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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 COVID-19 pandemic directly affecting our communities across the region.  As a result, millions continue to experience heightened isolation and loneliness.  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, for the most recent SPARK! funding cycle, we supported grantees that either addressed HIV-related stigma or addressed isolation and loneliness. For the 2022-2023 grant cycle, we will once again support those types of projects in addition to the community-led campaigns and education initiatives.

Southern AIDS Coalition also seeks to support grantees in growing their organization’s capacity. We know that an organization with higher and stronger capacity is more stable and often more successful at meeting community needs than their counterparts who lack the capacity. Therefore, for this grant cycle, in addition to grant funds that will support projects under the two tracks outlined below, SPARK! grant applications may request capacity building support and grant budgets may include line items for capacity building support. Capacity building support can range from direct technical assistance from Southern AIDS Coalition or its partners to allocation in the grant to support the organization’s capacity, including supporting the organization hiring a consultant to assist with that growth. Below are a list of possible areas for capacity building and their associated budget line items. This list is not exclusive but provides examples of the type of capacity building a grantee may seek support for and how that shows up in the budget request. 

Capacity Area Associated Budget Line Item
Board Composition, Commitment, Governance, and Involvement Board retreat and organizational development consultant / coach
Financial Planning & Budgeting Training for program staff on developing budgets and using Excel
Recruiting, Development, and Retention of Staff  Hire an HR professional/consultant to conduct an assessment and subsequent training with organization leadership

For this cycle, we are prioritizing those projects focused on reaching people in rural communities and requiring the applicant organization be located in a rural community. We use a combination of the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “rural” along with the Stigma Services Desert1  map and data (found here) to define “rural.” For the purposes of this grant cycle, the organization must be located outside of an Urbanized Area (defined as having a population of 50,000 or more) or in a “service desert” (shown on the map) or both.

SPARK! will provide funding of up to $25,000 to support programs.

Funding will be provided 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 in all aspects of project design and implementation.

Eligibility: Currently, 501(c)(3) organizations (or organizations with a fiscal sponsor) operating in rural communities are eligible to apply for support of programs focused on participants in any of the following twelve (12) southern states: (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas). Individuals are not eligible for grant awards.

Award Amount: SPARK! Awards will be up to $25,000. The amount of your request should reflect the scope of your project and related expenses, which may include costs for a consultant(s) to provide capacity building support to the organization. 

How & When to Apply: SPARK! Grant applications will be accepted from September 19, 2022, to October 17, 2022. Applicants will receive notification by November 4, 2022. 

Funding Parameters for SPARK! Awards: 

  • Maximum request amount of $25,000.
  • Maximum indirect cost rate is 10%.
  • Funds must be expended by December 1, 2023. 
  • New applicants, former grantees, and/or previous applicants to SPARK! grants program are eligible and encouraged to apply if they meet the criteria of the current Request for Proposals.
  • Current SAC grantees (including Transformative and SPARK! grantees) are not eligible for funding.
  • Applicants must be located in a rural community. If the application is to support a partnership of organizations, the lead organization must be located in a rural community. 
  • 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).
  • Applicants may allocate up to 20% of their grant to cover costs associated with capacity building (e.g., a strategic planning consultant, trainings for staff, etc.).

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
  • Indirect costs above 10% of the direct costs

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 and how you will ensure that participants can effectively access the program.

  • Share your organization’s experience with similar programs that require virtual engagement, particularly during COVID. 

  • If appropriate, make it clear who will be providing professional services (e.g., mental health services). 

  • Clearly outline the evidence you have that demonstrates why this particular campaign or program is not only needed, but why it is likely to be successful.

  • 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 focused on reaching and the impact you intend to make.

  • Clearly outline the evidence you have that demonstrates why this particular campaign or program is not only needed, but why it is likely to be successful.

  • 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 2022 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. Please use the provided template.

Grantee Orientation Requirement: Grantees will be required to participate in an orientation meeting at the beginning of the grant period. The date, time, and other details will be provided once the grantee has received the notification of funding. 

Evaluation Requirement: Grantees will be required to complete a pre- and post-grant assessment for the organization. Additionally, grantees will be provided with web-based evaluation tools to streamline data collection processes. Evaluation support will be provided to grantees. Grantees are expected to use the tools provided (if they do not have their own tools for data collection) and to work with the evaluators, when applicable.

Reporting Requirement: Grantees will be expected to provide quarterly project progress updates online via a link provided upon funding. They will also be expected to provide a final report at the conclusion of their grant period—that is, on or before December 1, 2023. Reports will need to include how the grant funds were used, successes and challenges experienced during the grant period, project outcomes, and a budget expenditure report. 

Note:  You will submit your application via an online grants system, Open Water.  Please have all materials ready prior to starting your submission. After submission, you will receive an automated confirmation and you will hear from the Southern AIDS Coalition Grants Office by November 4, 2022.

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

1For the purposes of this program, a service desert is an area that is more than 30 minutes from stigma services.

SPARK! Grant
Application Questions
Note: The SPARK! Grant is an online application.  These questions are offered as guidance so you can prepare your formal application. 
In addition to these questions, you should be prepared to respond to basic information regarding your organization, your fiscal sponsor (if applicable), and general information about your organization’s service delivery (e.g., geographic reach, demographics of those you serve).
General Questions for both tracks:
  • Funding request amount 
  • Program Title 
  • Track you are pursuing in this proposal.

         Select one:  SPARK! Connections or SPARK! Change

1. What specific goals do you hope to achieve? What objectives do you propose that will lead to those goals?  Try to make your objectives SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound). We understand that this method of delivery may be new for some organizations. [10 points]

2. Who do you hope to serve through this project? Talk about the community or communities you plan to reach. Is there an existing network in place? Will you need to do outreach to identify participants? [5 points]

3. How do you plan to make this project happen? Please use this template to provide a basic work plan that includes a timeline of key activities. This should include any infrastructure planning (e.g., learning curve for staff using certain platforms) and demonstrate the meaningful involvement of persons living with and impacted by HIV in your program design and delivery. [15 points]

4. How will you disseminate information? Share your planned platform for engagement. Be sure to outline the steps you will take to gather and share information with the community(ies) served and the broader public. [5 points]

5. How many people do you hope to reach? Please be realistic in your estimation. If you have specific demographic information (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation) of the people you are likely to reach, please also include that information. [2 points]

6. What impact do you hope to make? How will you know your program has been a success? Your impact should be directly connected to and address the need you outlined earlier in the application. Identifying benchmarks for success will strengthen the application. [10 points]

7. In what areas could your organization’s capacity grow? If you engaged an outside consultant to assist you with this capacity growth, who would you use? If funded through this grant opportunity, how much of those funds would you like to put toward capacity growth?  We all have areas where we could grow our capacity and SAC would like to assist you in growing yours. Please share openly as this will not negatively affect the outcome of the grant application. [3 points]

Questions specifically for SPARK! ConnectionsTrack:

8. What challenges have you observed related to social isolation that is impacting persons you hope to serve through this program? Be sure to also include how you obtained this information (e.g., informal conversations with community members, surveys, etc.). [15 points]

9. What connections do you hope to make for the participants in your program? What need are you hoping to meet? Be sure to provide any evidence that demonstrates that the connections you are hoping to make or the need that you are trying to meet is what is most suitable to help the community members experiencing isolation. [10 points]

10. How will you engage participants in this program? Be as specific as possible in explaining the approach taken to engage participants. Please outline the steps you would take to strengthen or build connection with community members. Give any evidence you have that demonstrates that your organization is successful at community engagement. [25 points]

Questions specifically for SPARK! Change Track: