Grantmaking Guidelines: Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement (Spring 2019)

Grantmaking Process

What is involved in the NSI grant application process?

Based on feedback from the prior RFP applicants, we have modified the application process from our past NSI RFPs. This third RFP will differentiate between Validation/Impact (Type 1) applications and Model Design and Initiation applications. For Validation/Impact applicants, the process will be in stages; applicants will complete the first stage and only advance if they successfully meet the eligibility requirements for each subsequent stage. This first stage requires applicants to complete a small set of questions about their past work, aligned to the student outcome they would like to target through their proposed NSI. Successful applicants will be invited to attend a Workshop Day in June to develop a full grant proposal, detailed budget, and measurement plan in partnership with the foundation. No Validation/Impact funding will be awarded solely on a written RFP response.

Model Design and Initiation applicants will submit more information in their written application as this will form the sole basis of assessment for Model Design and Initiation funding.

We welcome applications from prospective Intermediaries that can demonstrate alignment to our NSI Grantmaking Eligibility and Guidelines. NSI Intermediaries from our first cohort, i.e. current Type 1 or Type 2 grantees, are permitted to respond to this RFP to seek new awards in the Impact/Validation category only. Current grantees are not eligible for Model Design grants.

We anticipate identifying up to 12 Validation/Impact NSIs through this RFP, and up to eight recipients for Model Design and Initiation grants.

What is the scope of Validation/Impact Grants? 

Validation/Impact grants are reserved for Intermediaries that have demonstrated capacity and experience working with schools in the following areas: continuous improvement methods; data collection and analysis; network design and facilitation; working with school systems; school-level leadership development; improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students; and knowledge management and asset generation. We call these six things the components of an NSI model. For more information on NSI model components, click here. We anticipate identifying up to 12 Validation/Impact  NSIs through this RFP.”

These Intermediaries:

  • Have successfully facilitated a network of schools that used a continuous improvement process to improve one or more of the five predictive student outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students, and;
  • Are or will be ready to launch an NSI during School Year 2020-21 that aims to increase the number of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against one or more of the predictive student outcomes.

The grants are multi-year awards (three to five years) and funding will be available to Intermediaries beginning December 2019. An Impact network must comprise ten or more schools, but there is slight flexibility for Validation applicants who have a plan to scale up to ten schools.

There are specific student outcomes that we plan to fund through this RFP.

Please note that the components of the outcomes are slightly different from those we published with our previous RFPs.

The size of Validation/Impact grant awards will vary based on the number of schools in the network and will include additional capacity building for Intermediaries. For this RFP, we are seeking proposals that fall within the range of $50,000 to $100,000 per school/year with a maximum grant award value not to exceed $14.5 million for a five-year grant. This is purposefully a wide range to allow a potential grantee to propose a model that fits individual context, and to recognize that the problem of practice selected, the number of schools in a network, and the location of the network can greatly impact a network’s cost per school.

If applicants progress through the Validation/Impact selection process, they will be asked for increasing levels of detail surrounding the proposed funding model. This table includes some average cost estimates that may help to plan a budget for a proposal.

Estimated Costs Per School / Year
# of Schools / Year Low Mid High
Small Network 10 – 20 $67,000 $80,000 $100,000
Medium Network 20 – 35 $58,000 $68,000 $84,000
Large Network 35+ $53,000 $63,000 $77,000

This financial information and average network size is preliminary and should be used as general guidance. Intermediaries will work collaboratively with a Gates Foundation program officer to determine the detailed budget and duration of NSI grants during the grant creation process.

The duration and funding amounts will depend on several factors, including:

  • the scope of a network’s improvement project;
  • the number of schools in a network;
  • the Intermediary’s context;
  • the Intermediary’s approach to network facilitation;
  • the specific network problem of practice; and
  • the level of planning required to launch the network.

Grants will be awarded directly to Intermediaries. Successful Validation/Impact applicants will be notified of the status of their award by October 2019. Subsequent payment is contingent upon satisfactory grant progress. Grants may be terminated if progress stalls.

The management of a Validation/Impact NSI is a significant administrative burden. For that reason, small organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $1.5M (b) fewer than five full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Validation/Impact award. Take our Validation/Impact eligibility quiz to learn more. Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

What is the Scope of Model Design and Initiation Grants?

