Innovation Challenge


United Way of Greater New Bedford (UWGNB) has been investing in the South Coast since 1953, mobilizing resources to build stronger, more connected communities. Through our work, and the work of many similar organizations throughout the country, we know that families with high quality, affordable early education and childcare solutions are more successful in their professional lives, and by extension, their potential for economic mobility improves. Experience during the pandemic added to our knowledge by showing that disruptions in early education and care solutions result in caregivers leaving the workplace with devastating effects on their families, their employers, and the region as a whole. Thus, investments in early childhood development and education solutions enable families to begin building generational wealth and, through their efforts, lift the region.

There are substantial gaps in the availability, quality, and affordability of early childhood education and care. Adding to the complexity of the issue, there is a shortage of educators due to low wages for a highly demanding job. Data from the Center for American Progress shows just how unsustainable this situation is throughout Massachusetts. The average annual childcare tuition for two children in center-based care is $43,000, far exceeding the national average of around $24,000. Simultaneously, our workforce and economy continue to be impacted by the childcare crisis, with more than 60,000 Massachusetts parents reporting job changes due to problems with childcare. And childcare workers continue to be severely underpaid, with an average hourly wage of just $18. Fortunately, the Commonwealth recognizes the crisis and is making a significant investment in stabilizing the early education and childcare sector. Governor Maura Healey’s FY25 budget proposes a $1.5b investment in early education and care that will serve as an important step toward a childcare system that is accessible for all families in the Commonwealth.

Innovation Challenge Grant Details:

Most of the organizations in Greater New Bedford providing social services are focused on day-to-day operations and sustaining existing programs. They often do not have time, opportunities, or resources to take a step back and consider new approaches to strategically address their challenges by exploring new ways to do their work with greater efficiency or impact. Increased state funding should supplement immediate operational needs in the early education and childcare sectors, and UWGNB wants to give local organizations the wherewithal to seize this moment to address their innovation challenges to make long-lasting, system-wide changes. Ideally, organizations will work collaboratively to experiment, pilot, and test new ideas and approaches that can lead to breakthroughs in the wellbeing of preschool age children and, by extension, their families.

Specifically, UWGNB is offering the Innovation Challenge to support innovative, collaborative projects that link access to early childhood education and care to increasing economic mobility for caregivers. UWGNB defines an “innovative” approach as a novel solution that is more effective, efficient, collaborative, and/or sustainable than current solution(s).

Some examples of innovative projects happening in other communities include:

  • The Childcare Entrepreneur Steward Training Program in Fitchburg, MA aims to increase the number of culturally competent (in-home) family childcare programs to increase availability of high quality early learning experiences for children in their city.
  • The Mayor’s Scholarship fund in Lawrence, MA allows families who do not have a state childcare subsidy to access affordable, subsidized, licensed childcare.  Instituted in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, this fund allows parents to return to the workforce and have a safe place for their children.
  • In searching for a solution to raise teacher compensation without burdening families with increased tuition, Friends Center in New Haven, CT developed a unique and collaborative approach to meet one of teachers’ highest expenses — housing. Launched in January 2021, their Teacher Housing Initiative offers eligible teachers free housing as a salaried benefit.

The Innovation Challenge Fund will inspire equally novel approaches here in Greater New Bedford.



Application Process & Timeline

Projects chosen will be experimental in their outlook, seeking to learn from both their successes and mistakes. Projects selected for the Innovation Fund might include:

  • Reimagining the design of a program or services
  • Building capacity within an organization or across the sector
  • Leading cross-sector collaborations

Applicants may apply for up to 3 years of funding, with one year of funding guaranteed and funding in year 2 and year 3 dependent on the achievement of project milestones. Applicants may apply for up to $100,000 in total. Collaborative projects can apply for up to $175,000.

The following organizations and projects will be eligible for funding:

  • Non-profits, public entities (e.g., schools, hospitals, government, etc.), and for-profits with a social mission; collaborative projects are encouraged.
  • Applications that seek funds for capital expenditures.
  • Applications that seek funding for multiple years.

