Strengthening the Evidence Base for Catalytic Capital

Grant Proposal Guidelines


The C3 grantmaking program’s recent research and analysis of market needs and available resources (see the recent article from Havey Koh at FSG in the Stanford Social Innovation Review for more details) has sharpened our perspective on investors’ key challenges and questions in relation to catalytic capital, and the gap between what knowledge is needed and what is currently available.

A critical question facing investors is why they should deploy catalytic capital. While there is some available evidence and knowledge responding to these questions at a high level, we believe that investors need a greater depth of detailed evidence and analysis, drawn from a diverse range of specific sectors, geographies and asset classes.

Grant Guidance

The C3 grantmaking program is seeking to support research to strengthen the evidence base by responding to these key questions in a way that is relevant and accessible for a wide range of investor audiences, and that draws on the historical experience of catalytic capital around the world, including recent efforts undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

In recognition of the diversity of the global catalytic capital landscape, the C3 grantmaking program intends to make a number of grants within this stream of work. This will also allow the C3 grantmaking program to support multiple investigators who could bring a range of distinct capabilities and perspectives to these questions. We expect that each grant will bring a focus on the case for catalytic capital in one or more specific segments of the wider landscape (e.g., specific sectors, geographies, asset classes) in order to achieve the depth of analysis and insight required for truly robust and compelling evidence in each context.

Each grant in this stream should respond to some combination of the following questions within its chosen context(s):

  1. Why is catalytic capital needed, with reference to specific market opportunities and gaps?
  2. Where has catalytic capital been deployed into those market gaps, which investors have been active, and what are the roles and motivations of investors?
  3. How has catalytic capital been deployed, including terms of investment, risk-return expectations, the type and degree of subsidy provided, and approaches to mobilizing conventional capital (either simultaneously or over time)?
  4. What have catalytic capital investments contributed to in terms of positive outcomes (such as greater social and economic inclusion) compared to other forms of capital?
  5. What have catalytic capital investments contributed to in terms of negative / undesirable outcomes (such as market distortion or exacerbated inequities)?

In responding to these questions, we believe that research could usefully draw on investment experience that is both deemed to have been successful, as well as unsuccessful.

Across the portfolio of grants that will be awarded under this stream of work, the C3 grantmaking program will be seeking to have wide coverage of the diverse catalytic capital landscape, including across the following dimensions:

  • Roles of catalytic capital (i.e., seeding, scaling, sustaining – see Catalytic Capital: Unlocking Investment and Impact)
  • Investor types
  • Asset classes
  • Investee business sectors
  • Geographies (across both Global North and Global South)
  • Types of impact (across both social and environmental areas)
  • Timeframe (across both older and longer historical time periods, and more recent time periods)
Grantee Eligibility and Preferences

The C3 grantmaking program invites applications from any organization or consortium with an interest in and commitment to this work, and the requisite expertise and capabilities. This includes but is not limited to academic researchers, non-profits, and advisory services providers.

The C3 grantmaking program strongly prefers that work focusing on the Global South be conducted by organizations or personnel based in the Global South.

The C3 grantmaking program is open to receiving applications from both individual applicants and consortia. It is hoped that consortium proposals would have greater potential to cover a wider section of the catalytic capital landscape (as described above), as well as illuminate broader patterns and inter-relationships.

Intended Outputs and Timeframe

The work under each grant should result in a published report that is disseminated widely, enabled by the use of an appropriate Creative Commons license. The C3 grantmaking program encourages proposals that also include an approach to engaging key stakeholders in the development of the content (e.g., organization may propose a series of inclusive virtual convenings or workshops throughout the project in order to inform, test and refine the key insights and gather diverse perspectives).

The C3 grantmaking program would prefer proposals that also intend to produce one or more supplementary outputs (containing summary points, or highlights) that can be easily and widely accessed by the investor community, in order to facilitate greater uptake.

Work should be completed within 12 months of the grant award.

Proposal Requirements

Each grant proposal should describe the following:

  1. Focus of work
    • The existing and historical deployments of catalytic capital and related developments that will be studied
    • A description of the specific context and segment of the catalytic capital landscape on which the work will focus
    • Relevance of this work for the C3 grantmaking program objectives and catalytic capital providers
    • Additionality and complementarity to the existing base of evidence and knowledge (i.e., articulation of how this will advance the field)
    • Articulation of the impact of the research on the development of the impact investing market
  2. Approach and outputs
    • Key research questions
    • Methodology for research and analysis
    • Access to and management of required research data
    • Target audience
    • Specification of public outputs and approach to stakeholder engagement
    • Approach to learning together with C3 strategic partners and other program grantees
  3. Applicant
    • Lead researcher(s) and key team members
    • Relevant experience and capabilities of individuals and organization(s)
    • (If a consortium) Consortium structure, roles and relationships
  4. High-level workplan and timeframe
  5. Budget
    • Resources required
    • Co-funding or other available resources
  6. Timing
    • Timing for completion of research

Each proposal should not exceed 10 pages in length. Supplementary information (e.g., key team biographies) can be provided in an appendix not exceeding 5 pages in length.

Budget Guidance

Proposals up to $300,000 will be considered. It is expected that most grants will be in the $75,000 – $150,000 range. Awards on the upper end of the range would require a complex research objective that covers multiple actors and/or multiple sectors.

Selection Criteria

The C3 grantmaking program will consider the following in reviewing applications with a view to making grant awards:

  • Alignment with objectives, requirements and preferences set out in this document
  • Level of additionality and complementarity to existing base of evidence and knowledge, and relevance and value for investor audiences
  • Contribution to coverage of the diverse global landscape of catalytic capital
  • Access to distinct and valuable sources of investment data and practitioner experience
  • Focus on, and integration of, beneficiary perspective and voice where appropriate[1]
  • Track record, expertise, capabilities and location of the applicant and relevant personnel
  • Cost-effectiveness of proposal

Commitment to learning together with C3 strategic partners and other program grantees.

[1] Catalytic capital is distinguished, among other things, by its intention and willingness to respond to the actual needs and situations of investment beneficiaries, adjusting expectations and approaches as required in order to better support beneficiaries towards greater impact. It would therefore be incomplete to only describe or analyse any practice of catalytic capital solely through the lens of capital providers, i.e., the supply side. We would therefore wish to see that any proposed research and analysis draws on input from and data on beneficiaries (e.g., impact enterprises, communities served), and appropriately considers and represents their roles in the achievement of impact through catalytic capital.


Applications should be received by the C3 grantmaking program officer via the New Venture Fund portal. C3 partners will begin grant review and decision-making on Monday, February 1st, 2021 but proposals will be accepted until 5pm Central Daylight Time on March 31st, 2021. The C3 Strategic Partners completed the decision-making process and finalized grant awards by October, 2021.  Read more about the projects that received funding here.

Application Portal

Click here to access the application.

View Frequently Asked Questions here, which will be updated over time. If your question cannot be answered through the FAQ site, please submit your questions to Emily Duma, the C3 grantmaking program officer.

The photo above features the CareAcademy team. CareAcademy is a digital training platform for home health care professionals and an investee of Impact America Fund II, an impact fund that provides venture capital to early-stage companies advancing economic agency for low- and moderate-income communities of color in the U.S. Impact America Fund II is one of the MacArthur Foundation C3 Field Partnerships –  learn more about this and other MacArthur C3 investments here.