$100 million for equity: MacArthur Foundation's new big bet and mandate

The MacArthur Foundation will let loose another $100 million to a single project in the third installation of its global 100&Change competition, which for the first time requires applicants to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, the foundation announced Wednesday.

The first 100&Change challenge was awarded in 2017 to a collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee to provide educational programming to refugee children in the Middle East. Four years later, Community Solutions, a U.S.-based nonprofit that works to reduce homelessness, was awarded the nine-figure grant.

The new requirement that 100&Change participants incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, into their grant applications comes as various institutions nationwide have disbanded such efforts. The U.S. House of Representatives shuttered its office of diversity and inclusion in its latest budget. And, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 states have passed legislation opposing DEI efforts in colleges and universities since 2023.

The inclusion of DEI requirements in the current 100&Change competition reflects the MacArthur Foundation’s “ Just Imperative,” a commitment to justice that has guided the Chicago grant maker since 2021, said Chris Cardona, MacArthur’s managing director of discovery, exploration, and programs.

“We’re being consistent with our values,” he said.

Applicants to 100&Change are asked to consider who came up with the idea, who designed it, and who will staff and manage it. Applicants are also being asked to consider who benefits from the project and whether they are from marginalized populations or those with significant needs, Cardona said.

MacArthur and Lever for Change, a separate nonprofit MacArthur spun off to manage large grantmaking challenges, will review applications. Cardona said both organizations will be very open to how applicants choose to address one or more of those topics.

“We don’t see this as a barrier to entry,” he said. “We have the filter really wide open.”

Too narrow a filter could make a grant award focused on DEI from MacArthur or another philanthropy run afoul of the law, suggested Michael Hartmann, senior fellow at the Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank focused on philanthropy.

Since last year’s Supreme Court ruling in a pair of university affirmative action cases that race-based admissions were unconstitutional, philanthropic grant-making programs that focus on race have been scrutinized, said Hartmann, who did not have specific knowledge of the 100&Change program.

Foundations that make grants based on race could get more guidance on what the courts will tolerate after a ruling is made in a pending case against the Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm, and its associated foundation, which made grants to Black women entrepreneurs, Hartmann suggested.

Hartmann said DEI was “back on its heels” and becoming more unpopular. Promoting the approach in grantmaking could, he said, build public sentiment against philanthropy.

“The woke-ification of philanthropy has not served it well and has decreased trust in philanthropy and charity over all,” Hartmann said.

Like the previous two $100 million challenges, this year’s competition will be open to projects globally and can include collaborations among more than one group. Applications are open until August 15.

MacArthur started the nine-figure awards to spur nonprofits to think big without the onus of constant grant writing. The foundation also has stated that the large grants publicize the problems applicants are trying to solve and draw more philanthropic resources. Since the first competition, MacArthur says donors have given more than $500 million to 100&Change winners and finalists.

The 2021 winner, Community Solutions, dedicated $2 million of its 100&Change award to acquire housing in large cities. Other impact investors signed on and have dedicated more than $140 million to the fund, thanks in large part, to the fact that it had MacArthur’s stamp of approval, said Rosanne Haggerty, Community Solutions’ president.

“The endorsement of our work was instrumental in pulling in this set of investors and other financial allies,” she said.

With the MacArthur money, Haggerty was able to expand the number of cities Community Solutions worked in from 80 to 140. She started an advocacy group within her organization to inform state and local lawmakers about homelessness and helped cities develop homeless data collection tools so they could make better decisions about where to devote time and energy. And she did this in one fell swoop, rather than having to seek successive grants to test projects.

In 40% of the cities where Community Solutions has a presence, the rate of homelessness has declined, according to the nonprofit, despite increases in homelessness nationwide.

Perhaps most important, Haggerty said, the size of the grant could help build confidence among the broader public that homelessness can be reduced.

“We can actually move the country toward a tipping point where this issue is understood to be resolvable,” she said.

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Alex Daniels is a senior reporter at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, where you can read the full article. This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as part of a partnership to cover philanthropy and nonprofits supported by the Lilly Endowment. The Chronicle is solely responsible for the content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.