Grand Ideas

Demonstrating how a good idea and a little support can go a long way.

Celebrating a most beloved food with music, poems, and community
Spak Brothers Pizza, April 2016  photo: Ben Filio

How much is $1,000 worth?

Grand Ideas were those thoughts that kept people up at night. The ones that could become something amazing but needed a little support to get started. The Sprout Fund thought those ideas were worth something, so we asked the community, “What’s your Grand Idea? How would you use $1,000 for an innovative community project?”

The $1,000 grants were smaller versions of Seed Awards, supporting individuals and organizations in the Pittsburgh area with innovative approaches to community projects and civic engagement. This micro grant support promoted innovation at the grassroots, taking chances on people and ideas that were most relevant at that point in time. The projects moved fast, requiring the activities to be implemented within approximately a year of receiving the grant support. The quick decisionmaking and funding disbursement process helped to set Sprout’s funding apart from the more strategic, long-term support of more traditional funders and often helped project leaders pilot or test out an idea before bringing it to scale.

While the first round of what would later become known as “Grand Ideas” took place at the end of 2012 as the conclusion of the year-long Social Innovation Exchange, the approach was at play since Sprout’s early years, with aspects of the $1,000 innovation grant concept demonstrated in several other programs in the Sprout funding portfolio. Despite their modest scale, many of these projects were staff favorites that truly left an impact on the communities they served due to their memorable approaches to addressing everyday issues.

Grand Ideas

Program In Brief

Years Active


Total Investment


Funded Projects



What Can You Do with $1,000?

Dozens of Sprout projects demonstrate their creativity and ingenious use of just a little bit of support in this promotional video encouraging applications for Grand Ideas.

Funded Project Highlights

Grand Ideas came in all shapes and forms. With fairly broad funding parameters, mainly constrained by the scope and scale of the project, applicants were encouraged to use this micro grant opportunity to try out creative ideas that encouraged people to take an active role in the civic life of their community.

Art as Civic Action

Art was often used as an appealing, accessible way to highlight crtiical issues to the broader community. This approach supported artists to get actively involved in their communities and also promoted art as something that could, and should, be an important part of every community.

Social Justice & Advocacy

The projects were often prime examples of how to engage the community in addressing a wide range of social, environmental, and economic challenges, enabling people to not only acknowledge issues but actively advocate for positive change.

Making Local Connections

People often comment how Pittsburgh is an urban environment with a small-town feel. Several Grand Ideas bolstered that spirit by helping people connect over everyday occurrences.

Community Skill Sharing

Many project leaders took a page from Pittsburgh history books, encouraging people to embrace the city’s industrial legacy and get their hands dirty by learning new skills from their neighbors.

Examples from Similiar Micro Grant Programs at Sprout

Although not branded as “Grand Ideas,” several other Sprout funding programs also supported community innovation projects and events with grants of $1,000 or less. Follow the links to see all projects funded through these programs.

21st Sensory Mall via Open Engagement

21st Sensory Mall via Open Engagement

Exploring post-mall culture through installations and performances in the nearly abandoned Century III Mall.

Buddy Benches via Change Machine

Buddy Benches via Change Machine

Encouraging students to include their peers during recess and serving as a place for children to go when they don’t have anyone to play with.

Cultural Gumbo via Sprout Sponsorship

Cultural Gumbo via Sprout Sponsorship

Helping New Sun Rising celebrate a decade of building culture and community at Mr. Small’s Theater in Millvale.

Programmatic Activities

With such a large programmatic emphasis on fostering connections, Sprout worked to create a sense of community between prospective applicants, funded project managers, and staff through networking events, project showcases, and applicant support opportunities.

Happy Hour Showcases

Prospective applicants were invited to happy hours to learn more about the funding opportunity and hear about past Grand Ideas projects from the project managers themselves.

Community Event Tabling

Community members planted tiny container herb gardens as they talked with Sprout staff about the funding opportunity, taking home instructions for how to care for their new plants and also how to apply for a grant.

Working Breakfasts

Applicants were encouraged to share their ideas for the Grand Ideas funding opportunity, ask questions about the application process, and receive staff feedback on funding application drafts over breakfast.


Thank you to all those who made this program possible!






  • Cathy Lewis Long 2001-2002
  • Matt Hannigan 2001-2004
  • Mac Howison 2004-2016
  • Sandra Hartkopf 2012-2014
  • Diana Avart 2015-2016