Model Design and Initiation Request for Proposal 2020

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to ensuring that all students—especially Black, Latinx, and low-income students—have an opportunity to graduate from high school and earn a degree that prepares them for a successful career and life. We’ve learned that the best answers don’t come from a one-size-fits-all approach but from empowering school leaders and educators to identify solutions that best fit the needs of their local community.

As noted in our Networks for School Improvement (NSI) 2020 Update, we are prioritizing:

  1. Recruiting and onboarding partners to participate in summative evaluation activities.
  2. Continuing to build the capacity of partners, districts, and schools.
  3. A focus on equity.

COVID-19 changes much about how teachers, schools, and districts serve students, and we are working to support our partners and the field in their efforts to respond. We also reaffirm that our commitment to the overall goals of our education strategies are not changing.

This Model Design and Initiation (MDI) Request for Proposal (RFP) represents a continuation of our existing NSI strategy, as we believe that a data-informed approach to these adjustments will help school teams know whether their approach is having a positive impact on outcomes for Black, Latinx, and low-income students. We’re therefore continuing to make investments in MDI with deep roots in their communities who know how best to support schools during this crisis.

This RFP addresses priorities 2 and 3: we’re interested in building the capacity of organizations with deep roots in their local communities to contribute to the implementation of continuous improvement processes that maximize the impact of evidence-based interventions in schools, leading to improved student outcomes for Black, Latinx, and low-income students. 

We will do so by identifying a set of 10-14 MDI grantees to build capacities in continuous improvement, measurement, data, and other self-identified areas for growth using awards of approximately $250,000 per year for 1-2 years. This opportunity will close on July 10th at 12pm PT. This is the only application stage. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of July 2020.

Last year’s MDI investments asked grantees to demonstrate or build capacity in all model components of an NSI and detail the ways in which their model incorporates those components. This year, we’re supporting grantees to focus their efforts by selecting from four capacity groups:

  1. Continuous Improvement (at least one capacity required)
    1. Understand the System
    2. Build Commitment to a Clear & Specific Aim
    3. Develop a Shared Theory of Practice Improvement
    4. Support Disciplined Inquiry Cycles
  2. Measurement & Data for Improvement (at least one capacity required)
    1. Data Infrastructure
    2. Analytics, Measurement, & Evaluation
    3. Practical Measurement
  3. DEI and Inclusive Culture; and 
    1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    2. Student Agency
    3. Family & Community Engagement
  4. Leadership Support. 
    1. School Leadership & Leader Support
    2. District Leadership & Leader Support

This focus reflects takeaways from our formative evaluation and lessons from how intermediaries have organized their work. We hope that this allows grantees to build upon their existing strengths while thoughtfully integrating new capacities into their models for supporting schools in improving student outcomes using models for continuous improvement.

Download the MDI Fact Sheet to learn about how other organizations have used these grants to improve in self-identified capacities. 

If you have any questions, please email

Grantmaking Guidelines

What is the Scope of Model Design and Initiation Grants?

Model Design and Initiation grants help organizations clarify and refine their model for supporting the implementation of continuous improvement processes in schools to maximize the impact of evidence-based interventions. These investments also fund organizations to secure technical assistance for aspects of their model where they feel they could use additional 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 rather than to support the primary activities associated with an NSI.

We anticipate making 10-14 Model Design and Initiation awards this year in organizations that are well positioned to serve Black, Latinx, 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, Latinx, 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 one Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employee in place to dedicate time to 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.

Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

Grants will be awarded directly to applicants. Successful Model Design and Initiation applicants will be notified of the status of their award by the end of July 2020. Subsequent payment is contingent upon satisfactory grant progress. Grants may be terminated if progress stalls.

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 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 July 10, 2020. 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.

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;
  • Assess their organization’s capacity in skills that the foundation, in partnership with Catalyst:Ed, believes are necessary to support continuous improvement processes in schools; and
  • Detail the capacities in which they would like to grow to enhance their model for supporting schools.

Our selection of Model Design and Initiation grantees will be based solely on information submitted through the RFP. Selection will be responsive to organizations that are well positioned to support schools serving Black, Latinx, and low-income students and who put forth a coherent and logical rationale for enhancing their school support models using Model Design and Initiation funding.

