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Sprout Fund to End Operations with Final Round of Grants

The Sprout Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting grassroots community projects in Pittsburgh, will “sunset” after 17 years and $7 million in grants.




Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of The Sprout Fund, kids around with the goats that clear lots infested with knotweed thanks to support from the fund for  Allegheny Goatscape | Photo by Renee Rosensteel

Grassroots community projects such as Bike Pittsburgh, Tree Pittsburgh, Remake Learning and Allegheny Goatscape all have roots in the Sprout Fund. The nonprofit group that has made more than 1,100 microgrants totalling $7 million to support creative people with innovative ideas since its inception 17 years ago is planning a last round of grants before ending operations in June.

“Sprout’s vision to take smart chances on the ideas of passionate people—to invest in their ideas, creativity, and innovation and to put the decisions about resources directly into their hands — has proven transformative. We see the principles Sprout championed inspiring others to provide seed funding mechanisms and networks of support for tomorrow’s great ideas,” said co-founder Matt Hannigan in a statement. “Now that this cultural shift has taken root, Pittsburgh is stronger and more resilient than ever. It’s a good time to sunset.”

Part of the sunset process is for Sprout to give the rest of its money away. Its final grants, known as the Sprout Legacy Awards, will be at least 25 gifts of $1,000 apiece to individuals whom the fund described as those “who best embody Sprout’s philosophy of empowering others to work within their communities to solve issues that impact them every day.”

Hanningan and co-founder Cathy Lewis Long came to Sprout from the administration of former Allegheny County executive Jim Roddey. Sprout was part of Roddey's New Idea Factory and got its start-up funding from grants by the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Heinz Endowments. Partnerships were eventually formed with the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, Pittsburgh's R.K. Mellon and Grable Foundations, all which funded Sprout over the years.

“Sprout didn’t get here alone. We are grateful to the foundations, our dedicated staff, our past and present board of directors, and all of the community members and incredible people that have made Sprout’s impact possible. Their passionate, tireless work will echo for generations,” said Lewis Long.

“Cathy, Matt and the team at Sprout have always been incredibly thoughtful and strategic about their work,” Jennifer Humke, senior program officer at MacArthur, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I commend them — closing down an organization when it has good standing in a community and hasn’t been prompted by some kind of a crisis is rare, and I would imagine emotionally difficult to do. I know they did not make the decision lightly. They are leaving behind an important legacy, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.”

Lewis Long and Hannigan say that while Sprout is going away, they aren't going anywhere.

“The challenges Pittsburgh faces today are different from what they were in 2001 and require a mix of present-day solutions and newer, bigger ideas,” said Lewis Long. “Matt and I remain committed to this work. Our hearts are with the people and communities of Pittsburgh, who have humbled us with their support and confidence and have made our work so incredibly meaningful and rewarding. Helping others become catalysts for positive change has defined our organization for the past 17 years and it will continue to define us—as community members—as we approach our next opportunities.”

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