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DNR Spark Grants Program Partnership

Frequently Asked Questions

Michigan philanthropy has a strategic opportunity to help the DNR advance its equity goals—as intended by ARPA—and limit the barriers to access by helping DNR: 

  • Target historically under-resourced communities. 
  • Make the grant review process simple and linear, when possible, thereby putting trust and resources in the hands of community partners closest to the work and the people served. 
  • Infuse community input and provide equity-focused technical assistance that reflects the values and desires of the underserved residents in project designs. 
  • Support under-resourced communities to ensure the capacity to be competitive, to implement their work with success and to provide quality maintenance over time.  

Community foundations can be a catalytic component of this program, working alongside local leaders to develop and execute strategies that advance equitable outcomes, e.g., elevating community voice, providing or connecting them with technical assistance opportunities, making considerations of local capacities and providing a statewide network of partners to problem-solve collectively.  

Through CMF’s partnership with the DNR, select community foundations are being invited to lead in their capacity as informed and trusted local conveners, resource providers and technical assistance brokers for local applicants with the goal of equitably distributing the Spark Grants. These community foundations – known as Regional Collaborative Leads (RCLs) – will work with local units of government, residents and other stakeholders in DNR-identified opportunity communities to ready application submissions for potential funding through the $25 million in DNR Spark funding to be administered by CMF.   

CMF member community foundations in these regions may apply for funding and technical assistance to support local planning and implementation efforts. Specifically, community foundations can request support from CMF to: 

  • Convene local public sector stakeholders, community-based organizations and community members to identify community needs. 
  • Support the development of equity-based and locally/regionally-informed parks and recreation development plans. 
  • Broker technical assistance to strengthen applicants seeking Spark Grants support. 
  • Leverage public and private sector resources to develop long-term sustainability plans for Spark Grants funded parks and recreation programs and projects. 

This partnership is designed to provide up to $25 million to support communities seeking to align private and one-time federal funding to develop sustainable, healthy public spaces. Nearly $3 million in additional funding is available to support technical assistance, local convening, communication and evaluation of the local efforts. When combined with other CMF member investments in the program through the CMF Statewide Equity Fund, we project that more than $28 million will be available to select communities to build healthy indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities for children and families who have been long overlooked. 

This grant opportunity is possible because of the Building Michigan Together Plan, signed in March 2022, which included a historic infusion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding in our state and local parks. The DNR is receiving $65 million in ARPA dollars; a portion of those funds will be granted to communities through the DNR’s process. For the remaining dollars, the DNR will grant CMF $27.5 million in ARPA funds to support the local communities involved in the program. Of that, $25 million will be earmarked for subgrants to local governmental entities to implement local parks and recreation resources. 

Another critical component of the CMF/DNR partnership is the investment of philanthropy in the overall program implementation, capacity building of local communities to access and administer the Spark Grants, and the potential local co-investment to sustain the awarded Spark Grants. Beyond the ARPA funding, $1.1 million in private sector resources has been budgeted to support the launch and management of the program, committed through CMF members participating in the SEF. 

Most of 2023 will be focused on community convening and planning. Community foundations applying for funding through CMF have been notified of an “intent to apply” opportunity. Questions about this process can be directed to Regina Bell, Chief Policy Officer. All awarded grant funds must be committed to third-party contracts by December 31, 2024, and all grant-funded projects must be completed by September 30, 2026. 

It is important to note that for funding coming through CMF as part of the partnership with the DNR, a CMF member community foundation must be involved. 

Further, per DNR Spark program guidelines, eligible applicants must be legally constituted to provide public recreation and can include: 

  • Units of government or public authorities. 

  • Federally designated tribes. 

  • Regional or statewide organizations. 

  • Consortiums of local units of government or public authorities. 

Projects must support and enhance neighborhood features that promote improved health and safety outcomes or address increased repair or maintenance needs for public facilities that would result in significantly greater use in local communities adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects may include: 

  • Development, renovation or redevelopment of public recreation facilities. 

  • Provision of recreation-focused equipment and programs in public recreation spaces. 

  • Indoor recreation opportunities. 

Land acquisitions ARE NOT eligible. Additionally, grants that only focus on studying, planning, designing and/or engineering are NOT allowed. (An awarded grant will allow for up to 25% to be eligible for planning and design services, but it must be part of an infrastructure-based project.) Lastly, DNR divisions like the Parks and Recreation Division are NOT eligible for Spark funding. 

The DNR has shared the following scoring criteria, which notes that applications addressing existing park infrastructure will be given priority. Consideration will be given to applications that complete critical trail projects or provide access to new opportunities that currently don’t exist within a local community. Scoring will be based on the following criteria: 

  • Public benefit and anticipated outcomes 
  • Financial and social considerations
  • Access to project site 
  • Access to new opportunities for people of all abilities 
  • Clarity of scope and ability to execute 
  • Renovation and long-term maintenance 

Technical assistance support provided through CMF granting will be prioritized in the following manner:   

  1. Projects in opportunity communities that were awarded funding and need support with equity considerations in project implementation.  
  2. Projects in opportunity communities that applied for funding in the first round of the DNR Spark program but were not awarded funding.   
  3. Opportunity communities that did not apply for funding in the first round of DNR Spark program.  

Funding for projects that apply through the CMF-administered DNR Spark program will be granted to local government entities. A grant review committee will be established to assess project proposals based on the above evaluative criteria with emphasis placed on financial and social consideration and access to new opportunities for people of all abilities.  

CMF has confirmed participation interest from 18 community foundations that serve the DNR Spark Grants “opportunity communities” – as shown below:

  • Albion Community Foundation
  • Bay Area Community Foundation
  • Berrien Community Foundation 
  • Chippewa County Community Foundation 
  • Community Foundation for Muskegon County 
  • Community Foundation for Northeastern Michigan 
  • Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan 
  • Community Foundation of Greater Flint 
  • Community Foundation of St Clair County
  • Four County Community Foundation  
  • Fremont Area Community Foundation 
  • Jackson Community Foundation 
  • Lapeer County Community Foundation 
  • Lenawaee Community Foundation 
  • Midland Area Community Foundation
  • Saginaw Community Foundation 
  • Sanilac Area Community Foundation 
  • South Haven Area Community Foundation

This list has been cross-referenced with the applicants and awarded communities from the Round 1 Spark Grant cycle to inform how we might best provide coordination and technical assistance support as the CMF-supported program proceeds.