Rotary Charities believes that in order for our communities to thrive we need to tackle our most entrenched, complex problems at their roots. The roots of complex problems lie in the context, or systems, around them. Many interconnected factors together often end up producing results nobody wants – poverty, obesity, addiction, climate change, health inequities, homelessness. In order to really begin to solve these problems and not just keep treating the symptoms over and over again, we believe we must first accurately see the system around a problem and then develop innovations that change that system so it functions differently. The intended impact of systems change is both durable and broad progress on a complex problem, beyond what any one actor could achieve alone.

Please refer to the 2017-2018 Grant Guidance Document for guidelines and a list of required attachments. Click here to view the 2017-2018 Systems Change Accelerator Grant application questions. Updated versions of these documents will be available soon.


Rotary Charities System Change Accelerator Grants are awards intended to support innovation(s) that target root causes of complex community problems leading to more resilient, equitable and healthy systems. Different results require a different approach. We believe we have the best chance at systems change when we use an intentional, inclusive problem solving process that is different from business as usual. Applicants in this category will apply after they have been coming together with other diverse stakeholders, looked at what may be causing the current levels of the complex problem they are addressing, have found potential leverage points and designed project(s) that will act on those leverage points to change the system that is creating the problem.

Rotary Charities supports all stages of processes like this. However, we are not prescribing any precise approach and are open to hearing about other processes of system innovation that meet our criteria. All aspects of a systems change process – like convening, understanding the challenge, finding root causes and leverage points for change, prototyping and capacity building work can be funded through our Seed Grants (described in this document). Learning about new ways to approach problems like this can be funded through our Changemaker Fellowship (described in this document). We also offer workshops and other learning opportunities throughout the year. You can find out about those by signing up for our newsletter at:

This grant category is meant for teams that have done some significant groundwork together prior to applying. If the concept of systems change is new to you and your initiative, this grant category may seem overwhelming or confusing. To get more familiar with these concepts, you may want to review some of the definitions and resources highlighted at the end of this document. If you are ready to go a little deeper, your team may want to sign up for a free online course called Systems Practice: How to move from Impossible to Impact ( Rotary Charities offers free coaches to teams who are interested in taking the course on demand. Contact Freya Bradford to learn more about that opportunity, or (231) 929-4010 ext. 209.

What complex problems are we interested in?

We are not limited to specific issue areas, but rather open to any that, if addressed, will lead to a more thriving, prosperous region for all. Ideally, you will know the following about the problem you are targeting:

  • The current status of the complex problem – it will be well documented, you will know about how many are experiencing it or are affected by it (so you can know if it is getting better or worse over time)
  • What the typical approach to the problem has been – what has been tried, what’s the “status quo”
  • Why this is a good time to disrupt this status quo. Systems will naturallyuphold the status quo until they have to change. Systems change efforts are most successful when the timing is right for change.


Grants may be for one project, but typically systems change requires a constellation of actions by several organizations aimed at leverage points for the same problem. Grants can be used for innovations that are intended to change systems by shifting the underlying structures that keep problems in place: changes in system processes, policies, resources, information flows, mindsets and power structures. See an example in our Grant Guidance Document.


Systems change as an intentional approach to social change is relatively new. Not many funders and changemakers are organizing their work in this way. We strongly feel that learning together as we go must be a shared commitment. We will not be asking applicants for a detailed list of outcome metrics and an evaluation plan before we will provide funding. However, we will ask you to demonstrate your commitment to learning as we go by designating a Learning Steward from your team and budgeting for her/his time (grant funds and/or match may be used for this person’s time). You are encouraged to designate a Learning Steward from an organization that is not the primary fiscal agent for this proposal.

The Learning Steward will commit to:

  • Join a Community of Practice with other grantees that will meet quarterly (other team members are welcome as well, but not required). The Community of Practice will be a facilitated group focused on learning and co-designed around the needs of the cohort. It will meet quarterly.
  • Work with Rotary Charities staff and consultants to create processes custom to your team that will help you collect information and stories that will document your team’s unique learning journey, and help us all notice early signals of a changing system together.
  • Capture and share your team’s unique learning journey.

Rotary Charities will commit to:

  • Working with Learning Stewards to articulate processes that will help document each team’s learning.
  • Providing skilled facilitation for the Community of Practice that will create a safe space to share and explore successes and challenges.
  • Amplifying each team’s story (with permission) through our new communications strategy. We hope to help inspire others, build the body of knowledge around this type of work, and attract more resources.


We’ve learned from our grantees over the years that projects most likely to achieve long-lasting results involve deep collaboration, resourcefulness and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. We support changemakers who can demonstrate some experience and/or interest in building their capacity in these areas. We do not expect applicants to excel in all criteria. These are aspirational goals and we encourage changemakers to grow into these criteria over time. If an applicant is weaker in an area, it would be viewed favorably if they are honest about that in an application and genuinely want to grow in that area.

Inclusive: “Nothing about me without me.”
Those closest to an issue or opportunity have strong solutions for a way forward. Involve those most affected by an issue or opportunity as well as those who have the most ability to affect change.

Collaborative: “Do what you do best, partner for the rest.”
We are stronger and smarter together. Collaboration can take a variety of forms, from an advisory team to a joint venture where ownership and decision-making are shared.

Resourceful: “Make the most of what the community has”
Creatively leveraging the knowledge, capital and infrastructure that is already available makes for sustainable, relevant initiatives.

Reflective: “Learn from looking out, around and in”
Learning does not take time away from work, weaving learning into the everyday IS the work. We must learn from what is happening globally and nationally; in our local contexts and ecosystem; and within the culture, mindsets and practices of our organizations, teams and ourselves.

Adaptive: “Take action on what you learn”
Building flexibility into strategies helps us use what we are learning to adapt to what’s needed, when it’s needed. Principles of Prototyping and Adaptive Leadership can help.

Aligned: “See & situate your work in relation to others”
Our systems are interconnected and demand interconnected, not piecemeal, solutions – including changemaking and community asset building. Get to know others who are working toward a similar vision. What part of the problem are they most familiar with? Work in ways that complement each other.

Successful grantees will be required to join a Community of Practice with other grantees in this category. The Community of Practice will be a facilitated group focused on learning and co-designed around the needs of the cohort. It will meet quarterly (see section: Learning – A Shared Commitment for more detail).


Eligible applicants for funding include all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, units of government and local school districts serving Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska or Leelanau Counties. Partnerships and networks are encouraged to apply using an eligible organization as a fiduciary.


August 26, 2019


Up to $150,000 total disbursed over 1 to 3 years. Applicant must provide 10% match, from all entities named in the budget (may include a combination of cash and in-kind)


First, contact Freya Bradford to set up a meeting to discuss your initiative: or (231) 941-4010 ext. 209.

You can view grant application portal instructions here. Access the online application HERE.