What's the Deal With That Shower of Big Grants From Citi to Urban Nonprofits?

As the philanthropic arm of one of the nation’s great mega-banks, the Citi Foundation has plenty of money to spare. Its latest venture, Community Progress Makers, is a $20 million initiative to fund “visionary organizations” working on solutions to urban challenges. On May 18, Citi announced the list of grantees: 40 nonprofit organizations located in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, the Bay Area, and Washington D.C.

Each winner receives $500,000 in general operating support over two years, contingent on meeting organization-specific goals. Winners also get technical assistance and the chance to share strategies with other grantees. See here for a full list of who’s being funded.

That's nice money if you can get it. So who made the cut and why? 

The list of winners includes lots of groups that have pulled in money before from Citi or other banks that invest in economic development issues in U.S. cities. A number of a community development corporations won grants, as well as other groups focused on housing. Youth and workforce development are other priority areas of grantees. 

A goal of these big general operating support grants, according to Citi, is to “build a cohort of flagship partnerships." We've seen that strategy before with other foundations that aim to bolster the fiscal health and capacity of their key collaborators. Last year, for example, the Ford Foundation said it would give more general support to the "anchor organizations" that it sees as key partners to advancing its mission. The Citi Foundation seems to be doing something similar here. Most of its chosen Community Progress Makers are established in their fields, with long track records.

Another through line with these winners is that they tend to be very collaborative in ways that appeal to Citi, which likes forging public-private partnerships and other strategic alliances.  It's clear that the folks at the Citi Foundation are big believers in collective impact. The foundation states, "There is a growing recognition that working comprehensively and collectively across silos—with residents, nonprofit partners, businesses and municipal agencies—can dramatically increase the pace of progress for all."

Maybe the best way to understand the Community Progress Makers initiative is to set it in context of the Citi Foundation's other signature initiatives.

One of those programs, City Accelerator, is a well-funded partnership with Living Cities to help local governments develop new and more effective tactics. Participant cities examine entrenched poverty and look at ways to make government itself more efficient, one area where learning from the private sector might be wise. The program encourages sharing and collaboration between cities to spread good ideas.


Pathways to Progress, the Citi Foundation’s other domestic initiative, focuses on positive outcomes for young people from low-income urban backgrounds. It’s a $50 million, three-year initiative (started in 2014) that aims to provide educational and economic opportunities to 100,000 youth across the country.

We’ve covered how Citi’s interest in career readiness may involve some self-interest: Citi and other large banks are very anxious to ensure that ensure that young kids of color in America's top cities are ready for the workforce. Bank work is a surprisingly large section of urban employment. Corporate employers in general have an interest in well-prepared entry-level employees, especially as many older workers retire.


Pathways to Progress dovetails quite nicely with Community Progress Makers. Many of the Community Progress Maker grantees work with low-income youth and families, helping them secure better job prospects. The list’s many community development organizations also impact this space.

The Citi Foundation's multiple-front campaign for urban innovation and development is exciting, and the different pieces fit together nicely here. But the financial commitments are ultimately modest compared to the challenges the bank is taking on in urban America. Its grant outlays are also modest compared to Citi's resources. This is a corporation that, in 2015, had a net income of $17.2 billion on revenues of $76.4 billion.