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i3 Winners Still Pounding Pavement for Private Funding

Some big name winners of Investing in Innovation Fund grants are still logging long hours, trying to secure their required 20 percent match before the Sept. 8 deadline (that's next Wednesday for those keeping score.)

So just how big are these big names still working the phones?

The Success for All Foundation, which is based in Baltimore and got the highest score among four "Scale Up" winners who are in line for grants of about $50 million, is still working the phones. Robert Slavin, the executive director, told me he thinks the grant will come through but it will come "down to the wire." And even the folks at the KIPP Foundation say they've been working round-the-clock, although they also expect to meet the deadline. (You can read more about it in this story.)

Lots of folks expected that the i3 donor registry, which was set up to help donors secure their match, would come through for them. And in many cases, it just didn't happen. Sometimes that was because there was a mismatch between what the grantees wanted to do and the kinds of projects the foundations funded. And other times, winners thought they were a great fit for a particular foundation, but the foundation folks didn't see it that way.

"Some of the people who I [looked at] and thought, we really fit what you do ... and they said, no, not so much," said Linda Katz, whose organization, the Children's Literacy Initiative, is in line for a $21 million grant to improve reading instruction in urban centers. Her organization has fulfilled its match, but it relied a lot on existing donors.

"I'm glad we didn't rely to a great degree on the registry," she said.

And some winners were tripped up by technicalities, such as how to calculate so-called "in-kind" contributions (i.e. computers that will be used for the project.) Winners told me that while the U.S. Department of Education has been helpful and patient in walking them through how to do this, it was just something they didn't fully anticipate.

Another issue? The i3 grants cover a period of five years, and the winners said that foundations are reluctant to give out five-year grants; it's just not their protocol. Again, they also told me the department has been helpful in working out the kinks with this.

So-called "high scoring applicants" (the ones that qualified for i3 grants) aren't the only ones who can use the registry. Any i3 applicant is welcome to sign up.

And some foundations are working with applicants who weren't selected for a federal grant. That has miffed some of the winners, who have just a scant five week window to get their matches and thought high-scoring applicants would get priority.

But, for the department, which had been hoping to help "hidden gems" find the funding they need, this is a real win-win.

"Private funders are coming together to support a number of non-winners to move their work forward which is exciting for us," said Sandra Abreveya, a department spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

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