Spring 2020 Grant Guidelines

Program History & Purpose

The San Diego Foundation Opening the Outdoors (OTO) Program connects, protects and increases equitable access to nature across the county, especially for San Diegans in underserved and park-poor communities. The Foundation believes natural spaces and parks provide a positive symbiotic relationship for people and wildlife. They are venues for physical activity, promoting health and wellness, reducing stress and contributing to psychological well-being.

In 2010, The San Diego Foundation commissioned the Parks for Everyone report to better understand green access in the San Diego region. The report found that while 45 percent of San Diego County’s total land area is green space, many low-income, communities of color have limited access to parks and open spaces. The lack of access has decreased youth engagement in the outdoors directly impacting both the mental and physical health of our youth and growing families.

To address this inequity, the Opening the Outdoors Program was established to create safe, accessible outdoor space for all San Diegans. The Foundation has since worked together with our nonprofit partners to increase community-driven efforts to enhance accessible outdoor space in park-poor communities, and encourage youth to learn more through hands-on education and create the next generation of environmental stewards in the San Diego region.

In 2019, San Diego was chosen as a Thrive Outside Community by the Outdoor Foundation to further improve equitable access to the outdoors for all San Diegans. The San Diego Foundation and local partners, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, County of San Diego Parks & Recreation Department, Outdoor Outreach, YMCA of San Diego County and The Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego will strengthen collaboration and regional efforts to promote repeat and reinforcing outdoor experiences for children and families.

The goal of this network is to make the outdoors an essential part of children and families’ lives in the San Diego region, with a special focus on South San Diego County. This area has the highest concentration of communities with a park farther than a half mile away but also a high proportion of youth and high poverty rates. The Foundation believes we must implement individual and system change to ensure long term change in our youth and families’ lives.

By involving nontraditional outdoor engagement partners, including health providers, community groups, and schools, the Thrive Outside Initiative will use data to identify opportunities, leverage assets and capabilities, and engage decision makers to meet this goal.

The Funding Opportunity

The 2020 Opening the Outdoors grant cycle supports efforts to increase meaningful outdoor engagement for youth and families. Strategies to achieve this goal include both system and individual change components. For example:


  • System change. Public/private funding to help increase outdoor engagement and access to San Diego’s parks and open spaces.
  • Individual change. Provide and track repeat engagement for youth and families in communities of concern to safely access and engage with the outdoors through physical and educational activities.

The Foundation will support projects that clearly contribute to system and/or individual change resulting in opportunities for youth and families in the San Diego region to grow, connect and thrive through positive interactions with the outdoors.

This year, $300,000 in total funding is available to award. Applicants may request a minimum of $25,000 in funding support. Project partnerships and collaborations between nonprofits are strongly encouraged.

The Foundation encourages all applicants to attend the upcoming webinar or set up a time with Foundation staff to review potential projects and discuss overall alignment with the 2020 OTO funding priorities. Detailed instructions on how to sign up for the grant webinar and Foundation staff office hours are below.

Grant Criteria & Eligibility

To be eligible:

  • Each proposal must be led by a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) public charity status, located in and serving San Diego County communities.
  • A 501(c)(3) public charity may serve as a fiscal sponsor for another applicant to administer the grant and provide regular financial reporting to The Foundation.
  • Any organization may be part of more than one proposal but may only serve as lead applicant for one proposal.
  • Projects must be completed within a 12 to 24-month timeline.
  • We will not fund – endowments, existing obligations/debt, scholarships, or projects that promote religious or political doctrine. Given our focus on building long-lasting solutions and the capacity of this sector, we will not fund one-time youth engagement trips or projects such as community gardens that do not demonstrate having other significant resources or plans in place to ensure their longevity into the future. This grant opportunity is also not intended to fund programs of universities or large cultural institutions not based in communities with low park access.
  • For the 2020 OTO grant cycle, The Foundation has $75,000 in funding specifically reserved for “capital” expenses (i.e. funding spent to buy, maintain or improve fixed assets such as buildings, vehicles, equipment or land). If you anticipate your project having any capital expenses, please be sure to clearly identify and describe the capital expenses in your budget.

