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Frequently Asked Questions

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What are the goals of the Leadership Awards program?

The Awards annually recognize cohorts of four to six leaders whose innovative solutions to critical state challenges improve people’s lives, create opportunity, and contribute to a better California. The goals of the Awards program are to:

  • Recognize and support diverse leaders whose work improves people’s lives, creates opportunity, and contributes to a better California
  • Advance innovative, effective solutions that merit expansion or replication
  • Inform local and statewide policy to expand opportunity for the people of California

Who is eligible for a Leadership Award?

We recognize leaders whose work improves people’s lives, creates opportunity, and contributes to a better California. We especially encourage nominations that reflect the diversity of California’s population and regions. The most competitive nominations describe leaders addressing critical issues with innovative approaches that have been proven effective. We ask nominators to review the selection criteria and nominations questions carefully before nominating.

Nominated leaders may:

  • Be an individual or a pair of leaders
  • Work in any sector (nonprofit, public, or private)
  • Work in any field (such as education, health, housing, economic development, or the environment)

Nominees must be residents of California.

Who is not eligible for a Leadership Award?

The Leadership Awards eligibility requirements consider the following ineligible for an Award:

    • Leaders who are no longer alive (more information below)
    • Leaders who are not residents of California
    • Leaders found to have conflicts of interest with members of the Leadership Awards Selection Committee, staff or board of directors of The James Irvine Foundation, or staff or partners of Capitol Impact Consulting, LLC (more information below)
    • Most leaders whose organizations have recently received funding from The James Irvine Foundation (exceptions apply, more information below)
    • Leaders who anticipate concluding their current role within one year of receiving a Leadership Award (more information below)

Additionally, we seek nominees who have not been extensively recognized for their work through other awards. Nominees with extensive, recent public recognition of their work through other high profile Awards programs are eligible, but less competitive than other nominees.

What are the selection criteria?

The following criteria are used to evaluate Leadership Awards nominations.

  • Significance: The leader’s work addresses an issue that is critical to California, and the issue is anticipated to affect the quality of life of a substantial number of Californians into the future.
  • Innovation: The leader is advancing an innovative strategy that directly improves people’s lives. The work represents an entirely new approach, is not widely known or practiced, or applies a proven approach in a new way or within a new context.
  • Effectiveness: The leader has been highly effective in achieving positive change. Their work has a measurable record of accomplishment.
  • Inclusiveness: The leader helps build bridges among people with differing viewpoints or different backgrounds. The leader brings diverse experiences to their work and creates opportunity for underserved communities.
  • Timing: The leader’s project is at a stage conducive to replication and informing policy, and there exists urgency or opportunity for the nominee to expand their work.
  • Leadership Capacity: The leader is well-positioned and prepared to take the next step in advancing change.

How are the Award recipients selected?

All nominations are carefully reviewed by the Leadership Award team, including staff and consultants to The James Irvine Foundation and Capitol Impact. The nominations most closely aligned with the Awards criteria are submitted to an independent Selection Committee of diverse California leaders. The Selection Committee reviews nominations materials and identifies 10-12 finalists. Leadership Awards staff, consultants, and issue experts conduct site visits and additional research with each finalist. The Selection Committee utilizes findings from the site visits and research to identify four to six Award recipients.

When is the deadline for 2025 nominations?

Nominations for the 2025 Leadership Awards closed April 30, 2024.

Who can nominate a leader?

We welcome nominations from anyone well acquainted with the nominated leader who can describe the leader’s alignment with the award criteria and tell the story of how their work has been impactful.

Some nominators have a broad understanding of a policy field and can describe how a nominee’s approach might be different from their peers. Other nominators can speak to the opportunities a nominee might have to inform policy or advance replication of their model. A nominator might be a key partner in the nominee’s field or an unexpected ally. Some nominators can describe how they and others have been affected directly by the work of the nominee.

The nominator must be someone other than the nominee or a family member. We encourage nominations from people not employed by the nominee. Nominators do not need to collaborate with a nominee in preparing the nomination, but they may do so if they choose.

Can more than one person nominate the same leader?

We recommend submitting only one nomination per nominee. Typically, nominations are submitted by one nominator, though we do permit two nominators to submit a joint nomination. The information in the nomination submission, rather than the number of nominators, determines whether the nominee will advance to the next stage. If we receive more than one nomination for a nominee, we may advance only one of the nominations after the first stage of review.

May I nominate more than one leader?

Yes! Nominators may nominate as many eligible leaders as they would like.

Can past nominees be renominated?

