grants and opportunities, nonprofit development

When grants are NOT the answer: straight talk on funding for start-up nonprofits

In a previous post, I wrote about that fact that you cannot rely on grant funding alone to support your nonprofit. In fact, grant funding should represent a relatively small percentage of your overall income.

Nonprofits that rely on grant funding, particularly those that are smaller, just starting out, and with no proven track record often fumble and struggle to make it through the first year. Sadly, many fail within the first few months. So what is a start-up nonprofit to do?

As promised, here are my recommendations when it comes to funding your small start-up nonprofit:

  1. Partner with existing, larger, well-established nonprofits within your field. Start small by joining forces with a larger local organization to offer a new program, collaborate for an event, or run a mutual marketing campaign. In partnering with a larger, well-established organization, you will begin to nurture a positive trusting relationship, and with the ultimate intent to apply for grants in conjunction with this larger organization. When first starting out, this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to make a name for yourself within your community, earn trust of stakeholders in your field, and have a responsible and experienced partner for potential grants.
  2. Seek community based donations before you ever seek your first grant. Many start-up nonprofits that contact me at Greater Good Consultants LLC immediately want to jump right into foundation, corporate, and even federal grants. While these are noble goals, they are not my suggested course action within the first year. Rather, I recommend establishing yourself within your local community first and foremost. For example, perhaps your local grocery store is eager to donate snacks for your after school program. Maybe the nearby pharmaceutical company has company volunteers that would love to come do a workshop with your students. Sometimes local community members might even offer you a cash donation – you never know until you try! Stay tuned for my tips on how to write a simple letter to prospective community partners.
  3. Start small and local. Why? Those closest to you are those most likely to fund you. You have shared interests, you work with the same people, you had the same problems, and you are all working towards the same solutions. Plus, starting within your community will help you gain a reputation, make connections, establish trusting relationships, as well as help you on your way to developing a proven track record with stewarding donated funds.

Those closest to you are those most likely to fund you.

Oftentimes, grants are NOT the answer. By trying these three suggestions, you will be well on your way to establishing the reputation, track-record, and internal capacity you need to apply for and win your first grant. Want more advice? I am always happy to connect! Shoot me an email at

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