Partnerships & Collaboration

We believe that intentional, strategic partnerships can be essential to maximizing the impact and value of this funding. As was the case in past OTO grant cycles, we will continue prioritizing applications with thoughtful collaborations and partnerships in place. Nonprofits and their partners may apply for a minimum of $25,000. A partnership is defined by shared roles and a shared budget. One organization will need to serve as the project lead for the purposes of submitting and managing the grant. Projects must clearly demonstrate in the application how the collaboration and/or partnership roles will be complementary and additive. We strongly encourage you to list all collaborators and their roles even if they will not receive funding in the proposed project.

Impact Indicators

The San Diego Foundation is interested in projects that will measure progress towards the above goals through metrics such as the following. Please note we do not require each proposal to have measurable goals around all of the below examples, but will take these metrics into account when scoring applications:

  • Demographics of program participants (i.e. age, ethnicity, annual household income, zip codes, etc.)
  • Type of program (i.e. after school program, weeklong camp, club, etc.)
  • Experiences offered (i.e. number of times the program is offered within each year)
  • Frequency of program (i.e. once per week, quarterly, annual, etc.)
  • Minutes per experience (number of minutes the experience is offered)
  • Participants per experience (total number of participants that attend each experience)
  • Number of unique participants who participated in multiple repeat, reinforcing outdoor programming
  • Number of volunteers engaged through this project
  • Number of organizational partners involved in implementing the project
  • Number and name(s) of nontraditional partner organizations engaged in the project
  • Barriers addressed through this project (i.e. transportation, limited park and coastal access, lack of information, etc.)
  • Name of public policy or public funding measures that this project aims to impact
  • New natural amenities created as a result of the project (i.e. number of parks improved/expanded, native plants installed, miles of trail improved, etc.)
  • Acres of restored or conserved lands as a result of the project
  • Amount of additional public or private funding leveraged for this project
  • Number of reports or publications produced as a result of this project
  • Links to any media mentions or publications as they relate to this project, your work with The Foundation, and the Opening the Outdoors Program or Thrive Outside San Diego Initiative
  • Other key metrics collected through this project

FY20 Application Process

A timeline for the grant cycle with important dates is outlined below. The San Diego Foundation reserves the right to modify these dates or any other terms or conditions set forth in these grant guidelines. As seen in the timeline below, proposals are due by 5:00 p.m. on April 20, 2020 through the Smarter Select system linked below. If you encounter any issues with submitting an application online, please reach out to Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org or (619) 235-2300 for accommodations.

It is the responsibility of all applicants to ensure that their organization meets the eligibility requirements prior to applying. Through the process, a select number of organizations will be invited to participate in a site visit. This will be an opportunity for the OTO Review Committee to ask follow-up questions and learn more about applicant organizations and their overall work.

Important Dates

February 25, 2020FY20 OTO grant guidelines released
March 11, 2020, 1:00-2:00 p.m.Webinar to review grant guidelines and application process for interested applicants. Please note, no new information will be presented at this webinar, but we will run through the guidelines and answer questions from interested applicants. Click here to register.
March 12, 18, 25 & 30, 2020*Foundation staff will be available during “office hours” from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to answer questions by phone or in-person
April 20, 2020Proposals due via Smarter Select by 5:00 p.m.
May 11–22, 2020**Potential site visits and/or interviews with finalists
By July 1, 2020Grants awardees notified and grant agreements due
July 1, 2020–June 30, 2021Grant start and end date

*Please email Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org to register for the office hours.
**For applicants invited to participate in a site visit, we ask that they provide as much flexibility as possible for key leaders of their project to be available for this stage in the application process.


If you have questions regarding the application process, grant program in general, or want to sign up for office hours, please contact Everett Au at EverettA@sdfoundation.org or (619) 235-2300. 

About the Review Process

Proposals will be reviewed by Foundation staff and a review committee comprised of a diverse group of community volunteers with expertise in philanthropy and the environment. The committee will evaluate proposals based on relevance to the Opening the Outdoors criteria listed above. Reviewers adhere to a strict conflict of interest policy and other internal controls to ensure that grant funding is distributed in an objective manner based on the merits of each proposal. The committee will submit final recommendations to The San Diego Foundation Board of Governors for final review and approval. Once funded, grantees will be asked to submit narrative mid-year progress and final reports.

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