Yes, so long as they have not previously received a Leadership Award. Several past Award recipients were nominated in multiple years before receiving their Award.

Is it possible to receive feedback on my nomination if it was not selected?

In accordance with our long-standing practice to maintain fairness, we are unable to offer individual feedback on nominations. For general guidance about submitting competitive nominations, please see this video outlining nomination tips, and nomination tips on our website.

May I nominate a leader if a colleague from their organization has already received a Leadership Award?

We do not recommend nominating a leader from an organization that has already received an Award, unless the organization is very large and the nominee’s work is entirely distinct from that of past Award recipients at the same institution. If a leader of a small- to mid-sized organization were to receive an Award, another leader from that same organization would be unlikely to receive an Award, especially if they are addressing similar challenges.

Can a leader receive an award if they plan to leave their position in the near future?

We recommend nominating a leader who expects to remain in their role for at least one year after their Leadership Award would be announced. The Awards were designed to help leaders inform policy, scale their operations, and inspire replication. Irvine aims to help leaders leverage their Awards by providing extensive resources, tailored support services, and recognition among policymakers and the public that we hope will be useful for years to come.

Will posthumous nominations be accepted?

No. The awards are designed to provide an opportunity for recipients to educate policymakers and others in their field about the solutions they have implemented, thereby expanding the number of Californians who benefit from their work.

Are Irvine grantees eligible to receive Leadership Awards?

Most current and recent Irvine grantees are not eligible for Leadership Awards.

As a Foundation deeply committed to racial and economic equity, we want to ensure the Awards program is accessible to leaders who might not have extensive access to philanthropic funding. Additionally, prioritizing nominations of leaders and organizations not currently or recently associated with Irvine, the Foundation hopes to benefit from new perspectives, develop new relationships, challenge our existing thinking, and sharpen our capacity for innovation.


Exceptions may be made if one or more of the following apply:

  • The nominee’s organization does not currently receive funding from Irvine and any recent grants concluded more than two years before submission of the nomination.
  • The leader is nominated for a project that is not financially supported by Irvine and is not aligned with Irvine’s current grantmaking priorities.
  • The nominee is part of a leadership pair, working in partnership with a leader from a separate organization that is not supported by Irvine.
  • The current or recent grant Irvine made to the leader’s organization was for work not associated with Irvine’s priority grantmaking initiatives (for example, Research & Development).
  • The current or recent grant to the leader’s organization totaled less than $250,000 and is unlikely to renewed.
  • The funding the leader’s organization received was a regrant or subgrant of funds initially provided by Irvine but awarded by a separate entity. However, this exception is applicable only when the separate entity is responsible for choosing the organization to receive the regrant or subgrant.

What is your conflict of interest policy?

Irvine does not consider nominations for leaders who have financial or close family relationships with representatives of Irvine (defined in this case as members of the Leadership Awards Selection Committee, staff or board of directors of The James Irvine Foundation, and staff or partners of Capitol Impact Consulting, LLC). If a representative of Irvine could benefit financially from a nominee’s receipt of a Leadership Award, the nominee is not eligible.

No representatives of Irvine may nominate leaders for a Leadership Award or help prepare individual nominations.

Additionally, anyone participating in the nominations review process, including staff and members of the Selection Committee must alert Leadership Awards management if they have any potential conflict of interest with nominees they are assigned to evaluate. This includes any relationship or knowledge that would prevent the representative from evaluating a nomination fairly and without bias. In such cases, management determines whether a conflict of interest exists and, if so, requires recusal from decision-making on that nomination.

Are there any restrictions on nominating leadership pairs?

A leadership pair consists of two leaders who have both played critical, complementary roles in developing their approach and/or implementing it effectively. They may work for the same organization or for two different entities. If a leadership pair works for different organizations, we will direct grant funds to only one of their organizations. The leaders may share the funds as they see fit.

When nominating a pair, nominators are encouraged to describe how the leaders’ roles are distinct as well as how they collaborate.

Do nominators need to submit references or letters of support for the nominee?

No. References and/or letters of support are not necessary – and are not considered during the nominations review process.

Are there any restrictions on how Award funds can be spent?

Award funds typically are directed to the organization that the award recipient leads. If the recipient is a pair of leaders who work for different organizations, grant funds will be directed to only one of their organizations. The leaders may share the funds as they see fit. Recipients may determine how funds will be spent, though funds must support activities in California and may not be earmarked for lobbying or directed toward projects that receive more than 50 percent of their total funding from government resources.


