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Prospecting for Gold: Small Nuggets Can Lead to Large Rewards

When you are researching for grant funding prospects, it can be tempting to consider only those foundations that offer large awards. The argument against pursuing small grants has centered on not being worth the time to pursue awards that aren't in the tens of thousands (or more).

However, if your organization has a strong grant template in place it shouldn't take much time to align the proposal to the foundation you are approaching. Let's say it takes five hours to do an application and you're awarded $5,000. Even if you paid a grant writer $100/hour to do the application, you're still realizing a $4,500 award! Not bad!

And, small grants offer numerous benefits—especially for new nonprofits or those that need to build their grant portfolio and expertise. For example, small grants:
  • Build your credibility. If your organization is new, or hasn't had much experience with managing grants, small grants can acclimate your agency to the requirements of grant management and reporting. It's much easier to manage and track a $3,500 grant than a $75,000 one!
  • Can provide support without lots of strings attached. A $7,500 general operating grant gives you flexibility that a $50,000 program grant may not—like allocating funds to overhead or having fewer reporting requirements.
  • Allow opportunities to leverage other funding. In roughly 80% of the applications we see nowadays, funders want to know what other foundations have been approached—or have committed—to your project. Being able to show multiple funders lets a new funder know your organization is supported by others and is likely a good investment.
  • May “fill in” gaps in funding. Let's say you have a program grant that needs a few new computers, but that $50,000 grant you received prohibits you from using it on technology. Seeking a funder who covers equipment/technology but only gives $5,000 could be exactly what you need.
  • Can offer opportunities to build lasting relationships with funders that may lead to ongoing funding or larger gifts. Corporate foundations often give small grants as a way to reach numerous organizations within their community. Larger corporate foundation grants are usually very strategic and are by invitation only—a small grant, well managed and recognized, could be the “in” you're looking for.
  • May have an easy application that doesn't take a lot of time or is one a novice grant writer can complete without much difficulty.
  • May be offered more regularly. Some foundations offer small, or “mini,” grants on a monthly basis. This can help address urgent needs for funding or help fill in for funds you were counting on but didn't receive.
  • Sometimes include opportunities for in-kind investments. Some corporate foundations look for opportunities to engage their employees in philanthropic activities within the community. Consider this: A health insurance company provides small grants of up to $5,000 (with most awarded in the $2,500-$3,500 range) with volunteer support from their employees. Not only does this help staff your project, it builds the in-kind line item in your project budget and has the potential to engage these volunteers on an ongoing basis.

Researching multiple funders that give small amounts can help build your organization's grant expertise while supporting funding needs. The temptation to go big is strong, but remember that the days of having one sole funder for a project is long gone. Help ensure your funding success by reaching out to funders at all levels.

What have you learned from your experience with small grants?

Lisa M. Sihvonen-Binder, MS NMP, is a nonprofit consultant, teacher, board member, and professional grant writer with over 10 years of experience in the grants profession.

GPC Competency: 01. Funding Resources



By: Elise Saltzberg
On: 08/20/2019 16:40:39
This is a good reminder, Lisa. The problem becomes when the $5,000 grant requires just as much time and has just as much reporting requirements as the $50,000 grant. Unfortunately, smaller foundations that give smaller amounts sometimes don't realize that they need to "right size" their requirements. They don't understand how much time it takes to apply for and administer these small grants, and then of course at the same time they want you to minimize the amount that you spend on the dreaded "overhead."
By: Ellen Gugel
On: 08/20/2019 20:00:57
Excellent article, Lisa! I also look at if the small grants are the type that if an organization gets them once, they are annual if you report and apply on time and the org does the work promised. I often recommend bypassing the small ones if they are “one off’s”. Except you noted some reasons maybe not to.

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