WHAT IS A SOCIAL ISSUE TRACK?
The Social Innovation Forum (SIF) partners with leading local funders to develop “social issue tracks” focused on the most pressing issues in Greater Boston. Using a thorough application and due diligence process that provides opportunities for track partners to engage in meaningful learning, we select impactful local nonprofit organizations – Social Innovators – working on these issues and offer them consulting and coaching support to help generate sustainable and long-lasting solutions. Tracks have focused on a variety of social issues, including immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers; food security; healthy aging; empowering youth through the arts, supporting college access, and literacy.
Every track partner collaborates with SIF and a number of issue experts to define the social issue their track will focus on before SIF launches the application process. Through extensive application reviews, site visits, due diligence, and expertise and knowledge of evaluation committee members made up of local issue experts, we collaboratively select an innovative and impactful organization to join the Accelerator program for each track.
Track partners have the opportunity to learn about a range of approaches to the social problem, integrating expertise from those closest to the issues, as well as meet the leaders of some of the most effective organizations in the sector. Track partners will also be able to meet and network with other funders and stakeholders, and, on traditional tracks, engage in collaborative decision-making together with SIF and other evaluators.
MULTI-YEAR TRANSFORMATIONAL SUPPORT
Once selected, the nonprofit Social Innovators receive 24 months of support from the Social Innovation Forum, including six months of consulting services and executive coaching, presentation advising, performance measurement support, relationship-building support, graphic design services, and access to other types of support (e.g., legal, data analytics, fundraising) through SIF’s in-kind partner network. The process focuses on enhancing the organization’s ability to gain visibility, expand their networks, and connect with philanthropic and in-kind resources in order to support its work and strengthen its impact. By leveraging support from volunteers and in-kind partners, we provide support beyond what a traditional grant can offer.
PARTICIPATORY TRACK PROCESS
In 2021, SIF piloted a new iteration of our traditional Social Issue Track selection process, with a focus on participatory decision-making. We wanted to acknowledge and address the power dynamic in philanthropic relationships, and thus, we acted on the belief that people who are the most impacted by the issue should be making decisions about the solutions. With financial support and a commitment to learning from track partners, SIF hired six nonprofit consultants – leaders of color working at alumni Innovator organizations – to hold decision-making power throughout the process.
After the successful conclusion of our first pilot, in 2022, SIF facilitated two participatory selection processes. In 2023, we are proud to move from the pilot stage toward integrating at least two participatory selection tracks into our annual selection process. Track partners will work together with 3-4 nonprofit consultants, hired by SIF, to devise a track topic and identify key characteristics to look for in applicants. Throughout the evaluation process, track partners will be encouraged to read applications, ask questions, and learn from and alongside the consultants. Consultants will hold decision-making power and ultimately select one Innovator per track.
COLLABORATIVE TRACK PROCESS
The driving force behind our work is to build and facilitate meaningful, long-lasting connections between funders and nonprofit organizations founded on equity, trust, and intentional collaboration. This means identifying ways in which we can improve our existing practices and processes to be more equitable and inclusive. Through a dedicated internal working group, we recognized a need to center the applicant experience, disrupt inequitable practices in philanthropy, and prioritize sustainable workloads for the SIF team.
We acknowledged that the “one Innovator per track” approach applies a competitive philanthropic model to organizations that might otherwise be collaborators. Additionally, social issues are intersectional, and offering eight tracks covering different topics makes it difficult for organizations to decide where to apply. Lastly, we recognized the intensity and immensity of the work SIF holds to facilitate eight simultaneous selection processes annually.
With all this in mind, we are excited to pilot a selection process in 2023 that prioritizes cross-sector collaboration, continuous learning, and collective decision-making. We are inviting three track partners, and hiring three nonprofit consultants, to work with SIF as partners to collectively and collaboratively move through evaluating applications, attend site visits, and ultimately select a group of three Innovators to join the upcoming Accelerator cohort.
SOCIAL INNOVATION FORUM’S SOCIAL ISSUE TRACK TOPICS
For FY24 SIF is particularly interested in the following social issue areas.
- Violence prevention
- Mental and physical health
- Climate change/environmental justice
- Democracy/voting rights/civic engagement