The following are not eligible for funding:

  • Applications for political purposes, religious purposes, or programs requiring religious participation.
  • Applications that seek support for established programs, programs’ loss of another revenue source, fundraising expenses, or debt reduction.
  • Funding for organizations with programs or activities that are incompatible with the mission of the UWGNB.
  • Applications that do not serve or benefit the Greater New Bedford community.

Applications for the 2024 Innovation Challenge are now closed.


Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs- Eligibility

Yes. Nonprofits with 501c3 status, city and town departments, councils, Boards, schools, and social enterprises are eligible to apply, as long as the project aligns with the mission and impact areas of United Way of Greater New Bedford. Cross-sector collaborations, task forces, and other collaborative efforts are encouraged to apply under an entity that has the capacity to serve as the fiscal sponsor. 

The following types of applications are not eligible for funding:

  • Applications that seek support to maintain ongoing, established programs.
  • Applications for political purposes, religious purposes, or programs requiring religious participation are not eligible.
  • Applications for capital campaigns.
  • Applications requesting compensation for program’s loss of another revenue source.
  • Applications that seek funds for fundraising expenses or debt reduction.
  • Applications for funds to directly benefit an individual or family.
  • Funding for organizations with programs or activities that are incompatible with the mission of the UWGNB, as determined by the UWGNB Board of Directors.
  • Applications that do not serve or benefit the Greater New Bedford community.


Yes. However, you must apply for funding for a new project/program/service.

No. The project must benefit one or more communities within the United Way of Greater New Bedford service area. We serve a total of nine communities, including: New Bedford, Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Freetown, Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham.

Yes. While the hope is to fund smaller pilot or experimental projects that can eventually be scaled, we realize that often multiple funding sources may be necessary to get an innovative pilot off the ground. We do require that you tell us about these funding sources in your application; note them in your budget and describe how those funding sources will be used relative to United Way funding in your budget narrative.

United Way of Greater New Bedford defines “innovative” as a novel approach that is more effective, efficient, collaborative, and/or sustainable than current approaches or solutions. Programs, services, and other types of projects that may result in breakthroughs in early childhood education and care, and by extension, improve economic mobility for caregivers.

Proposals for ongoing, established programs may be better suited for United Way of Greater New Bedford’s Community Impact Grant upcoming open RFP in the March 2024. Please reach out to Sarah Rose at you have any questions about your project before submitting your application.


No. United Way recognizes that the social impact of innovative projects may not occur until down the road. Successful projects will be directly aligned with United Way’s program indicators, but may not move the needle on these indicators before the end of the grant period.

Effective proposals will clearly define what “success” is for that project and how the project will go about measuring that success over the course of the grant period and beyond.


FAQs - Request

Yes. The maximum request is $100,000 for individual organizations and $175,000 for organizations of two or more. The maximum request can spent over one to three years. 

Yes. Applicants may apply for up to 3 years of funding, with one year of funding guaranteed, and funding in year 2 and year 3 dependent on the progress of the project.

FAQs - How to apply

You must submit an electronic copy of your Letter of Interest via United Ways of Greater New Bedford’s CommunityForce website - Paper applications will not be accepted. This is an Innovation Fund after all! Late applications submitted after the deadline – April 12, 2024 11:59pm – will not be accepted.

Based on the Letters of Interest, the Innovator Panel members will invite certain projects to complete a full application, which will be due by June 28, 2024. Interviews will occur throughout the summer and awards will be announced on September 27th.


Applicants must submit their proposals via CommunityForce by April 12, 2024 at 11:59 pm. Finalists will be required to complete a full application by June 28th.  During the summer, select Innovator Panel members will interview finalists. Note that applicants will be required to submit documents about their organization – please review the application well in advance of the application deadline to prepare accordingly. Letters of support from partner organizations will be required.

Yes. The application will require you to upload letters of support from partner organizations participating in the project.

April 12, 2024 at 11:59pm – late applications will not be accepted.


For more information, contact Sarah Rose at 508-994-9625 ext. 218 or