In August 2020, participants will work with a program officer to submit a formal grant proposal. We expect Model Design and Initiation funding will be available to selected grantees by the end of September 2020.

Please do not apply if you are not eligible for this grant.

Maximum number of applications

An organization may only be the Lead Applicant for ONE application in response to this RFP. 

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.


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.

Every effort has been made to provide accurate and current information; however, the foundation makes no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the content of this RFP and disclaims any and all responsibility, including, but not limited to, any inaccuracies, context errors, or omissions. The foundation shall not be liable for damages associated with user reliance on information provided through this RFP.

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

Model Design and Initiation grants are intended to be manageable for smaller organizations. 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, organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $500,000, (b) fewer than three full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Model Design and Initiation award. Additionally, we expect one FTE to be in place to dedicate time to capacity building efforts.

Intermediaries that are recent recipients of NSI grant funding (Type 1, Type 2, Validation/Impact, Model Design and Initiation) are not eligible to apply to this RFP.

No preferential treatment will be given to organizations on account of previous relationships with the Bill & Melinda 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 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation program officers with no prior relationship with the applicant.

The diversity of partner organizations’ leaders and employees is important, and we are excited to have partners whose teams reflect the school populations with whom they aspire to work.

All applicants must meet the eligibility criteria 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, Latinx 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 support continuous improvement in schools.



How should we incorporate our organization’s response to COVID-19 in our application?

We’ve set up some space in the application where you can provide information about your model for supporting schools shifting in response to the challenges of COVID-19. The implications of COVID-19 on your work need not be confined to this section only.

How should we account for potential impacts on staffing as a result of COVID-19?

We are supporting our grantees, where possible, by increasing flexibility in their grants to allow them to respond to unanticipated needs. Should you receive Model Design and Initiation funding, you will work with your Program Officer to plan for these and other needs as they arise.

About the Application

What is the deadline to submit my application?

All applications must be submitted online by 12 p.m. Pacific Time on July 10, 2020. Heavy loads on our website may make it hard for you to submit your application that morning. Please aim to submit early to avoid missing the deadline due to technical problems. We begin reviewing applications that day and we are typically unable to extend the application deadline.

What information do I need to include in my application?

Please read our grantmaking eligibility and guidelines carefully.

Be sure to respond to the specific questions asked. Do not skip any questions and make sure you upload the required attachments in the right places. The attachments are important and if you do not have relevant documents to share from your previous work, this probably is not the right funding opportunity for you. Be sure to respect student privacy and all applicable laws.

What are your selection criteria? Is there a rubric?

We are not publishing a rubric as we have found that this may lead some applicants to express their work in inauthentic ways. We want to hear you speak about your work in your own words.

As noted earlier, we’re interested in building the capacity of organizations with deep roots in their local communities to contribute to the implementation of continuous improvement processes that maximize the impact of evidence-based interventions in schools, leading to improved student outcomes for Black, Latinx, and low-income students.

You should be able to demonstrate that you understand the strengths and challenges of the Black, Latinx, and low-income students in the communities in which you typically work, and that your capacity building priorities are logical, achievable, and consistent with your mission to serve those students.

What type of applicants are you looking for?

We don’t have a specific “type” of applicant in mind and are open to a range of institutions. We particularly welcome Lead Applicants that we have never funded before, as well as organizations led or staffed by minorities who understand the experience of the Black, Latinx and low-income students we seek to serve.


Are organizations outside of the USA eligible for funding? What about US States and Territories?

This work is part of our US Program and, as such, only organizations focused on America’s public schools and based in the USA and its sovereign states and territories are eligible for funding. Organizations working in the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are eligible for funding.

Get Help

Can I contact you with questions?

Yes. Please email us questions about this RFP at

I am an existing Gates Foundation US Program grantee. Can my Program Officer help me with my application?

We have chosen not to provide extra help to our existing grantees. We want to ensure that applicants who have no access to the Gates Foundation get the same level of support for their application as those who already have access. This means all information to support applications can be found on this page. If you have a specific question, please email