Seed Award

Providing support when just a small amount of investment has the potential to yield big results in the community.

Opening of The Album Art of Mozelle Thompson
Penn Avenue Arts District, November 2014

Seeding Transformative Change

The Seed Award program was the flagship funding program of The Sprout Fund. More than 300 modest financial awards up to $10,000 supported community-based projects and initiatives at the grassroots level.

The model was the natural outgrowth of the New Idea Factory, which worked in 2000 to develop the ideas of young people (18-40 years old) and contribute to the region’s overall ability to attract and retain its young talent. Seed Award was created as a mechanism to support these and future innovative ideas to make Pittsburgh a better place to live, work, and play.

The program was unique within Southwestern Pennsylvania, with a distinctive approach to facilitating community change and creating social impact through a blend of grantmaking, community engagement strategies, and other forms of support. Seed Award supported, celebrated, and showcased the initiatives of young and creative people in the region.

The program’s cumulative power helped to create a critical mass of positive change for Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities of Allegheny, Fayette, and Greene counties.

Seed Award

Program In Brief

Years Active


Total Investment

$1.9 million

Applications Received


Funded Projects


Average Grant Size


Funded Project Highlights

Seed Award projects were innovative, non-traditional ideas that focused on current issues and challenges faced by the community, inspiring a diverse group of participants to be more involved in their communities and assume leadership roles.

Art, Music, & Performance

Celebrations of local artists through installations, productions, performances, and other art-related experiences.

Buses & Bikes

Initiatives dedicated to improving and advocating for alternative transportation throughout the region.

Dialogue & Political Engagement

Creative ways to engage local residents in the civic life of their neighborhoods, towns, and rural communities.


Events and activities for all ages that highlight the region’s industrious roots.


Projects and programs devoted to biodiversity, air quality, pollution, cleanup, river life, and urban ecology.


Hands-on approaches that bring people together to capture the unique history and identity of the local community.


Attention-grabbing, unique approaches that create a more spontaneous and lively Pittsburgh.

Program Features

The People Behind the Projects

Setting out to establish a new mechanism to seed lasting community change, Sprout championed trailblazers whose innovative ideas had the potential to create transformative change.

Bridging Industries

Project managers and team members represented the diversity of backgrounds, interests, experience, and expertise found in the region.

Building Networks

They joined and created networks—civic, social, and professional—to surround themselves with new people and ideas.

Shifting the Culture

They set trends, took action, and influenced the perceptions of others, building a culture of inclusion and collaboration.

Application Assistance

Because not every prospective applicant was an experienced fundraiser, Sprout implemented a series of optional support services that anyone could use in advance of the application deadline.

Open Application Workshops

We hosted workshops on the second Friday of every month for more than a decade, where anyone could drop in to learn about the process and ask questions.

Draft Review

Staff provided feedback on in-progress applications to help improve projects prior to submission.

Denied Applicant Feedback

If at first they didn’t succeed, applicants could learn what the committee said about their proposal and make edits before trying again.

Community Decisionmaking

Sprout believed that funding recommendations were best made by those that understood the needs of the project’s intended audience intimately and that decisions were rooted in consensus instead of allowing the loudest voice in the room to carry the day.

Jury of Peers

Seed Awards were reviewed by people in the target audience the projects were designed to serve.

Individual Criteria Review

Reviewers judged applications based on established criteria critical to the success of small community projects.

Consensus-Based Decisions

A final meeting allowed committee members to review high-priority projects and make final recommendations for support.

Grantee Support

With service-oriented staff-to-project administration and a peer mentorship program, project managers were assisted in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of their initiatives.

First Project Meetings

In-person meetings helped project leaders get to know program staff, who shared suggestions and feedback from the community-based advisory panel.

Peer Mentorship

Mentors provided customized guidance and support to meet project managers’ needs, promoting project success and leadership potential.

Project Referrals

Active projects were often referred by Sprout staff to complementary projects, services, or individuals in the community to further enhance each project’s strengths.

Spinoff Programs

Grand Ideas

Demonstrated that a little bit of funding and willingness to take a chance on an unproven idea can go a long way when you simply ask, “How would you use $1,000 for an innovative community project?”

Root Award

Helped Seed Awardees scale up by making $25,000 grants available only to former Seed Award recipients for a new proposal with a greater scope than their previously supported project.

Awards in Fayette & Greene

Brought the Seed Award approach to a new geographic area, supporting creative ideas that addressed the needs and opportunities unique to Fayette and Greene counties with $5,000 project grants.


Thank you to all those who made this program possible!






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