After receiving hundreds of high-quality submissions, we’ve compiled the guidance below for you to keep in mind as you submit an idea to Unorthodox Philanthropy:
Clearly explain how the idea will scale without ongoing philanthropic capital: UP is particularly inclined to support projects that don’t need continued philanthropic support for organizational infrastructure to succeed, or those that can achieve economies of scale with minimal organizational infrastructure. Therefore, we are drawn to ideas that are seeding new models or systems, rather than ideas that scale an existing intervention. Applicants should be specific about their short- and long-term funding needs and how they expect to finance the path to sustainability.
Articulate your ‘endgame’: Applicants should be able to outline what they ultimately aim to achieve and how a time-bound philanthropic investment will get them there. You may find the article “What’s Your Endgame?” helpful for an explanation of this concept.
Be specific about the depth and breadth of your idea’s impact: UP is sector-agnostic; who or what your idea impacts matters less to us than the potential magnitude. Projects limited to one geographic area or group of individuals are less likely to succeed as UP applicants than those that are aimed at transforming a system. Make sure your application describes the scope of the need you seek to address. Similarly, while we recognize the value of platforms, funds, accelerators, consulting, and capacity-building efforts, we are most interested in ideas that have clearly defined goals and direct impact.
Explain how funding might be scaled up as confidence builds: When testing a new idea, model, or tool, we have a preference for opportunities that can demonstrate potential impact through an initial pilot or series of experiments. Ideas that require a large investment (>$5 million) and/or long timeline (>5 years) before being able to test with users, demonstrate demand, or enter the market are less compelling than those that can achieve an initial proof-of-concept with fewer resources on a shorter timeframe.
Explain who will be committed to the success of the idea: It is critical that projects have an individual or team that is capable of and committed to implementation. Who will be responsible for executing the idea is just as important as the idea itself, so submissions should address the relevant qualifications of key team members.
Demonstrate a clear understanding of the market in which you are operating: Applicants should be able to describe the landscape of their target market and clearly articulate how their work is distinct or complementary to existing efforts. This is particularly important for projects working in crowded markets.
We have declined submissions for a few common reasons, including:
Limited scale of impact, even if the project is successful
Unclear direct impact, e.g. the creation of a fund or fundraising tool, or the provision of advisory or consulting services without defined outcomes
Unclear financial model, or dependence on ongoing philanthropic capital/individual donations
Similar to existing efforts or operating in a saturated market without sufficient distinction
Falls into a priority area on which many other funders focus, limiting Unorthodox Philanthropy's unique ability to catalyze funding or interest
Lacks evidence of effectiveness, or the cost of initial proof-of-concept is prohibitively high
Strong idea but without an established team to take it forward