As noted earlier, we have evolved our Type 2 investments to support Model Design and Initiation. These investments are intended to help organizations clarify and refine their model for running an NSI and secure technical assistance for aspects of their model where they feel, as an organization, they could use additional support and development.

A Model Design and Initiation grant differs from Validation/Impact grants and from prior iterations of Type 2 grants in that its purpose is to support model clarification and capacity building to run an NSI rather than to support the primary activities associated with an NSI.

We anticipate making up to eight Model Design and Initiation awards this year, responsive to a few clusters of expressed need in geographical areas and in organizations that are well positioned to serve Black, Latino, and low-income students. These will be one- or two-year awards of about $250,000 per year.

Organizations applying for a Model Design and Initiation grant are expected to have experience working directly with school and/or district teams to improve specific student outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students in grades 6-12.

Additionally, because Model Design and Initiation grants are intended to build the capacity of organizations to run Networks for School Improvement, we expect lead applicants to have at least five Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff in place to engage in capacity building efforts.

Finally, this grant represents funding of approximately $250,000 per year, which should not represent more than 50% of the lead applicant’s existing annual revenue.

Grants will be awarded directly to Intermediaries. Successful Model Design and Initiation applicants will be notified of the status of their award by the end of August 2019. Subsequent payment is contingent upon satisfactory grant progress. Grants may be terminated if progress stalls.

Take our Model Design and Initiation eligibility quiz to learn more. Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

Grantmaking Timeline and Process

Because this RFP is open to the public, it is difficult to predict how many applications we will receive. We therefore reserve the right to modify the review timeline slightly to ensure all applications receive appropriate consideration. If a timeline modification becomes necessary, we will notify applicants by May 20, 2019 and provide details of the updated timeline by email.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and applicants are strongly encouraged to submit responses as soon as possible. In all cases, applications must be submitted by 12 p.m. PT on April 26, 2019, and we are unable to extend the deadline for any reason. Note that high volumes of traffic on our website close to the deadline have made it hard for applicants to save their application for up to 12 hours before the deadline in the past. Please plan ahead and submit a completed application as early as possible; extensions will not be possible.

Please note that the selection processes for Validation/Impact and Model Design and Initiation grants are different.

Overview of the Validation/Impact Application Process

Stage 1 of the Validation/Impact application is an assessment of applicants’ readiness to lead NSIs based on their previous work. Intermediaries that successfully pass Stage 1 will be invited on or by May 20, 2019 to attend a Workshop Day in-person in Seattle, WA or Washington, D.C.  A Workshop Day is a day-long selection event, during which 3-4 key representatives from the Intermediary organization will bring a draft NSI proposal to “workshop” with foundation staff and partners. If you are invited to participate in a workshop, these are the proposal documents we will ask you to submit by June 7, 2019. The Validation/Impact Workshop Days will be held in Seattle, WA on June 11, 12 and 13 and in Washington, D.C. on June 18, 19 and 20. Preparing for the Workshop Day may require significant time because the pre-work requests information about the proposed NSI. Workshop Day pre-work must be submitted by 12 p.m. PT on June 7, 2019. The foundation will cover travel and accommodation costs for applicants attending a Workshop Day, in line with our expenses policy.

Within seven days of attending a Workshop Day, Validation/Impact applicants must submit an updated set of proposal documents. Applicants who successfully move to the next stage may be asked to participate in a site visit between late June and early September 2019. During this site visit, Gates Foundation staff may ask to meet with the Intermediary team and visit potential NSI schools, if they have been identified. Following the site visit, by mid-September 2019, the foundation will select a subset of these applicants to work with a program officer to submit a formal grant proposal, using the proposal documents that have already been developed. This proposal must adhere to our Data Stewardship Principles and include a detailed plan to conduct necessary data analysis and onboard schools to the network.

Please do not apply if you are not eligible (Validation/Impact quiz here) for this grant. Please check the glossary and grantmaking guidelines and eligibility criteria before you begin the application process.

Download a word copy of the Validation and Impact questions here. You can also preview the Validation/Impact Proposal Documents here.

