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SPARK! Grant

Despite numerous studies, we still have much to learn about HIV-related stigma. Nonetheless, we know that stigma often results from ignorance, fear-based myths, and a general lack of awareness in our communities. Stigma can also result in social isolation.  An individual’s risk of becoming socially isolated is influenced by several factors including health problems, disability, gender discrimination, loss of loved ones, living alone, reduced social networks, poverty, and aging (Bhatti and Haq, 2017). 

Currently, the world is experiencing unprecedented times with the threat of COVID-19 across our communities.  As a result, millions are experiencing heightened isolation and loneliness due to shelter in place protocols.  Social isolation and loneliness (an emotional response to social isolation) have been associated with an increased risk of negative mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety, dysphoria, reduced positive emotions, low life satisfaction, suicidality, and chronic stress (Beutel et al., 2017; Bhatti and Haq, 2017; Xia and Li, 2018). Additionally, social isolation and loneliness have been associated with poor immunity, poor sleep quality and general health, low resilience, and greater risk of cardiovascular disorders (Beutel et al., 2017; Bhatti and Haq, 2017). In a study to evaluate loneliness in people living with HIV, researchers found participants who reported loneliness were more likely to be smokers, at greater risk for alcohol and/or drug use, have smaller social support networks, and report more depressive symptoms (Greene, 2018).

Southern AIDS Coalition initially launched SPARK! (Southerners Promoting Awareness, Resources & Knowledge) in 2018 to fund community-led campaigns and education initiatives across the Deep South to address HIV-related stigma. In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently accepting proposals to address both HIV-related stigma, as well as isolation and loneliness. 

SPARK! will provide funding of up to $20,000 to support programs in one of two tracks: 

Track One:  SPARK! Connections supports programs that combat social isolation and loneliness through virtual programming.  Organizations are invited to apply for support to cover costs related to implementing virtual groups, 1:1 support, social media outreach, texting programs, and other means of engagement serving persons living with and impacted by HIV.  

Track Two:  SPARK! Change supports community-level education addressing HIV-related stigma.  Successful funded projects have ranged from media campaigns to community conversations. The common thread across successful projects has been the commitment to centering the voices of those living with and impacted by HIV.  

Eligibility: Currently, 501(c)(3) organizations (or organizations with a fiscal sponsor) operating in any of the nine (9) Deep South states (AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX) are eligible to apply for support of programs focused on participants in said states. Individuals are not eligible for grant awards. 

Award Amount: SPARK! Awards will be up to $20,000. The amount of your request should reflect the scope of your project and related expenses.

Award Dates: SPARK! Grants will be made on a rolling basis as funds are available.  Applicants will receive notification within thirty (30) days of submission of a complete application. 

Funding Parameters for SPARK! Awards: 

  • Maximum request amount of $20,000.
  • Funds must be expended by December 31, 2020
  • New applicants, former grantees, and/or previous applicants to SPARK! grants program are eligible and encouraged to apply.
  • Current SAC grantees (including Transformative and SPARK! grantees) are not eligible for funding 
  • This grant will not fund individuals, general operations, endowments, fundraising events or sponsorship of events, appeals for religious purposes (though faith-based organizations are strongly encouraged to apply for projects addressing HIV-related stigma).

Allowable Expenses: SPARK! Awards can be used to pay for program-related costs, including appropriate staff costs, supplies, technology, incentives, and membership fees for required platforms. However, there are prohibited expenses. You cannot use funds to pay for or offset the cost of any of the following:

  • Medications or purchasing of medications
  • Direct medical expenses, including lab expenses
  • Existing deficits of organization
  • Biomedical research or clinical trials
  • Projects that directly influence or advance Gilead’s business, including purchase, utilization, prescribing, formulary position, pricing, reimbursement, referral, recommendation or payment for products
  • Individuals, individual health care providers, or physical group practices
  • Events or programs that have already occurred
  • Government lobbying activities

Tips for a Successful SPARK! Grant Application:
Track One: SPARK! Connections

  • Clearly articulate how your project will address isolation or loneliness impacting persons living with HIV.
  • Clearly articulate how you will deliver your program, including the planned platform that will be used for communication. 
  • If appropriate, make it clear who will be providing professional services (e.g., mental health services). 
  • Don’t worry about your project being “too small”. We want to support grassroots efforts that can reach deep into the heart of community need.

Track Two: SPARK! Change

  • Clearly articulate how your project will address stigma related to HIV.
  • Clearly articulate how you will deliver a community-level initiative.
  • If creating a media campaign, make it clear how you will leverage one or more platforms to deliver your message (e.g., radio, billboards, print media, social media).
  • If creating a media campaign, make it clear who will be providing professional design or production and their track record with previous projects (provide samples if available). Also detail how you will disseminate the media to the intended audience.
  • If creating some other form of community-level education initiative, make it clear what community (e.g., faith leaders, health providers, social networks) you are targeting and the impact you intend to make.
  • Clearly explain how the tone of your messaging will empower the community, rather than use fear and shame. Instead of using scare tactics, opt for an evidence-based, compelling message that is designed to spark dialogue or curiosity to learn more. 
  • Don’t assume your audience understands the basic facts of HIV transmission, testing, or biomedical interventions.
  • Think focused rather than big, broad campaigns. We want to support grassroots campaigns that can reach deep into a community rather than campaigns that try to reach everyone across the spectrum. 

Additional Attachments Necessary: In order to have a complete submission and be considered for a SPARK! grant, you are required to upload the following documents:

  1. Your organization’s 501(c)(3) verification OR 501(c)(3) letter of a fiscal sponsor
  2.  Letter of Support from fiscal sponsor (if applicable). This letter should demonstrate fiscal sponsor’s commitment to providing the applicant with financial management of grants funds and administrative support as needed.  
  3. Organizational Operating Budget. The applicant’s 2020 operational budget (not to be substituted by fiscal sponsor’s operational budget).
  4. SPARK! Grant Budget Attachment. A thoughtfully prepared budget demonstrates that you have considered all the costs associated with your request, as well as the resources needed to ensure the project’s success. 

Evaluation Requirement: Grantees will be provided with web-based evaluation tools to streamline data collection processes.  Evaluation support will be provided to grantees. 

Note:  After submission, you will receive confirmation of your application’s submission and will hear from the Southern AIDS Coalition Grants Office . If you have any questions, please contact us at grants@southernaidscoalition.org.

Please return to the Home page to apply for this funding opportunity.


Beutel, M. E., Klein, E. M., Brähler, E., Reiner, I., Jünger, C., Michal, M., Wiltink, J., Wild, P. S., Münzel, T., Lackner, K. J., & Tibubos, A. N. (2017). Loneliness in the general population: prevalence, determinants and relations to mental health. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), 97. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1262-x
Bhatti, A. B., & Haq, A. U. (2017). The Pathophysiology of Perceived Social Isolation: Effects on Health and Mortality. Cureus, 9(1), e994. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.994
Greene, M., Hessol, N. A., Perissinotto, C., Zepf, R., Hutton Parrott, A., Foreman, C., Whirry, R., Gandhi, M., & John, M. (2018). Loneliness in Older Adults Living with HIV. AIDS and behavior, 22(5), 1475–1484. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-017-1985-1
Xia, N., & Li, H. (2018). Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 28(9), 837–851. https://doi.org/10.1089/ars.2017.7312