DNR Spark Grants Program Partnership
CMF, in collaboration with the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) and through our Statewide Equity Fund (SEF), is working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a unique opportunity to equitably guide resources to expand access to healthy indoor and outdoor recreation programs for traditionally marginalized communities.
As of April 2023, CMF – as fiduciary and administrator of the grants – entered into a formal partnership with the DNR to equitably distribute a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in the DNR’s Michigan Spark Grants program.
Administered by the DNR, Michigan Spark Grants will support projects that provide safe, accessible public recreation facilities and spaces to improve people’s health, introduce new recreation experiences, build on existing park infrastructure and make it easier for people to enjoy both indoor and outdoor recreation. The ultimate goal of this program is to improve healthy spaces in communities currently experiencing significant levels of health, social and economic disparities and with little or no previous parks and recreation investment through increased public and local/regional private sector support and technical assistance.
To create this new grantmaking model, the DNR sought advice and perspective from an advisory group composed of philanthropy, regional government planning, parks and recreation, and other grant making entities with relevant expertise. What emerged was the framework for a grant program with a more equity-focused application and evaluation process, a new approach that gives funding priority to “opportunity communities” – areas that lack public recreation spaces and have a high proportion of households that are struggling financially and a high number of residents with physical and mental health disparities.
The new partnership is aimed at removing barriers facing these nearly 40 opportunity communities in not only accessing funding, but also the needed support services for expanding a community’s capacity to successfully manage and implement recreation projects.
“We were very encouraged by the willingness of the DNR to do something different to further broaden access to recreational opportunities,” said J.J. Tighe, director of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Parks & Trails Initiative, and a member of the Michigan Spark Grants advisory group. “We had to find creative solutions that didn’t just create a new grant program, but could instead leverage the locally based resources of community foundations to provide grantees with additional support, remove barriers and create the conditions for each community to have long-term success.”
Recognizing that CMF – representing Michigan’s united, diverse philanthropic community, and an original member of the Michigan Spark Grants advisory group – has the structure and network in place through its members to engage and support the opportunity communities, the DNR forged a groundbreaking partnership with CMF to align $27.5 million in Michigan Spark Grant funds (the balance of the program’s original $65 million allocation) through CMF member foundations to support communities in developing and implementing their local public recreation projects.
Through CMF member community foundations, CMF will invite opportunity communities to participate in an intent-to-apply process in the summer of 2023.
Questions? Please contact Regina Bell, Chief Policy Officer at CMF.
“Through this innovative partnership with the DNR, Michigan philanthropy will help to ensure community voice is centered in this work to advance equitable and transformative change for opportunity communities across the state. We look forward to supporting our foundation members as we collectively work to expand access to recreation spaces and programs for communities that have been historically under-represented and under-resourced.”
-Kyle Caldwell, CMF president and CEO
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the goal of this partnership?
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.
How are Michigan community foundations being invited to engage in this partnership?
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.
What is the projected total funding available through this opportunity?
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.
What is the funding stream for this program?
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.
What is the timeline for this program?
Most of 2023 will be focused on community convening and planning. Community foundations applying for funding through CMF will be notified of an “intent to apply” opportunity in early summer 2023. 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.
Who is eligible to apply, and what types of projects are eligible?
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.
How will projects be selected? What are the scoring criteria?
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:
- Projects in opportunity communities that were awarded funding and need support with equity considerations in project implementation.
- Projects in opportunity communities that applied for funding in the first round of the DNR Spark program but were not awarded funding.
- 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.