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Why Co-Reviewing Applicants Creates a More Inclusive Philanthropic Field

Why co-review proposal submissions?

All grantmakers face the same dilemma: there are more proposals than there are resources available.

Some of the larger foundations might receive over 30,000 applications in a year, but will only  actively fund four or five thousand programs. While unfunded applicants are commonly told to seek feedback, funders rarely actually provide it, due to resource strain or a well-meaning desire to not waste their applicant’s time. Large corporate challenges will candidly state in their Request for Proposals (RFPs) that they do not provide feedback to applicants. The focus is naturally on the programs that are actively being funded.

Foundations, grantmakers, and humanitarians who are looking to be more inclusive and responsive while supporting high impact, expert quality programs should consider co-review partnerships. 

Unfunded List offers helpful and candid feedback to grant proposals. We have reviewed over 500 proposals, provided thousands of pages of feedback, made hundreds of introductions, and helped raise millions of dollars using proposals that would have otherwise gone overlooked. Over the last two years, we have started partnering with grantmakers to co-review their applicants. Our committee of evaluators includes over 600 experts from around the world. They are funders, fundraisers, activists, constituents, and issue experts who volunteer their time to advise and suggest improvements to unfunded grant proposal authors. 

Co-review provides additional value to any proposal reading process. Grantmakers can focus on choosing the programs that line up best with their values and objectives, knowing that every applicant to their program will receive helpful and candid feedback from experts, as well as an opportunity to discuss their proposal with a proposal writing expert. Co-review allows philanthropists the opportunity to provide unsuccessful applicants with open doors, constructive advice, and tangible next steps.

MIT Solve and the two-year pilot project

Through open innovation Challenges, Solve finds incredible tech-based social entrepreneurs all around the world and bridges partnerships to maximize their impact. To date, Solve has brokered commitments of over $40 million across the Solve community, impacting more than 40 million lives with 300+ partnerships, including a successful co-review partnership with Unfunded List.

Every year, Solve receives thousands of submissions for its Global Challenges. A team of internal and external reviewers narrows down the list to around 320 semi-finalists and 60 finalists. These finalists have the opportunity to pitch their solutions to expert judges to help choose the next class of Solver teams. Special additional prizes are then awarded to those teams by Solve’s partners, such as General Motors, Vodafone Americas Foundation, HP, The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, UN Women, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and more. 

In September 2019, finalists pitched in person to Solve Members at Solve Challenge Finals, Solve’s annual pitch event held in New York City during UN General Assembly Week. Keen to provide additional support to the finalists not selected as Solver teams, Solve chose to partner with Unfunded List so that we could offer independent feedback to every submission. We began our first year in partnership by reviewing all 60 finalists, after giving them the opportunity to opt-out of review. The day after selection, our staff was on hand to meet one-on-one with finalists who were not selected, and we shared independent feedback reports with all the finalists regardless of whether they had been selected or not. Read more about the first year of our partnership in this reflection post we wrote.

Thank you [Unfunded List] for this incredible resource! We're grateful to the volunteer evaluators who took the time to read our application and provide specific, usable feedback. I liked that there were 6 evaluators, as this provides different perspectives while also surfacing common themes among the evaluators. I have shared this with other team members, and this will help shape our future applications and proposals.”   
A 2019 Solve Challenge finalist 

Last year, we expanded the offer to include Solve semi-finalists as well as semi-finalists for the 2020 Elevate Prize powered by Solve and funded by the Elevate Foundation. To ensure efficacy and interest, we switched from an opt-out offering to opt-in. The hundreds of applicants who opted into our review received added benefits from our comprehensive feedback reports and follow-up conversations. By partnering with Unfunded List, Solve, Elevate, and many more are able to expand the impact of their programs by providing value and opportunity to all applicants–to ultimately drive further positive change.

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