When grant making doesn’t solve the problem what can you do?

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site.

Are you in search of new ideas?  Do you have some funds to spare? Have you thought of a challenge prize?

Challenge Prizes have a long history and have had some notable successes but have rarely, to my knowledge*, been used in the voluntary sector.  One Challenge Prize most people will be familiar with is Britain’s Got Talent. Can the sector unleash some voluntary talent to solve the intractable societal problems we are facing?

What is a Challenge Prize?
A sum of money offered to anyone who can solve a specific problem. A famous example is Napoleon setting the challenge of how to feed a large army on the move. Canned food was the result. In modern times vast sums have been offered for solutions to sticky problems such as curing rare diseases or travelling in space.

Why not just offer a grant?
In the charity sector we are much more familiar with grants. A challenge prize is different from a grant and may be a good solution when all other methods have failed.

Challenge Prizes are distinct from grants because:

They are open to all – people who you would not think of may come forward and be the perfect solver for the challenge.
They are more likely to result in innovation because of the wider range of possible solvers with diverse backgrounds and approaches.
There are winners and losers – the best idea wins.
They are public-prizes are advertised and build publicity and momentum around them with celebration and awards at the end.
Risk is with the competitor – those competing for the prize have to put in the time and energy to show that their idea will work before getting the money.

If you are a grant maker and want a fresh approach, a Challenge Prize may be just the thing.

You can find out more in this excellent and comprehensive report on Challenge Prizes ‘And the Winner is…’

* The Big Green Challenge and the CRUK Open Ventures Challenge come to mind:  they were both large scale. Sourcing Innovative Solutions is an article I wrote about the CRUK challege and you can find out more about the Big Green Challenge here – the evaluation report is particularly worth a read

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