Program Design

Comprehensive planning strategies to coordinate and inform the various funding program components.


Take the time to develop a project understanding and approach before you dive into designing a new funding program. This will allow the key components of the program to be developed in a strategic way that informs the entire process. You’ll also consider any likely barriers to success before you encounter them during your implementation.

Thinking Questions

  • What are your goals for the program?
  • Are you starting from scratch or are there already existing programs that you can model aspects of your program from?
  • What kinds of non-financial assistance does the target audience need?
  • Who will take the overall lead for running the program?
  • Will this be an ongoing program or a one time request for proposals?

Getting Started

Since this is the first phase of the process, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with all of the components in the lifecycle of a typical catalytic funding program:

We’ll guide you through each of these, but it is important to consider all of the different pieces as part of one comprehensive funding program that strategically fit together from the start.


With program stakeholders, identify key decision points for the program, including the grant term, amount, and eligibility criteria. During this process, it is important to not only consider the outgoing grants but also the staff time, marketing and event costs, documentation, and other costs and time allocations required to fully implement the program. At a minimum, the program specification should include the following:

  • Overall final program design, including budget, timeline, and staff/contractor roles and responsibilities;
  • Recommendations for ideal characteristics of supported proposals to be included in the program prospectus and any limitations on applicant eligibility;
  • Considerations for prospective applicant support strategies; and,
  • Plans for engaging with decisionmakers, including consideration of reading expectations, scoring rubrics, and participation.

A typical funding program requires approximately 3 months to do outreach, collect and review applications, and make decisions. Additional time may be needed for outreach and applicant support if the program has special requirements or is targeting a new audience. Project implementation varies depending the scope of the funded projects.

Methods We Love

:heart: Community-informed program design. Assuring that the funding program is responsive to the interests of both the grassroots community and major regional stakeholders builds coalitions of support among residents at multiple levels of civic engagement. Moreover, though each project itself yields individual successes, their cumulative output produces a critical mass of innovative approaches designed by and for the communities they aim to serve. For example, a key step in the Belonging Call for Art was to do a listening tour with local organizations that serve immigrant and refugee populations.

:heart: Anticipating likely challenges. Consider barriers that people are likely to encounter and provide solutions that can help alleviate these challenges before they become a roadblock for success. The challenges will vary from program to program, but by having resources for common issues readily available and taking the time to identify barriers within a new program allows community members to take the next steps in their work while learning how to address these issues. Examples of common barriers include identifying fiscal sponsors or people that can provide speciality training/services to help meet program requirements.

Alternative Approaches

:bulb: Replicating a program. A white label program could be a good solution for when a program that needs to be implemented quickly, if there is not enough program staff capacity or funding to develop a custom program, or if it is meant to address that same issue or opportunity as a model program. While Sprout frequently used other funding programs to help inform aspects of its programs, we have never fully replicated a program. However, we often used bits and pieces of others’ work to inform our own custom approach. For example, several key components of the One Northside Neighbor-to-Neighbor program came from the Neighborhood Connections program in Cleveland.

Cautionary Tales

:warning: Building the program as you go. While a program that is developed as it is implemented can still be very successful, there is a much higher likelihood that it will take extra time and effort by program staff along the way. If different components of the program are developed in tandem, the same level of detail and thoughtfulness will be seen throughout the program and it will take half the time to ensure that everything aligns well.

Templates & Downloads