When James Irvine established the Foundation in 1937, he stipulated that its funds “shall be used for such charities that do not enjoy substantial support through taxation.” As a result, we may only make a grant to a publicly funded organization if the grant supports a specific project that does not receive most of its funding from public dollars. For the Leadership Awards, if a recipient’s organization receives more than 50 percent of its total revenue from government sources, the award funds would need to be applied to a specific project that is not supported in majority by government funds.

When will nominators be updated on the status of their nomination?

We will contact nominators in late summer 2024 to notify them of the status of their nomination.

We will follow-up with you about your submission by email through the Submittable platform. Please be sure to safelist notification emails from Submittable and check the email you used to sign up for your Submittable account.

If there are two nominators, only the primary Submittable account associated with the nomination will be contacted in the Submittable platform.

Will the nominee be contacted?

Nominators can decide if and when to share nominations with nominees, or keep their nomination confidential. As such, the Leadership Awards team only contacts nominees if they become finalists. Status updates will be communicated to the nominator, who can share received information with their nominee if desired.

What are the nomination application narrative questions and word limits?

The narrative questions and word limits below pertain to the 2025 Leadership Awards, and are subject to change for future Award cycles.

**Summary of Nominee’s Work** – In 200 words or fewer, briefly describe the work of the nominee’s organization and the nominee’s role in that work. If the nomination focuses on a specific project the nominee(s) leads, please also describe that project. To the extent possible, focus on the nominee’s current work as opposed to prior work with other organizations.

**Significance** – In 250 words or fewer, please address how the work of the nominee(s) helps solve an issue that is critical to California. Please describe and indicate the size of the California population that may be affected by the issue the nominee(s) addresses. Please also discuss how the issue the nominee(s) addresses affects the quality of life of this population.

**Innovation** – In 500 words or fewer, please describe how the nominee(s) uses innovation or uncommon practices to improve people’s lives. Indicate how the nominee’s work represents an entirely new approach, an approach that is not widely known or practiced, or applies a proven approach in a new way or within a new context. Discuss how the nominee’s work is different from or an improvement upon usual practices in the field.

**Effectiveness** – In 500 words or fewer, please indicate how the nominee(s) has been effective in achieving positive change, including any measurable record of accomplishment. Strong nominations typically include quantitative data demonstrating impacts or outcomes on populations or communities. Other examples of effectiveness might include summaries of evaluations or internal studies, a description of the nominee’s role in changing one or more policies or practices, affirmation by external sources, compelling anecdotes, and/or notable engagement from key partners and community members. Data about organizational effectiveness, such as budget increases are less compelling.

**Inclusiveness** – In 300 words or fewer, please address whether and how the nominee(s) helps build bridges among people with different viewpoints or backgrounds. If possible, use examples to demonstrate how the nominee(s) collaborates with key stakeholders. Describe the demographics of the populations with whom the nominee(s) works or serves. If applicable, consider discussing how the nominee creates opportunity for underserved populations.

**Timing of Recognition** – In 350 words or fewer, please address whether the work of the nominee(s) is at a stage of maturity where recognition could substantially aid the nominee’s efforts to advance it. If possible, address the methods the nominee(s) might use to advance the work, such as altering people’s beliefs or behaviors, changing public policies or spending, expanding or replicating services at additional sites, or training others to deliver services. You may also describe any evidence that the policymaking environment is conducive to progress in the near future or that current circumstances provide greater urgency or opportunity for the nominee to expand their work.

**Leadership Capacity** – In 200 words or fewer, please describe the nominee’s capacity to take the next step in advancing change. This may include a description of how the leader is positioned within their field, experience working with policymakers or the public, and/or experience guiding replication or expansion of their work. Within the section, you may also describe the nominee’s most notable leadership skills.

Download and print a copy of the questions.

Can nominators save their nomination draft and come back to it?

Yes. Submittable auto-saves your progress as you go. You can return to the saved draft of your work in your Submittable account to submit at a later time.

Can nominators edit a nomination after it has been submitted?

If you need to make changes to a submitted nomination before the deadline, please withdraw your submission and resubmit.

If anything critical changes with the information you submitted after the deadline, you may request to edit the submission. The opportunity to edit is not guaranteed.

Is there a recommended browser to use for the nominations form?

The Submittable platform works best on Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Internet Explorer is not supported. Please make sure you are using a supported browser.

How will the nominator know that the nomination has been received?

You may log into your Submittable account at any time and check the status of your nomination.

When will 2025 Award recipients be announced?

We anticipate publicly announcing Award recipients in February 2025.