Apply for the Knight Cities Challenge

Communities / Article

Video: Knight Cities Challenge 2015. Photo: Musical swings, a 2014 winner, by Daily Tous Les Jours.

The Knight Cities Challenge is now open for applications. The challenge, which today enters its second year, is a $5 million open call for ideas to make cities more successful in one of three key areas:

Want to learn more about the Knight Cities Challenge?  

Knight’s Carol Coletta will be hosting a reddit Ask Me Anything chat on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. ET. To join, go to reddit IAmA and click on the thread titled “I’m Carol Coletta, VP for Community and National Initiatives at Knight Foundation. AMA about how to make cities more successful, the Knight Cities Challenge, the Foundation and everything else.”

  • Attracting and keeping talented people.

  • Expanding economic opportunity.

  • Creating a culture of civic engagement.

The challenge will accept submissions until noon ET Oct. 27. The application is simple. There are just three questions, which each require only 100 words or less. You don’t have to submit a budget at this time, either. Anyone—businesses, nonprofits, governments, individuals—can apply as long as the idea benefits one or more of the 26 Knight communities. Apply at

Last year, we selected 32 winners out of more than 7,200 submissions, and to help you improve your chances of success, we would like to share some of what we learned. Here are some tips on crafting a successful application.

We’re interested in learning

We know that attracting and keeping talented people, expanding economic opportunity and creating a culture of civic engagement are important to creating successful cities. And we know that places have a big impact on each of those key measures of success. But we want to learn more about how cities can design, build and program places to spark real change. So we encourage you to consider the broader perspective, what everyone can learn about making cities more successful from your work.

Try something new or bold

This challenge isn’t the place to request funding to sustain an existing project or your organization. The Knight Cities Challenge is an opportunity to access risk capital and to test something new. Even if you’re representing a large organization, think about stepping outside of your comfort zone to try a new approach. Last year we also saw city staff using the challenge to pursue their passion projects both within and outside city hall. Just a reminder: Individuals can apply and ideas can come from anywhere.

Be ready to execute

You don’t need to provide all of the details in the initial application, but you do need to be prepared to supply them if your idea moves to the next stage. This isn’t simply a call for great ideas. You need to be willing and able to execute them.

Think about what happens next

Each Knight Cities Challenge grant is 18 months long. If your project will require funds to sustain it beyond that term, you’ll need to be prepared to determine where that support will come from. We don’t want to create new organizations or projects that don’t have a route to sustainability. You don’t need to provide that information in the initial application, but finalists will be required to supply it. Many projects will be designed as a temporary test, and that’s fine too. We will announce finalists in early 2016 and winners in spring 2016.

We hope these tips are helpful, but we’ll be hosting online sessions and in-person events to discuss the challenge and answer questions in the days ahead. See this regularly updated calendar to find a session you can attend. You can follow the challenge at #knightcities on Twitter or sign up for our email newsletter. You can send questions to [email protected]. And you can peruse the winners of the first Knight Cities Challenge and apply at Good luck and we look forward to hearing from you.

George Abbott is special assistant to the vice president for community and national initiatives and interim program director for St. Paul at Knight Foundation. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @garthurabbott.