Just like many people in the country, the presidential election took the folks at the Sprout Fund by surprise.
“We were stunned by the results,” says Cathy Lewis Long, founding executive director of the Sprout Fund. “Wednesday felt pretty numb. We came into work on Thursday and asked, ‘Does this work matter? Are we spending our time and money on the right things when there’s so much unrest . . .
“We decided at Sprout that it mattered even more. It was a call to action.”
The Sprout Fund invests money through small grants in early-stage, grassroots initiatives and projects—nearly 1,000 since 2001—to help improve life in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities. This time, they decided to put up $100,000 for “100 Days of US,” projects beginning in the first 100 days of the new administration.
“The president is going to have his agenda for the first 100 days,” explains Long. “It’s such an important time period to set the course for the country. Having worked deeply on issues of civic engagement to create communities that all people want to be a part of it seemed like a tremendous response to an uncertain time.”
They asked Pittsburghers to come up with ideas to fund as they launched the project.
#100days got attention quickly on Twitter and Facebook, and in the media. Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto talked about it during the National League of Cities’ “City Summit” conference for city leaders held in Pittsburgh in November and mentioned it again at the Leadership Pittsburgh Champagne luncheon this past Tuesday (If I could, I’d fund every one of them, he said.)
Now, there are more than 150 proposals logged on the 100 Days website. The public is invited to watch the video proposals, “like” their favorites, and donate to their Crowdrise crowd-funding campaign. Likes, crowd-funding numbers, and a special committee of community leaders selected by Sprout will determine which projects ultimately get funding. Grants up to $5,000 for an individual project will be awarded.
“The more money, the more projects,” explains Long. “If I’m candid, the crowd-funding has been harder to get going. Right now, we’re trending to support only about 15 percent of those, and that will leave a lot of great projects on the table.”
Some projects feature well-known organizations and familiar faces. There’s Public Source, a nonprofit media organization seeking to report on how the Trump administration’s policies affect the Pittsburgh region. Kidsburgh (a partner of NEXTpittsburgh) has one called “First Kid,” which aims to discover and document the issues that matter most to children.
Other participants are making their first foray into activism.
“We had an ‘idea party’ the night the proposals were due,” notes Long. “Looking around the room, it was the most diverse place—lots of people new to community-building, and certainly new to the Sprout Fund. The energy and enthusiasm that we, together, can take action and have a louder voice—we’re not just sitting passively as many people in this community feel that things that matter to them are at risk, or that they themselves are at risk.”
Projects range from “We Speak Soccer,” a soccer league to connect Pittsburgh’s diverse immigrant and refugee communities, to “Soil Superheroes,” empowering Homewood youth through hands-on studies of the soil, much of which is saturated with lead due to a preponderance of pre-1970s lead paint.
“There are so many people in our community, in the wake of the election, ready to stand up and fight for things that are important to them,” says Long. “For us, it’s a way to give agency to people to set their own agenda.
“Success is determined by a lot of things, but right now we feel proud of being able to stand up so quickly after the election, as an exercise in responsive philanthropy. ‘100 Days’ is the most important work Sprout has done.”
Time to make your voice heard. The voting period ends at noon on January 19.