The Youth Service Improvement Grants (YSIG) program supports activities to improve the quality of direct services for young people ages 5 to 25 in the five boroughs of New York City. The long-term goal of YSIG is to strengthen existing services by helping youth-serving nonprofit organizations address challenges or remedy problems at the point of service, where staff and youth interact.
The YSIG program is unique in that it urges applicants not only to discuss their organization’s promise and potential, but to identify gaps or challenges in the services they provide. The program asks applicants to be critical and reflective, to consider why and how complications exist, and to articulate how they intend to improve the ability of their programming to provide positive impact for youth.
Applicants should describe their organization’s mission and the specific current youth programming that they propose to improve. The application should clearly describe a challenge or problem at the program’s point of service, outline how the organization identified the problem, and explain how the problem negatively affects the experiences or outcomes of youth participants. Next, the application should propose a specific, standalone improvement plan to address the issue, improve the targeted programming, and yield a positive effect on participants’ experiences. Strong proposals will make the case that the quality of youth services would improve if the issue were resolved, and will clearly describe a feasible, sustainable, and appropriate improvement. Examples of problem areas for improvement include: inadequate curriculum, gaps in the service skills of frontline staff, or a limitation in current services that negatively affects participants’ experiences. Beyond this short list of examples, we welcome other compelling needs for service improvement.
The online application is now open. The next application deadline is March 7, 2019 at 3:00 PM EST.
Our Focus on Reducing Inequality
In 2018, we took a fresh look at our Youth Service Improvement Grants program in the context of inequality in New York City. Three themes stood out in our review. First, the geography of inequality is stark, with poverty rates well over 40 percent in some neighborhoods and too little of our grant dollars going to those communities. Because economic and racial inequality are intertwined, better serving the highest poverty neighborhoods would also mean supporting Dominican, Puerto Rican, Afro-Caribbean, African American, and Southeast Asian youth. Second, a purely place-based approach to grantmaking would neglect under-served communities that are more geographically dispersed. Mexicans, now the third largest immigrant group in the city, have high rates of poverty but few established organizations tailored to their needs. LGBTQ youth are another group that is too often overlooked and whose well-being demands greater support. Third, our review noted the lack of racial, ethnic, gender identity and sexual-orientation diversity among executive directors and CEOs of youth serving organizations.
The new iteration of the YSIG program capitalizes on these insights and aligns more closely with the Foundation’s broader focus on reducing inequality in youth outcomes. We welcome all applicants who share our goal of tackling inequality, but we seek to drive more of our grantmaking to organizations that 1) provide direct services to youth in the ten community districts identified as having the highest risk to child well-being by the Citizens’ Committee for Children, 2) have existing programming tailored specifically to Mexican-descent or LGBTQ youth, or 3) are led by people of color or LGBTQ individuals. Through these grantmaking priorities, we hope YSIG will facilitate service improvements that enhance youth development and well-being for those youth with the greatest needs.
Awards are $25,000 each and support projects lasting one year. Although the Foundation is prepared to fully fund projects of $25,000, we are also willing to co-fund larger improvement efforts with other funders. Regardless of the size of the budget for the improvement project, we encourage applicants to commit some of their own resources through in-kind support or the use of unrestricted funds. We view this action as an indication of organizational commitment to the improvement project.
In addition to providing grant support, the Foundation will secure technical assistance to assist grantees in successfully implementing their improvement plans. The consultant will organize a learning community where grantees can discuss challenges, seek advice from peers and colleagues, and collaborate across projects.
YSIG Review Committee
Applications for Youth Service Improvement Grants are reviewed by a dedicated volunteer committee of Foundation staff once a year. Committee members have a diverse range of expertise, including finance, communications, and nonprofit administration. Thus, applications should be written to address an educated lay audience.
To be eligible for consideration, applying organizations must:
- Have their own 501(c)(3) tax-exemption. If an applying organization is separately incorporated but tax-exempt through a group ruling, the applicant should supply the 501(c)(3) letter of the parent organization and documentation that it is part of the group. In this case, only the applying organization’s budget will be considered under the YSIG eligibility guidelines. If the applying organization is a sub-unit of the parent organization and is not separately incorporated, the parent organization’s budget will be considered under the eligibility guidelines.
- Have an operating budget between $1 million and $5 million, if the organization serves youth only. If the applying organization serves youth and other populations, its operating budget must be less than $20 million and its youth services budget must be between $1 million and $5 million.
- Be a community-based organization (CBO) that provides youth services in any of the five boroughs of New York City.
- Serve youth ages 5 to 25. At least 80 percent of youth participating in the services targeted for improvement must be in this age range.
- Serve youth directly. The applicant’s staff must have direct contact with youth at the point of service.
Organizations previously funded under the YSIG program cannot apply again for at least 18 months after the end of their award.
What we do not support
The YSIG program only supports service improvement activities, so we would not support:
- General operations.
- Planning, needs assessment, and evaluation proposals.
- Organizational improvement activities not focused on changes at the point-of-service, such as board development or financial system updates.
- Building campaigns, scholarships, endowments, lobbying, or awards to individuals.
- Expansions or additions to programming, including changes that simply increase the number of slots in a program or result in new programming. As such, all proposed budgetary items must be directly related to the proposed improvement.
- Public and private schools.
Grantees will be selected according to the following criteria:
- The applicant provides a clear, compelling explanation of how the current services create positive and meaningful experiences for youth.
- The applicant clearly identifies a problem at the point of service and explains how the problem has negatively impacted the experiences of participants.
- The applicant details how they identified the problem and clearly articulates its likely causes.
- The applicant makes a strong case that the quality of services to youth would significantly improve if the problem were addressed.
- The improvement plan effectively addresses the problem: it is targeted specifically at the causes of the problem, it is likely to be effective, and it is sustainable.
- The improvement activities can feasibly be implemented within the one-year grant period, which begins on September 1, 2019.
- The applicant identifies a capable staff member or manager to oversee the improvement plan and track progress across the timeline. This is different from staff working to implement the improvement.
- The applicant outlines a compelling plan to collect and use information to determine whether the improvement project is successful.
- The applicant makes the case that the improvement can be sustained operationally and financially.
- If additional funds will be required to continue the improvement after the grant period, the applicant provides a feasible plan to achieve sustainability.
Priority Considerations Focused on Reducing Inequality
Beginning in 2019, eligible applications that meet the selection criteria will be given priority for funding if they meet any of the qualifications below:
1. Provide youth services in one of the ten community districts identified as having the highest community risk to child well-being by the Citizens’ Committee for Children:
- CD 1 – Mott Haven
- CD 2 – Hunts Point
- CD 3 – Morrisania
- CD 4 – Concourse/Highbridge
- CD 5 – University Heights
- CD 6 – East Tremont
- CD 7 – Bedford Park
- CD 9 – Union Port/Soundview
- CD 5 – East New York
- CD 16 – Brownsville
Organizational offices do not need to be based in one of these community districts, but the service targeted for improvement must be currently operating in one of the districts. Organizations can identify their community districts on the New York City Department of City Planning’s Community District Profiles website.
2. Have well-defined programming tailored specifically to Mexican-descent youth or to LGBTQ youth; or
With New York City being a diverse metropolis, it is likely that many programs will serve young people that fit into these groups. However, priority consideration is reserved for applicants that have well-defined services that are specifically designed for them. Others will not receive priority consideration.
3. Have executive directors or CEOs who are people of color or LGBTQ individuals.