Activities for Validation/Impact selection

Activity Timeline
Applicants take the Validation/Impact eligibility quiz. If ineligible, applicants take the Model Design and Initiation eligibility quiz. The eligibility quizzes are open from April 1, 2019 until April 26, 2019 at 12 p.m. PT.
Eligible lead applicants submit written application for Validation/Impact or Model Design and Initiation (not both) by 12pm PT on April 26, 2019. If you do not meet eligibility criteria, please do not apply for NSI funding. Applications must be submitted by 12 p.m. PT on April 26, 2019.
Gates Foundation reviews Validation/Impact applications. April 28, 2019 – May 17, 2019
Validation/Impact applicants receive an invitation to a Workshop Day or are notified that they are not moving forward in the process. May 20, 2019
Validation/Impact applicants prepare and submit a draft proposal, high-level budget and results framework for discussion at their Workshop Day. May 21, 2019 – June 7, 2019
Applicants attend one-day proposal Workshop Day in Seattle, WA or Washington, D.C. June 11, 12, or 13 (Seattle) and June 18, 19, or 20 (D.C.)
Validation/Impact applicants further refine proposal documents. Submit within 7 days of participation in workshop event.
Gates Foundation reviews draft Validation/Impact Proposal Documents. June 2019
Validation/Impact site visits (if necessary). Late June 2019 – early September 2019
Final selection of Validation/Impact grantees by Gates Foundation team. September 2019
Validation/Impact applicants finalize proposal documents with Gates Foundation program officer. September 2019
Funding is available to Validation/Impact grantees and work begins on the project. December 2019

Overview of the Model Design and Initiation Application Process

Model Design and Initiation applicants will be asked to:

  • Confirm their eligibility;
  • Provide basic information about their organization;
  • Discuss their current approach and how it compares to our definition of a Network for School Improvement;
  • Assess their organization’s capacity in primary and secondary skills that the foundation, in partnership with Catalyst:Ed, believes are necessary to run an NSI; and
  • Detail the capacities in which they would like to grow to improve their readiness to run an NSI.

Unlike our Validation/Impact selection process, our selection of Model Design and Initiation grantees is likely to be based solely on information submitted through the RFP form. Selection will be responsive to a few clusters of expressed need in geographical areas and in organizations that are well positioned to support schools serving Black, Latino, and low-income students.

By May 20, 2019, potential grantees will be invited to attend a Workshop Day in-person in Seattle, WA on June 10, 2019. Note: June 10 in Seattle, WA is the only date and location for the Model Design Workshop Day. The foundation will cover travel and accommodation costs for applicants attending the Workshop Day, in line with our expenses policy. We anticipate that the Workshop Day will begin at around noon to allow participants to travel from the East Coast that morning. Preparation for the Workshop Day may require significant time because the pre-work requests clarifying information about your application. Workshop Day pre-work must be submitted by 12 p.m. PT on June 7, 2019.

Following the Workshop Day, by the end of July 2019, participants will work with a program officer to submit a formal grant proposal using proposal documents that will be developed based on Workshop Day activities. We expect Model Design and Initiation funding will be available to selected grantees by the end of August 2019.

Please do not apply if you are not eligible (Model Design and Initiation quiz here) for this grant. Please check the glossary and grantmaking guidelines and eligibility criteria before you begin the application process.

Download a word copy of the Model Design and Initiation questions here. 

Model Design and Initiation selection activities

Activity Timeline
Applicants take the Validation/Impact eligibility quiz. If ineligible, applicants take the Model Design and Initiation eligibility quiz. The eligibility quizzes are open from April 1, 2019 until April 26, 2019 at 12 p.m. PT.
Eligible lead applicants submit written application for Validation/Impact or Model Design and Initiation (not both) by noon PST on April 26, 2019. If you do not meet eligibility criteria, please do not apply for NSI funding. Applications must be submitted by 12 p.m. PT on April 26, 2019.
Gates Foundation reviews Model Design and Initiation applications. April 28, 2019 – May 17, 2019
Model Design and Initiation applicants receive an invitation to the June 10th Workshop Day or are notified that they are not moving forward in the process. May 20, 2019
Model Design and Initiation applicants submit any follow-up information that is requested as pre-work for the Workshop Day. May 21, 2019 – June 7, 2019
Applicants attend Workshop Day in Seattle, WA on June 10. Model Design and Initiation Workshop Day will be on June 10, 2019 only.
Model Design and Initiation grantees finalize proposal documents with a Gates Foundation program officer. Late July 2019
Funding is available to Model Design and Initiation grantees. Late August 2019

Note: All Model Design and Initiation grantees must attend a Workshop Day in Seattle in-person on Monday, June 10, 2019.

