Miller Innovation Fund: A Special 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 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.

The Miller Innovation Fund was founded in 2011 to complement the foundation’s ongoing grantmaking.  The guidelines were revised in 2016. While the priorities of the Fund will remain largely unchanged in 2018, the process for seeking funding has changed. Please read the guidelines carefully.


Funding Guidelines

The Miller Innovation Fund seeks to support projects of up to three years’ duration that support innovations, tools, and practices leading to social and economic systems that work for all. By their very nature, the projects chosen will be experimental in their outlook, seeking to learn from both their successes and mistakes. The Fund recognizes that effective innovations may come from intermediary organizations, collaborations and networks, as well as stand-alone organizations.

The Miller Innovation Fund 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, and which, if successful, has the chance of broader applicability.


Areas of Emphasis

The Miller Innovation Fund will continue its focus on two major areas in 2017:

1. Re-imagining Service Networks for the Most Vulnerable, such as those affected by homelessness, domestic violence, refugee status, addiction and mental illness, former incarceration or old age, and similar populations

Problem: Community-based services are understandably focused on critical day-to-day operations, and may not step back and consider new and innovative ways to deliver those services for even greater impact, effectiveness, or efficiency.  The Fund is seeking approaches that problem-solve, experiment, and test new ideas that can lead to breakthroughs in serving populations in need.

2. Developing and Proving New Community-Based Economic Models

Problem: Economic development services focused operationally on jobs, income, and business growth may be limited in their ability to find new solutions. The Fund is seeking new or untried ways to develop community economic systems and create pathways out of poverty.


Funding Policy

The Miller Innovation Fund will 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 strengthening communities. The fund is not in a position to support the day-to-day work of community organizations or provide start-up funding for new organizations.

Funding is limited to organizations working in Massachusetts.

The fund expects to make about five new grants in 2018. Grants will range from $20,000 to $50,000 per year for project support. If proposed over multiple years, projects will be expected to have annual benchmarks, which will be confirmed at the time of the initial grant, and will be conditions for each successive year of funding.

Applicants must be eligible 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Large institutions, academic institutions, national organizations, or consultants must apply with a community partner as the lead organization.


Grantmaking Timeline

ATTENTION: This is a revised process, with a required preliminary step. Please read carefully.

How to Apply:

Step 1 – (Required) Prospective applicants must converse by phone with the Miller Foundation program officers, whose contact information is below:

Prentice Zinn, 617-391-3091

Amy Shorey, 671-391-3072

During this 5-10 minute conversation, the applicant should be prepared to outline the proposed intervention, its fit with the fund’s priorities, and its connection to one of the two problem types identified above. Promising applicants will be given a code to use online in uploading a concept paper.

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 May 3rd 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 Monday, July 2nd.


What The Foundation Looks For in a Project:

Strategic analysis. Clarity about the role the project will play in creating change, and a deep understanding of the political and organizational challenges and opportunities it will face.

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.

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