A civics education program founded by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor and two other nonprofit groups based in the District are among nine organizations worldwide selected this year for the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
The awards for the nonprofit groups, less well known than the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grants” for individuals, provide as much as $1 million to each institution.
The recipients this year include human rights programs in Mexico City and Berkeley, Calif.; two organizations in New York City and one in Chicago; and a campaign-finance transparency initiative in Helena, Mont., in addition to the three Washington-based winners.
For FrameWorks Institute in the District, the $1 million award will have a major impact on the organization, which has an annual budget of about $4 million, founder and chief executive Susan Nall Bales said.
“There are very few philanthropies in the country that give general support any longer, or that give this kind of support for institution building,” Bales said. Her organization researches communication strategies for talking about social issues — the team of social scientists there came up with the terms “toxic stress” for pediatric development and “heat- trapping blanket” for greenhouse gas effects.
Bales said that most of the money will go into a reserve fund, and some will help create new online classes for scientists and activists to learn how to communicate their work to the public.
Forest Trends, a District-based nonprofit group that manages forest preservation projects worldwide and publishes information on the economics of the environment, will also receive a $1 million grant. Its president, Michael Jenkins, said the award would allow the organization to start new projects as new environmental needs arise, rather than wait to get grants specifically for those projects.
“As a nonprofit, our hardest mountain to climb is to try to get unrestricted donations,” Jenkins said. “It has 10 times the impact for us.”
Dubé said that in a little more than five years, iCivics has signed up more than half of the middle-school social studies teachers in the country to use its free educational games in their classrooms. The organization has just eight employees, she said.
“This is Sandra Day O’Connor’s legacy, so we want it to live in perpetuity. We want it to have life and staying power for a very long time,” Dubé said. The $750,000 award that iCivics received from the foundation is the largest ever for the organization, which has an annual budget of less than $2 million, she said.
“The way that technology can scale at relatively low cost is really amazing,” she said. “And when you do it right, in terms of digital gaming, for example, and make sure that kids get a value out of it, it really can have an effect.”