Maximum number of applications

Applicants may NOT apply as the Lead Applicant for both Validation/Impact and Model Design and Initiation funding. You may only choose one. Use the eligibility quizzes (Validation/Impact; Model Design and Initiation) to guide your decision.

An Intermediary organization may only be the Lead Applicant for ONE application in response to this RFP. If you decide to apply as the Lead Applicant and you also choose to support a second application, you may ONLY submit the second application as a supporting partner, not the Lead Applicant. You must be capable of simultaneously sustaining both NSIs, financially and with appropriate human capital, if both proposals are approved.

Please note that each application must be associated with a different email address because we use the email address as the unique identifier for the application.

Disclosure Notice

To help the foundation with its review of RFP responses, the foundation may disclose proposals, documents, communications, and associated materials submitted to the foundation in response to this RFP (collectively, “Submission Materials”) to its employees, contingent workers, consultants, independent subject matter experts, and potential co-funders. Please carefully consider the information included in the Submission Materials. If you (the “Applicant”) have any doubts about the wisdom of disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, the foundation recommends you consult with your legal counsel and take any steps you deem necessary to protect your intellectual property. You may wish to consider whether such information is critical for evaluating the submission or if more general, non-confidential information may be adequate as an alternative for these purposes.

Notwithstanding the Applicant’s characterization of any information as being confidential, the foundation is under no obligation to treat such information as confidential.

Disclaimer

This RFP is not an offer to contract or award grant funds. The foundation assumes no responsibility for the Applicant’s cost to respond to this RFP. All responses generated by this RFP become the property of the foundation.

Release and Verification

In exchange for the opportunity to be awarded a grant, the Applicant agrees that the foundation may, in its sole discretion:  (1) amend or cancel the RFP, in whole or in part, at any time; (2) extend the deadline for submitting responses; (3) determine whether a response does or does not substantially comply with the requirements of the RFP; (4) waive any minor irregularity, informality or nonconformance with the provisions or procedures of the RFP; (5) issue multiple awards; (6) share responses generated by this RFP with foundation staff, consultants, contingent workers, subject matter experts, and potential co-funders; and (7) copy the responses.

Applicants agree not to bring a legal challenge of any kind against the foundation relating to the foundation’s selection and award of a grant arising from this RFP.

Applicants represent that they have responded to the RFP with complete honesty and accuracy.  If facts provided in Applicants’ responses change, Applicants will supplement their response in writing with any deletions, additions or changes within 10 days of the changes.  Applicants will do this, as necessary, throughout the selection process.  Applicants understand that any material misrepresentation, including omissions, may disqualify them from consideration for a grant award.

By responding to this RFP, you are representing: (i) that you have authority to bind the named Applicant to the terms and conditions set forth above, without amendment; and (ii) that you agree to be bound by them.

Grantmaking Eligibility and Guidelines

The management of a Validation/Impact NSI is a significant administrative task. For that reason, small organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $1.5M, (b) fewer than five full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Validation/Impact award.

Model Design and Initiation grants require less administration and are intended to be more manageable for smaller organizations, but we do not expect that grant funds will be used to add new staff or positions, nor do we want to overwhelm organizations with funds they cannot immediately put to use. For those reasons, small organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $500,000, (b) fewer than five full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Model Design and Initiation award.

Intermediaries that are current recipients of Type 1 or Type 2 NSI grant funding are eligible to respond to this RFP and should contact their program officer before applying. Grantees awarded Model Design and Initiation grants this year are not eligible to respond to this RFP.

No preferential treatment will be given to organizations on account of previous relationships with the Gates Foundation or current status as grantees. Written applications will be screened “blinded”, meaning that identifying information is removed before each application is screened by Gates Foundation program officers with no prior relationship with the applicant.

The diversity of leaders and employees working in NSIs is important, and we are excited to have Intermediaries whose teams reflect the school populations with whom they aspire to work.

All applicants should complete our Validation/Impact and Model Design and Initiation eligibility quizzes before applying for funding. Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

Please note that Model Design and Initiation grantees are expected to have experience working directly with school and/or district teams to improve outcomes for Black, Latino and low-income students in grades 6-12, but these grants are not intended to fund a formal NSI. Rather, they are intended to help organizations build their capacity to run an NSI in the future. As such, the following details regarding NSIs refer primarily to the activities of Validation/Impact grants, though they also inform how Model Design and Initiation grants are structured to support organizational capacity building.

