Grant FAQs

General

What type of projects do you fund?

The mission of The Commonwealth Fund is to promote a high performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable, including people with low-incomes, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

The Fund carries out this mandate by supporting independent research on health care issues and making grants to improve health care practice and policy. An international program in health policy is designed to stimulate innovative policies and practices in the United States and other industrialized countries. The Commonwealth Fund actively seeks to support projects on innovative approaches to addressing problems within its areas of focus, working in partnership with professionals and organizations in a range of fields. The Fund's current programs are:

Health Care Coverage and Access
Health Care Delivery System Reform 
International Health Policy and Practice Innovations 
Breakthrough Health Care Opportunities

Within these program areas, preference is given to proposals to clarify the scope of serious and neglected problems; to develop, test, and evaluate the impact of practical, innovative models for addressing such problems; to disseminate tools and models of care that have been proven to be effective; or to analyze the impact of policies and trends on well-defined issues. You can review descriptions of funding priorities and listings of recently approved grants for these program areas by clicking on the program areas above.

What is the average size of your grants? Average duration?

During fiscal year 2011–12, the median award amount for board-level grants, which are awards in amounts greater than $50,000, was $215,944. For small grants, in amounts less than or equal to $50,000, the median award was $33,506. Grant periods range from one month to a few years, depending on the scope of the project. The Fund awards grants that support a complete project period, and not annual, renewable grants.

Do Fund program staff seek out and develop projects, or do you accept unsolicited proposals?

Program staff at The Commonwealth Fund both develop projects with prospective grantees and respond to and fund unsolicited proposals. The Fund maintains goals that 20 percent of funded projects are the result of unsolicited proposals, and 20 percent of funds support projects with investigators who are new to the Fund. These guidelines assure that program staff are always open to new ideas and researchers.

What type of organizations do you fund?

The Fund awards grants to tax-exempt organizations and institutions and public agencies. If an organization does not have 501(c)3 status or other tax-exempt recognition, the Fund will determine whether a grant is possible based on a review of the project and the organization's expertise in conducting the research.

Do you fund for-profit organizations?

Occasionally the Fund enters into contracts with for-profit organizations when a suitable nonprofit research base is not available.

Do you fund international projects?

Yes. Although the majority of the Fund's support is focused on domestic issues, international projects are funded through the Fund's International Program in Health Care Policy and Practice area. The program is dedicated to building an international network of policy-oriented health care researchers, sparking innovative health policy thinking and high-level exchanges, and encouraging comparative research and collaboration.

What is the difference between small grants and board grants?

The difference between board-level and small grants is in the award amount, with board grants being awards in amounts greater than $50,000. Additionally, the process by which board and small grants are approved is different. Board grants are approved at one of the three board meetings held each year (July, November, and April), and are typically in development with Fund program staff for at least four to six months before the board meeting.

Through the Small Grants Fund, decisions are made on a monthly basis. Small grants are closely tied to the Fund's strategic purposes, and enable the foundation to move quickly and flexibly to underwrite targeted work. The letter of inquiry is the starting point for both board-level and small grants.

Does the Fund provide fellowship or scholarship support for individuals?

The Commonwealth Fund supports two fellowship programs—the Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy and Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Minority Health Policy. Outside of these two programs, the Fund is not allowed to provide support for fellowships or scholarships for individuals, or provide any direct grants or assistance to individuals. The Foundation Center provides resources for individuals seeking foundation support.

Application Process

How can I apply for funding? Is there an application form?

The starting point to apply for funding is to submit a letter of inquiry (LOI) through the Fund’s online grants management portal. The Fund does not review full proposals at this stage. Letters of inquiry are acknowledged by email when received. Applicants are typically advised of the results of an initial staff review within two months. Program staff will contact applicants if more detailed information is required.

Please review the Fund’s Guide to the Online Inquiry Application before you register and submit your letter of inquiry.

Are there deadlines for submitting my request for funding?

Letters of inquiry are accepted on a rolling basis; there are no deadlines. Typically, projects recommended for board approval are in development for at least four to six months before a board meeting. The Fund's board meetings are held in July, November, and April of each year. Small grants are approved monthly.

Are there guidelines for developing my application?

At the letter of inquiry stage, if you are making your first approach to the Fund on a particular topic, please follow the guidelines for submitting an online letter of inquiry.

If a Fund program staff member has contacted you to discuss your letter of inquiry and asked that you submit a full proposal and budget, please visit the Applicant and Grantee Resources section of our website, which includes guidelines for developing proposals and budgets. Prospective grantees should not develop a full proposal without specific direction from a Fund program officer, following submission of a letter of inquiry.

How long will it take for my letter of inquiry to be reviewed?

Letters of inquiry are acknowledged when received. The typical initial review could take up to six weeks, although in most cases we are able to respond much sooner.

Is there any other mechanism for approving grants outside Board meetings?

Yes, outside of board meetings, the Fund approves small grants through its Small Grants Fund, where decisions are made on a monthly basis. Small grants are closely tied to the Fund's strategic purposes, and enable the foundation to move quickly and flexibly to underwrite targeted work.

What percentage of overhead will the Fund allow in a grant budget?

