Make the most of your entry for the Knight Cities Challenge

communities / Article

After two extremely popular virtual office hours and a great response to community events around the country, it’s clear that we have tapped into a potential gold mine of ideas to make our cities more successful.


"$5M Knight Cities Challenge opens for ideas" by Carol Coletta on Knight Blog (10/01/14) "Richard Florida on driving success in cities" by Richard Florida on Knight Blog (09/23/2014)

We’ve received many inquiries regarding logistics, which are covered in detail at, but there is one question I’ve heard most frequently: “What do you really want to see?” The answer is powerful, ambitious ideas that use place to accelerate talent, opportunity and engagement in one or all of the 26 Knight communities. If your idea fits those criteria, we’re open as to how you get there.

So I can’t give you examples of projects we want to fund. What I can offer, though, is some tips on the best way to make your idea stands out:

  • Be clear. This is not a traditional grant application; we’re not looking for proposals written in “grant-speak.” Use everyday language that is clear and compelling and avoids jargon. We want to be able to see the essence of your idea at a glance, which is why our applications asks that you sum up the idea in a tweet, 140 characters or less. (We’re not asking you to tweet out your ideas, although you certainly can if you’d like).
  • Focus on the objectives. You may have the greatest idea for making cities more successful, but if it doesn’t advance talent, opportunity or engagement, then the Knight Cities Challenge isn’t the right home for your idea. We’re running this challenge specifically to find the best ideas that use place to attract and retain talent, to expand economic opportunity and to create a culture of civic engagement. If you can demonstrate clearly how your idea moves one of the 26 Knight communities toward one or more of those three objectives, then you’ll be on the right track.
  • Don’t worry about how much it will cost (at least not yet). In the first application we don’t even need to know how much money you are requesting. This stage is about your idea and its potential to teach us something new. If you’re selected as a finalist, then you’ll need to provide budget details.  
  • Think big. This is your chance to submit the ideas that you thought were too ambitious to ever get funded, and we have $5 million for this cycle of the Knight Cities Challenge to explore the best ideas we receive. What’s the burning question you’ve always wanted to explore? Why not come up with an experiment that helps explore it?
  • Apply early. It’s best to have the readers see your application with fresh eyes so apply early so your application will be one of the first to be reviewed.


Submissions are being accepted at until 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 14. We have more than 30 advisers to help us review the applications. The majority of these readers are local to Knight communities, with additional national representatives who are leading groundbreaking work in the three focus areas of talent, opportunity and engagement. This expert team will help us reach a decision on a group of finalists, which will be named in January.

Whether your application is successful or not, you’ll receive a response by Dec. 31, 2014. Finalists will then be asked to produce a more detailed application, including a budget.

A smaller team of reviewers will convene to discuss the finalists and recommend a group of winners.  Our board of trustees has the final say. If you are a finalist, you’ll receive a decision by March 16, 2015.

Knight staff members are hosting community events around the country and virtually throughout the application period to answer any additional questions you may have. Click here to find an event near you.

There’s more information at Follow @knightfdn and #KnightCities on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest news on the challenge. You can also email us at [email protected].

George Abbott is interim program director for San Jose and Silicon Valley, Calif., and special assistant to the vice president for community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation.

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