Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ignition Grant - Investing in Local Social Entrepreneurs, not Just their Ideas.

The Ignition Grant came about, close to two years ago. My fellow Ignite Baltimore organizers and I realized that we needed to start charging for Ignite tickets. The free ticket system was resulting in far too many un-used tickets and many unhappy and ticket-less Ignite supporters. We agreed to charge attendees $5, but what to do with the money?

I did the math and my eyes widened - this was easily $1500 per event. I remembered the Peace Corps Small Project Assistance Program that gave my Ukrainian not for profit the $5k we needed to undertake a maternal healthcare project. It had been pretty easy money, all that was needed was a good idea, a clear explanation on how we would spend the budget and a few pages of explanation. No heavy reporting, no weeks of writing, the program was designed so that we could put all of our energy into doing an awesome project.

With the support of the Baltimore Community Foundation - who provided us a fund account to deposit ticket sales and then issue grants - the Ignition Grant was created. It's pretty simple, a page or two of questions, clear budget documentation, and... here is the smart part, accountability is created by asking the recipient to come back in six months and tell us what happened on stage, at Ignite.

After more than 5 grants, and other ignites and groups picking up the ignition grant concept and running with it, I realize this grant really about something other than funding great ideas. The ignition grant is about showing our support for people. By investing in our local social entrepreneurs, we provide the all-important emotional support that creates community.

As we look at revamping our grant committee and considering the future of the grant, I will be sure to keep in mind that it is more about the investment in the individual, than in the idea.

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