The Commonwealth Fund allows overhead to be charged at a rate not to exceed 10 percent of total direct costs. We consider direct costs to be those costs directly related to carrying out the project for which the Fund is providing support (i.e., project staff salaries and fringe benefits, travel, consultants, meeting expenses, office expenses). Subcontracts with an institution and direct educational support (including fellowships, scholarships, tuition, and stipends) are excluded from the indirect cost calculation. The 10 percent allowance is intended to include space rental, furniture, equipment, heat, electricity, accounting services, library services, and the like. If any of these charges is to be listed separately, then the sum of that charge and indirect charge cannot exceed the 10 percent allowance.

Can a grantseeker submit more than one letter of inquiry at the same time—for different projects?

Yes, the Fund will review more than one letter of inquiry from one researcher.

If I receive communication that the Fund will not be able to fund my project, how long before I can re-submit?

It is a good idea to have some contact with the grants management office at the Fund before re-submitting, to determine whether your proposed project fits with the Fund's priorities. You can submit follow-up inquiries electronically on the online application portal.

What if there is uncertainty about the level of the funding request at the letter of inquiry stage?

Uncertainty about budget amounts and sources at the letter of inquiry stage is perfectly fine. At the letter of inquiry stage, be sure to include an estimate of the total budget amount, and state whether you anticipate cofunding. Approximately 28% of the Fund's appropriations over the last 10 years have supported projects with cofunding, and the Fund actively seeks out collaboration through cofunding.

Fund staff will not review full line item budgets at the letter of inquiry stage. If prospective grantees are requested to prepare a full proposal and budget, guidelines are available on the Applicant and Grantee Resources page of the Fund's website.

What if an individual has a project idea that fits with the Fund's program goals, but does not have an institutional base from which to carry out the work?

If an individual who is not affiliated with a particular organization requests funding for a project related to the Fund's major program areas and the project is of interest to Fund staff, then staff will work with the individual to try to identify a suitable grant-receiving organization to house the project and administer the grant, prior to any funding decision.

Budget

Do you have a budget template or sample budgets I can use in developing our budget?

Yes, but please remember that a full budget is not required at the letter of inquiry stage. Applicants who are contacted by Fund staff regarding the development of their letter of inquiry into a full proposal will find budget guidelines and templates available on the Applicant and Grantee Resources page.

Do I need to develop a line item budget?

Yes, the Fund requires a line item budget, with justification, for all projects that are recommended for funding. Remember, the Fund does not require a detailed budget at the letter of inquiry stage.

Is there a limit on the indirect rate?

The Commonwealth Fund allows overhead to be charged at a rate not to exceed 10 percent of total direct costs. We consider direct costs to be those costs directly related to carrying out the project for which the Fund is providing support (i.e., project staff salaries and fringe benefits, travel, consultants, meeting expenses, office expenses). Subcontracts with an institution and direct educational support (including fellowships, scholarships, tuition, and stipends) are excluded from the indirect cost calculation. The 10 percent allowance is intended to include space rental, furniture, equipment, heat, electricity, accounting services, library services, and the like. If any of these charges is to be listed separately, then the sum of that charge and indirect charge cannot exceed the 10 percent allowance.

Do I need to show other project support?

If the Fund is providing only a portion of the funding for the project, the budget should have separate columns both for the entire budget and for the Fund's grant. The source, project period, and amount of other funding should be specified. Letters of commitment from the other funders should also be attached.


Do I need to show in-kind support?

Yes, in-kind support, or support provided by the applicant institution itself, also should be detailed in the budget. The Fund encourages cofunding, which includes in-kind contributions.

Current Grantees

If we already have a grant from the Fund, can we apply for another one?

Yes, current grantees may apply for funding for different projects. For a subsequent phase of a funded project, the grantee should work closely with the program officer to determine whether the Fund will consider additional support, and to agree on the best timing for a proposal.

Can we reallocate funds after a budget is approved?

Yes. Fund Grantees are allowed to make changes in the approved budget, up to $10,000 (line items added or deleted, or transfers among line items amounting to $10,000), without advance approval from the Fund. For amounts greater than $10,000, and for any major changes in project objectives, implementation strategy, key personnel, timetable, or in the approved budget for the project, the grantee should request approval from the responsible Fund officer in writing, and wait for the Fund's approval before such changes are implemented.

Where can I find reporting guidelines?

Visit the Applicant and Grantee Resources web page for reporting guidelines.

We will not be able to finish our project in approved time frame, what should I do?

You should request a no-cost extension, in writing, from the responsible program officer. Please be sure to include a reason for the request. Your request will be reviewed by the program officer and the grants management office. The Fund understands the unpredictable nature of policy research, surveys, data analysis, and applied research, and recognizes that even the best-planned project can encounter delays. At the same time, much of the Fund's projects are timely in the sense that they are designed to have an impact on current policy and priorities, and lengthy delays may affect the final impact they may have. Please be prepared to address this issue as it applies to your project.

What if I have questions about the Fund's grantmaking process that have not been answered here?

Please feel free to contact:

Andrea Landes
Vice President of Grants Management
Telephone: (212) 606-3800
E-mail Inquiries should be directed to grants@cmwf.org.