Chicago-Based Nonprofit Helps Donors Give Away $1 Billion Dollars

Lever for Change has now facilitated $1,064,000,000 worth of grants to outstanding organizations through large-scale challenges expanding philanthropy to underrepresented ideas and thinkers.

Lever for Change, a Chicago-based nonprofit, has just hit a major milestone, reaching its goal of facilitating $1 billion in philanthropic grants by 2023, ahead of schedule. The money was awarded by donors to support and develop organizations solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

Efforts include helping 10 million Texans gain access to mental health care, supplying 26,000 pounds of food yearly to West and South side Chicago neighborhoods, supporting 13,000+ diverse adult job seekers interested in tech careers in U.S. urban communities, helping 20,640 new entrepreneurs in Uganda and Ethiopia establish businesses, advancing racial equity worldwide, providing support to 1 million refugees in 10 different countries, and much, much more.

Since inception, Lever for Change has developed and managed customized challenges on behalf of a variety of funders and their advisors—from high-profile donors including Pivotal Ventures (Melinda French Gates’ investment and incubation company) to institutional funders like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, corporate funders such as the LEGO Foundation, as well as philanthropic advisors, and new and anonymous donors.

An affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has driven this $1 billion in funding with a new model of philanthropy aimed at shaking up the world of grant giving with large-scale, customized challenges to find and fund bold solutions from a wide array of creative thinkers—many of whom have been historically marginalized or underrepresented. Lever for Change connects ultra-high-net-worth donors and institutions with these creative thinkers, facilitating large-scale grants far bigger than what’s typical in the world of philanthropy.

“Our goal is to build a philanthropic sector as bold as the change it seeks to achieve. Donors tend to award small grants over short time frames to organizations they know. But we think change is best driven in bigger, bolder ways,” explains Dr. Cecilia Conrad, Lever for Change’s CEO. “What really sets us apart from other philanthropic advisors is our emphasis on open and equitable sourcing of ideas, funding at scale, and trust in grantees to define solutions. We are changing who and what gets funded.”

All Lever for Change challenge finalists become members of the Bold Solutions Network, a growing global network that helps members secure additional funding and amplify their impact. The team at Lever for Change curates and actively shares relevant solutions with funders while assisting members in improving their pitch.

The $1 billion in funding comes from donor-sponsored challenges ranging from $10 million to $140 million and dedicated efforts to leverage additional philanthropic capital. So far, challenge sponsors have given $413 million to outstanding organizations, and ninety additional donors have contributed $651 million to finalists and other highly rated proposals.

Grants have supported ideas focused on issues including racial equity, gender equality, access to economic opportunity, and climate change. With a staff of just two dozen taking up a small space in the MacArthur Foundation’s headquarters building in Chicago, Lever for Change is creating a new framework for philanthropy in several other ways.

It’s a social impact accelerator.

a) Understanding that many philanthropists see risk in philanthropy (“The Richest Americans Are Sitting on $4 Trillion“), Lever for Change vets and strengthens applicant teams to mitigate risk and lay the groundwork for large-scale grants.
b) Multiple donors can co-sponsor a challenge and increase the size or number of awards, which allows various donors focused on addressing the same problem to collaborate. For every challenge managed by Lever for Change, the team’s goal is to double the initial award funding, turning a $10M grant into $20M, for example.

Lever for Change designs its challenges to promote equity.

a) Key components of the challenges include: an open call for proposed solutions, clear evaluation criteria, the use of third-party evaluators, constructive feedback on all eligible proposals, and substantive technical support for finalists selected by challenge sponsors.
b) Lever for Change challenges offer problem solvers a rare opportunity to think big and tell donors what interventions they believe are needed to address the social issue through this uniquely transparent and equitable process.

Lever for Change is shifting the power dynamic of philanthropy and expanding the pool of recipients.

a) Much of high-dollar philanthropy goes to the usual places, such as large academic and cultural institutions, and groups with established brands and funding networks.
b) Lever for Change is making space in philanthropy for people with big, inspiring ideas who often struggle to get funding because they have been marginalized or underrepresented and helping to ensure their success with rigorous support systems.

Having met its initial goal of driving $1 billion in donor funding, Lever for Change now has a new target: leveraging a total of $2.5 billion in funding by 2025.

BACKGROUND ON LEVER FOR CHANGE: Lever for Change connects donors with bold solutions to the world’s biggest problems—including issues like racial inequity, gender inequality, lack of access to economic opportunity, and climate change. Using an inclusive, equitable model and due diligence process, Lever for Change creates customized challenges and other tailored funding opportunities. Top-ranked teams and challenge finalists become members of the Bold Solutions Network—a growing global network that helps secure additional funding, amplify members’ impact, and accelerate social change. Founded in 2019 as a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has recently influenced over $1 billion in grants and provided support to more than 145 organizations.

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