The J.M.K. Innovation Prize

J. M. Kaplan Fund

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Anticipated deadline: Apr 30, 2021 (Pre proposal)

Grant amount: Up to US $175,000

Fields of work: Immigration & Refugee Rights Criminal Justice System Reform Historic Preservation Environment

Applicant type: For-Profit Business, Nonprofit

Funding uses: Project / Program

Location of project: United States

Location of residency: United States

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About the Innovation Prize

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize seeks out innovators who are spearheading transformative early-stage projects in the fields of the environment, heritage conservation, and social justice.

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is open to non-profit and mission-driven for-profit organizations that are tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation. In 2019, we will award up to ten Prizes, each including a cash award of $150,000 over three years, plus $25,000 for project expenses, for a total award of $175,000. Awardees also receive guidance through the Fund and its resource network, providing tools and training for ascendant change agents.

For more than three generations, The J.M. Kaplan Fund has provided catalytic funding for projects in their early stages of development. Whether a pilot project, a new organization, or a nascent initiative, work supported by the Fund has involved a certain measured risk that ultimately led to large-scale, transformative results. We launched the J.M.K. Innovation Prize in 2015 to leverage this legacy of catalytic grant-making in the field of social innovation. Currently on a biennial schedule, the Prize has to date funded twenty wildly creative solutions to social and environmental challenges, ranging from high-tech efforts to restore imperiled coral reefs, to the nation’s first farm labor trust. Each awardee takes a visionary approach to a societal need, working within one or more of the Fund’s three program areas:

  • The Environment: Protecting natural resources and reducing the impacts of climate change.
  • Heritage Conservation: Conserving the places that communities care about most.
  • Social Justice: Supporting just alternatives and reforms to the criminal justice and immigration systems.

Tailored for Early-Stage Social Entrepreneurs

We know there is a scarcity of funding for untested ideas being piloted in the social innovation field. The Prize is designed to fill this gap in innovation philanthropy, supporting ideas that other funders may deem too risky or too small. We also know that early-stage innovators need the freedom to seize opportunities when and where they arise. The Prize’s unrestricted funding offers this flexibility, letting awardees deploy resources where they are most needed, whether investing in core projects, hiring staff, or just keeping the lights on.

We know each organization must follow its own path to achieving a change-making vision. With its three-year period, the Prize gives awardees room to evolve at their own pace, with an infrastructure of support tailored to their specific needs as early-stage innovators.

An Innovation Community

Beyond the cash award, the Innovation Prize provides tools to help turn ideas into action. Over the three-year Prize term, we bring awardees together for two convenings each year. Each of these meetings, spotlighting a different awardee’s organization, offers opportunities for peer learning and mentoring from experts in organizational development, board cultivation, media coaching, leadership training, and more. From West Virginia coal country to Monterey, California, our awardees have shared powerful learning moments, embedded in one another’s work and reflecting on their role as change agents.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • Individuals or teams representing non-profit or for-profit organizations are eligible to apply for the 2019 J.M.K. Innovation Prize.
  • The Prize will be awarded to projects or ideas that:
    • represent a game-changing answer to a clearly identified need;
    • are innovative within one or more of the Fund’s three program areas;
    • demonstrate the potential to develop an actionable pilot or prototype with Prize funding; and
    • hold out the promise to benefit multiple individuals, communities, or sectors through a clearly articulated theory of change.
  • Some cutting-edge social innovation can be more impactful using market solutions, but may require philanthropic seed capital. We thus welcome mission-driven for-profit organizations to apply for the 2019 Prize, with funding provided in the form of philanthropic grants rather than an equity stake in the company.

This page was last reviewed May 22, 2019 and last updated May 22, 2019