Validation/Impact Grants: School composition and selection

Model Design and Initiation grantees are NOT required to build a network of schools as part of their grant. The following applies to Validation/Impact grants only.

An NSI is a network of secondary schools working in partnership with an Intermediary organization to use a continuous improvement process to significantly increase the number of Black, Latino, and low-income students who earn a high school diploma, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and are on track in their first year to earn a credential with labor-market value.

To qualify as an NSI, network schools working with the Intermediary must meet the following criteria:

  • Schools identify and organize around a common problem and aim related to improving the percentage of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against one of the five outcomes identified in our table of outcomes and indicators.
  • Schools serve students in grades 6-12. Schools may focus on one or more of those grades depending on the network’s aim and theory of how to reach that aim.
  • The majority of students who are served across the network schools are Black, Latino, and/or low-income students. Low-income students are students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Given the foundation’s commitment to equity, we are particularly interested in RFP applicants who plan to work with networks of schools with very large populations of Black, Latino, and/or low-income students.
  • Schools are represented by teams that include leaders, relevant administrators, and/or school staff with the time, expertise, ambition, and trust to solve the problem at hand. Depending on the nature of the problem, school teams might also include district staff.
  • Schools have the commitment and support of district/CMO leadership from the beginning. Support might include providing release time, access to data, and flexibility regarding district or CMO mandates.
  • Schools have the authority and autonomy needed to address the problem of practice. School team members have the support and time needed to participate in the network learning and convenings.

We believe Intermediaries are best positioned to determine the number of schools in a given NSI by considering factors such as the capacity of individual teams and the complexity of the network problem of practice. The foundation will look to Intermediaries to state the optimal number of schools in their network, although all Validation/Impact grantees must work with at least 10 schools to be considered for funding through this RFP.

Intermediary traits and competencies

We seek to fund Intermediaries that exhibit the following traits and competencies to lead an NSI.

  • Commitment to and demonstrated capacity in improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students.
  • Credibility and experience working with secondary school leaders and teachers to improve outcomes for students in grades 6-12.
  • Credibility with education leaders and organizations in the geographic area where the Intermediary proposes to work.
  • Potential to influence field and policy knowledge beyond the local level.
  • Strong organizational leadership.
  • A well-defined theory of action.
  • Staff experienced in facilitating networks of schools.
  • Capacity and coaching experience in the following areas:
    • Assessing and navigating data infrastructure in K-12 school systems;
    • Using data for continuous improvement;
    • Leadership development, specifically building the capacity of school leaders and teacher leaders to support continuous improvement efforts;
    • NSI problem of practice and aim;
    • Guiding schools to identify evidence-based changes or solutions and to implement these in short cycles;
    • Connecting and convening schools or districts to learn from each other;
    • Progress monitoring and accountability; and
    • Creating effective knowledge management systems.

We expect Intermediaries we fund to be transparent with us and the field about what they are learning, share their candid reflections on their own performance, and identify their own growth areas whenever possible. This transparency gives us opportunities to support grantees and continue to learn from the field about the challenges inherent in facilitating an NSI.

For more information on the traits and competencies of an Intermediary, visit the glossary. Please read this information carefully before deciding whether to apply for funding.

Continuous improvement

NSIs are expected to use a continuous improvement process that supports teams to use multiple and varied data to address a specific problem of practice by developing, testing, and refining promising solutions. Continuous improvement as defined in this RFP is a specific process anchored in improvement science; it is not a general description of ongoing efforts to improve.

The foundation believes that schools and Intermediaries are best equipped to determine which continuous improvement process an NSI will use to guide its work as long as the process meets the criteria outlined here. Please read this information carefully before deciding whether to apply for funding.

Predictive outcomes

An NSI’s aim should be related to one or more of the student outcomes listed in the glossary and should address the underlying processes or actions that produce the current inequitable outcomes.

Additional RFP Resources

More Info on the RFP

Learn more about the Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement.

RFP Glossary

A glossary to clarify terms that we may use differently in this RFP from how they are commonly used in the field.

RFP Grantmaking Guidelines

A set of guidelines to inform responses to the RFP on Networks for School Improvement.

RFP FAQ

Questions? Please read the Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on the RFP process.