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Civil Society Awards Program

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Civil Society Awards Program

“Community organizations are part of the life-blood of America—aiding and uplifting those in need, identifying and addressing problems which others, including government, have not yet even recognized.” — Howard Husock, Manhattan Institute



The 2020 Civil Society Awards were presented to five outstanding nonprofits and their leaders who—with the help of volunteers and philanthropy rather than government support—assist those in need, strengthen our communities, and keep our nation’s social fabric from fraying. Each organization was honored with a $25,000 prize during our annual awards event, which was held virtually on October 29, 2020.

For more information about the 2020 Civil Society Awards, click here.

2020 Awardees

Shel Neymark
Embudo Valley Library & Community Center
Ruth Ellen Jacobson
Tocando Music Project
Healy Chait, Liam Elkind, and Simone Policano
Invisible Hands
Carole Klingler
LIFE: A Dementia Friendly Foundation
Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and Sheila Jaffe
The Felix Organization

Learn more about the 2020 awardees here. View all past awardees here.

About the Award

History has shown that free markets are the best way to organize economic activity. But the Manhattan Institute understands that in a healthy society, markets are complemented by charitable and philanthropic enterprises, which both help those in need and prepare people to realize their full potential. Since its founding, the United States has been characterized by a vibrant civil society in which nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations—with the help of volunteers and private philanthropy—work to address social challenges.

To support and reinvigorate this tradition, the Manhattan Institute established the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2001, now known as the Tocqueville Project. Directed by MI Senior Fellow Howard Husock, it combines research, writing, events, and conversations with scholars, practitioners, government officials, and community leaders to make the case for the value and benefits of a strong civil society. The goal of the Civil Society Awards program is to find and recognize the best of America’s new generation of nonprofit leaders.

Tocqueville wrote that “Americans of all ages, all conditions and all dispositions, constantly form associations... religious, moral, serious, futile, enormous or diminutive.” This combination of association and philanthropy has given us everything from the Boy Scouts to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Just as we have private entrepreneurs, we also have social entrepreneurs, who address societal challenges and find private funds to do so. These individuals develop solutions to emerging needs and problems, while helping to keep our social fabric from fraying. It is their work that the Civil Society Awards highlight and encourage.

Manhattan Institute welcomes nominations for our Civil Society Awards on a rolling basis. To tell us about an outstanding individual—as well as their nonprofit organization—who is contributing to a vibrant civil society in your community, please visit our nomination page


Eligibility is assessed according to the following principles:

  • Must be a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) domestic organization in the United States, founded and led by an individual or social entrepreneur. Providing an annual budget, audited financial statement, and/or form 990 is helpful, although not mandatory.
  • Organizations should provide specific services to an identifiable target group of those in need. Examples include assisting disadvantaged youth with academics; helping ex-offenders find employment; assisting new immigrants with life adjustments; and so on. View past winners here.
  • Organizations are based on original ideas from their founder/s rather than a response to government request for proposals.
  • Organizations reliant on private, philanthropic support, rather than government funding, are preferred. Some government support is acceptable, but should not comprise the majority of the annual budget.
  • Organizations effectively engaging volunteers, including volunteer board of directors, are preferred. Other evidence of local support and community engagement is a plus.
  • Past winners have generally provided direct and specific services to the needy rather than solely engaging in advocacy activity.
  • Nominations will be accepted from new and established organizations as long as the organization is pursuing a transformative solution to addressing a social challenge.


Nominations for the 2020 Civil Society Awards are now closed. However, the Manhattan Institute welcomes award nominations on a rolling basis. To tell us about an outstanding nonprofit leader—and their organization—who is contributing to a vibrant civil society in your community, please email: