still, too many of our students are entering school unprepared, which makes it tough for them to keep pace with their peers. Others lose interest along the way because they lack the guidance or support they truly need. However, with the help of national service, volunteerism, and social innovation, students are getting the extra boost they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Read more on how education and national service are connected in Wendy Spencer's latest blog.

NYC First Lady Speaks on recent SIF Grant

Wendy Spencer and Charlane

Although depression, anxiety and substance use disorders are common, the struggle to deal with them is deeply personal.  Whether or not someone will reach out for help or accept help is often about trust.  We are much more likely to talk openly if we are sitting with someone we are comfortable with.

Connections to Care will begin bringing mental health treatment into sites that already provide other services to our most vulnerable and lowest-income New Yorkers. The staff at these sites will be trained to identify people who suffer from conditions that are prevalent and trained in how to direct them to treatment. 

Check out New York City's First Lady Chirlane McCray's blog post on the recent Mayor's Fund SIF grant that launched the Connections to Care initiative.

Reading Partners accepted in What Works Clearinghouse

Congratulations to Reading Partners as their recent MDRC evaluation, funded by the SIF, has been accepted and highlighted by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC).

WWC is a federally supported, central, and trusted source of scientific evidence for what works in education to improve student outcomes. Being included shows Reading Partners as a leader in proven literacy programs. You can learn more by viewing the Reading Partners feature.

Suggested Tweets

43% of San Mateo County 3rd grade students are not reading at grade level. @siliconvalleycf has a plan to change that

Through #payforsuccess, @Child_Success is exploring best methods for kids to have a strong start in life

Learn more on how @UnitedWayTC is using a collective impact model to reduce the academic achievement gap.

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