What is the Stronger Democracy Award?

The Stronger Democracy Award is a public competition sponsored by Additional Ventures and an anonymous donor in the ICONIQ Impact community, with support from philanthropists Cipora & Vlado Herman and ICONIQ Impact, and managed by Lever for Change. Additional Ventures and the anonymous ICONIQ Impact donor will award two separate $10 million grants over up to five years to two initiatives that strengthen American democracy across one or more of three main areas listed below. In addition to the two $10 million grants, Cipora & Vlado Herman will award $2 million to one of the remaining Finalists with a promising solution.

(1)  Voting & Elections
Implement structural reform around voting rights and access, redistricting, voting architecture, and campaign finance.

(2) Policymaking
Strengthen legislative processes and tools to improve bipartisan relationships among politicians, increase access to policy expertise through nonpartisan think tanks and research engines, and promote the passing of policies representative of the broader electorate.

(3) Civic Engagement
Improve civic education and participation to support citizens, communities, and society as they inform policies and hold representatives accountable.

Who can participate?

Eligible lead applicants must be based in the United States and include:

  • Nonprofit 501(c)(3) and 509(a)(1) or (2) organizations, including but not limited to nonprofit organizations with fiscal sponsors/agents and/or pending federal tax exemption status.
  • Civic leagues, social welfare organizations and other entities under section 501(c)(4).
  • A private foundation under section 501(c)(3).
  • A public or private college, junior college, university and other similar educational entity under section 501(c)(3).

Lead applicants who are 501(c)(4) organizations are required to include a 501(c)(3) organization as part of the project team that is eligible to receive funds from a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). While individuals, for-profit entities, and government agencies are not eligible to apply, these entities may be members of the applicant team led by an eligible lead applicant. Use the Organizational Readiness Tool to find out if you’re a good fit for the Award, refer to the Rules for a complete set of eligibility requirements, and please contact us with any Award-related questions.

What types of projects are you looking for?

We are seeking innovative, long-term, and scale-ready solutions that drive structural reform to help the US government to more fully and effectively represent its people. Strong solutions will address systemic barriers and advance structural reform with the objective of incenting the government to be more responsive to the broader electorate, and ensure government is staffed with high-quality, high-functioning institutions and people.

  • A powerful strategy with well-defined goals and outcomes that will weaken systemic barriers to a strong democracy, deliver sustainable results, and create long-term impact.
  • A groundbreaking approach activating original concepts that complement and improve existing efforts.
  • An accomplished team with a strong coalition of partners and relationships who together share a deep understanding of the context, costs, and plans needed to mitigate risk and deliver results.
  • Robust evidence that the solution is a model that can be expanded, replicated, and/or adapted while retaining effectiveness in many contexts and communities throughout the country.

How do I apply?

You must first assess your fit and eligibility for the Stronger Democracy Award, and then register no later than Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at 5:00 PM Pacific. Registration is required and is a simple two-step process. First, create a username and password and then check your inbox to confirm your registration. Next, complete the online registration form. Once you are registered, submit your application online no later than Thursday, July 22, 2021, at 5:00 PM Pacific.

How will submissions be assessed?

Once the submission deadline passes, the Stronger Democracy Award team will perform an administrative review to confirm each submission meets the rules and application requirements before advancing to the required Peer-to-Peer Review.

During Peer-to-Peer Review, each lead applicant will be required to score and comment on five applications from other organizations. Top-scoring applications will move on to the Evaluation Panel and receive an additional review and comments from five judges. All reviewers will use the scoring rubric, and all scores will be statistically normalized to ensure fairness.

We will review the top-scoring submissions and request additional information as needed to select up to five Finalists based on considerations that may include, but are not limited to, Evaluation Panel resulting rank order, organizational capacity, geographic diversity, and feasibility. The donors will make the final determination of up to five Finalists, two of whom will receive $10 million, and one will  receive $2 million.

Should the proposed solution be evidence-based?

We are prioritizing evidence-based solutions delivered by highly qualified teams. The most compelling solutions will be backed by evidence using one or more of the following methods of evaluation:

  • ‍An external assessment of impact (e.g., RCT; quasi-experimental design; contribution analysis; collective impact).
  • At least one external evaluation of outcomes.
  • An internal evaluation or outcome assessment.
  • Qualitative and/or quantitative feedback to assess progress.

Will you consider funding a proposed solution in the early, pilot stages?

Solutions in early development or pilot stages without results that demonstrate impact are unlikely to be competitive. Successful proposals will be in one of the following project stages:

  • ‍Operating at Scale: Team has evidence its strategy achieves impact and is delivering the solution at scale.
  • Scaling: Team has evidence of impact and is expanding/adapting the strategy to a greater number of target beneficiaries, potentially in new geographies, but has yet to achieve large-scale implementation.
  • Proof of Concept: Team has been implementing the strategy for a small number of target beneficiaries and has plans to scale.

How can we use the Stronger Democracy Award?

Funds must be used for the solution described in the application, and may not be used for:

  • Non-charitable purposes
  • Funding a long-term endowment
  • Aggregating philanthropic capital for the purpose of regranting to other organizations who are not partners in your application

Are lobbying and advocacy activities allowed?

Lobbying activities are an allowable expense, and any lobbying activities must constitute less than 50% of the $10 million budget.

Advocacy activities are not considered lobbying and are an eligible use of funds with no budget limitations or requirements.

Refer to our Lobbying Policy for clarification.

How do I sign up to receive competition correspondence like deadline reminders and application status updates?

Once you have registered, and throughout the competition, we will send important notifications to the email address associated with your account, as well as the primary and secondary contacts listed on your registration form. There are three critical steps you can take to make sure these messages are received promptly:

  1. Add the Stronger Democracy Award email to your contacts.
  2. Whitelist the Stronger Democracy Award email. Instructions on how to add to your whitelist, covering most major email providers, are here.
  3. Update your registration form right away if one of your contacts changes. If you need to make a contact change after the application window has closed, please email us and we will assist you.