Miller Innovation Fund


The Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation has worked for more than a decade to develop a philanthropic portfolio concentrating on empowerment and civic engagement of diverse communities in Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts.

Its grants have supported grassroots groups, community planning for equity, community organizing, and advocacy for social justice. The Foundation chose not to support direct services, in order to concentrate its resources on a network of organizations deeply engaged in assuring that the voices of communities and their members are heard and heeded on important public issues. The Foundation will continue this work with enthusiasm.

Starting in the fall of 2011, the Miller Foundation established The Miller Innovation Fund to complement its ongoing grantmaking. The Miller Foundation uses the following as a working description of the innovations it seeks:

An innovation is a new approach to address a problem or need, or an approach used to address a new situation or context, which warrants experimental application, learning or development.

The Miller Innovation Fund seeks to support discrete projects of relatively short duration that support innovations, tools, and practices that help social justice organizations and their allies improve conditions and institutions in pursuit of an empowered public. The fund is broadly conceived as a resource that helps strengthen organizations and networks or develop models of collaboration that further the Foundation’s goals. By their very nature, the projects chosen will be experimental in their outlook, seeking to learn from both their successes and mistakes.


Areas of Emphasis:

The Miller Innovation Fund has interests that fall into the following major categories:

  • Developing new approaches to supporting community constituents, grassroots leaders and organizations that build capacity to participate in larger social change efforts
  • Testing ideas that support field and movement-building efforts
  • Building new alliances between empowerment or advocacy groups
  • Targeted citywide or regional coalition and network building
  • Systematic inquiry, research, and learning by organizations connected to a clear action plan
  • Incorporating community organizing or empowerment into strong existing direct services


Examples of Eligible Activities:

While the Miller Innovation Fund is not in a position to support the day-to-day work of community organizations or provide start-up funding for new organizations, it can support the creative organizational thinking, planning, and information collecting that is often neglected because of lack of funding, or the rollout of new ways of helping communities advocate for their own interests.

Activities that help organizations develop this capacity might include:

  • Translating innovative ideas into action and taking these ideas to scale
  • Community-based research and other forms of data collection
  • Peer to peer learning, mentoring, convening, and education
  • High-level specialized training and mentoring that has broad benefit that expands the capacity of the field
  • Development of practices that increase accountability with constituents
  • Organizational development work to build new interventions and opportunities that address governance, membership development, leadership transitions, leadership pipelines
  • The development of shared resources and tools to provide training, technical assistance, policy analysis, and networking opportunities for civic engagement and justice projects.
  • Piloting approaches to evaluation of an organization’s work that specifically focus on inclusion of citizen/member/consumer voices.
  • Development of strategic uses of technology that strengthen organizations and networks.


Funding Policy:

Funding is limited to organizations in Eastern Massachusetts, or work with statewide impact or implications.

Grants will range from $20,000 to $50,000 per year for project support, which might extend over multiple funding periods.

Other than being an eligible 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Miller Innovation Fund does not favor one organizational form, size, orientation or particular issue focus. All applicants should have a role in promoting civic engagement and social justice. Large institutions, academic institutions, intermediary organizations, national organizations, or consultants must apply with a community partner as the lead organization.

In most cases, the Miller Innovation Fund expects to select grantees that are not currently funded by the Miller Foundation.


Previously Funded Projects:

For a list of past grants, please click here.


Grantmaking Timeline:

Guidelines will be changing: Please check back after March 1, 2016.


How to Apply:

Step 1 – (Optional) Prospective applicants are welcome to converse by phone or email with the Miller Foundation program officers, whose contact information is below:

Prentice Zinn, 617-391-3091

Amy Shorey, 671-391-3072

Step 2 – (Required) Applicants must upload a 2-3 page concept paper, describing the project, its desired outcomes and a summary of the budget.

Concept papers must be submitted by April 1st using the GMA Foundations Online Application System. 

Step 3 – Based on the concept papers, invited applicants only will submit proposals using the online platform maintained by GMA Foundations, by Tuesday, June 20th.


What The Foundation Looks For in a Project:

Strategic analysis. Clarity about the role the organization or organizations play in promoting civic engagement and social justice, and a deep understanding of the political and organizational challenges and opportunities faced by allied organizations.

Field focused. The project is rooted in organizational and community needs but has clear potential to address key challenges and advance the field .

Clear goals and objectives. The Miller Innovation Fund values process and relationships but favors projects that also have a strong outcomes and results orientation.

Constituent Involvement. The project involves community members beyond staff, board and partner organizations.

Urgency. The fund will favor projects that are timely and would be recognized by the field at large as a high priority that advances collective action.


Appendix – Beliefs Underlying The Miller Innovation Fund:

This funding strategy draws inspiration from many of the foundation’s discussions with community leaders and foundation colleagues suggesting that in addition to operating support, the field needs resources to “leap forward” in new ways. While the following is not a comprehensive list, some of the consistent themes of this discussion that deserve further exploration include:

Networks are key. Are we relatively organization rich and network poor? Can we organize for the long-term as well as we mobilize?

Strong connections pay off. We lack strong intermediary organizations and systems of support that build strong leaders, organizations, coalitions, and networks. If strong networks and relationships are a precondition for social movements or coordinated innovations in civil society where do we connect and how do we coordinate?

Stories matter. How can we be more strategic and deliberate in how we use technology and media to share our stories and frame our issues?

Issues inspire voters. GOTV (get out the vote), electoral reform and voter engagement is not enough. The link between GOTV and local issue politics (e.g. education, health care, transit, jobs, equity, etc) is weak, poorly articulated, and uneven.

Research leads to action. We need better data and systems of community-based inquiry for planning, learning, communication, sharing, and accountability. If existing systems and approaches do not meet our communities needs, what are the alternatives?

Coalition politics, alliance building, and networking is still new for many organizations. What can help us move faster without sacrificing relationships, community, voice, and authenticity?

Many voices and allies are missing. Who is missing from this conversation? What tools and strategies can help us think critically about race, gender, citizenship status, and class? Can we create new spaces to ensure that communities have a voice in decisions that affect their lives?

Big picture thinking takes time. Short-term victories often fade in importance if they are not crafted with a bold and long-term strategic vision for reshaping the organizations, leadership, and expectations of the political ecosystem.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.