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A startup nonprofit is often rich in sweat equity. Eager volunteers are full of enthusiasm and gladly donate hours of time to the new organization. This can work well at the beginning but it does come to a point where money is needed.

The challenge is that a new charity has no track record or history to fall back on, making it difficult for its officers to secure any money from a major foundation. The situation may seem a little dark but is not desperate. A new nonprofit organization can secure an injection of funds by going for a mini-grant as opposed to a large one.

Nature of the Mini-Grant

These are awards of perhaps no more than $5,000. They are ordinarily project-specific and might not be eligible for renewal. Nevertheless, these mini-grants can supply the amount of cash necessary to get a project moving, and that activity can bring very positive public exposure to a new 501(c) (3) organization.


mini-grants - small and large goldfish


Sourcing the Mini-Grant

An Internet search can uncover a number of possibilities. You can go to Candid (formerly Foundation Center) and other nonprofit databases to find a mini-grant opportunity. Typical sources for such awards include the following:

• Insurance companies
• Banks
• Community foundations
• Local foundations

In reviewing the mini-grant opportunity, you should first check for any geographic limitation. Corporate foundations will ordinarily fund only in those areas where employees are currently working. Community foundations by definition will consider applications only a specific geographic territory. Looking for the area restrictions can narrow down almost immediately the number of funding sources to approach.

Also read: What Foundations Are Looking For

Be Prepared

It may be a small amount but a mini-grant is still an investment. Grantors invest awards in those projects which are considered most likely to advance the mission of the overall organization. Anyone writing a mini-grant must first be sure that the project to be funded fits within the objectives of the foundation (e.g. writing an education mini-grant proposal to a grantor that does not have education as a mission objective is a waste of time).

The writer must also understand that even though it is a small amount, there are certain rules that have to be followed, for example:

• Typed copy only. Handwritten proposals are unacceptable as being unprofessional. Check the guidelines of the proposal to see if there any requirements for page size or font type to be used.

• State a need. That is the reason why the proposal is being written in the first place. A mini-grant proposal is enhanced if there is data to support the need such as survey results.

• Use clear, measurable objectives. The mini-grant proposal should outline what is going to be done. Measures such as number of students, size of audience, etc., need to be part of the objectives. These will help determine the degree of success in meeting both the projects goals and fulfilling the grantor’s mission.

Budget and Evaluation Are Extremely Important

A detailed budget is very important. It lets the grantor know how much is going to be used for actual implementation of the project, and how much will be used for administration (N.B. administration should be no more than 30% of the project budget). Evaluation, unfortunately, is often ignored in the proposal and that is a serious mistake.

An Executive Summary ultimately must be written. The evaluation will produce the data needed to assess the overall achievements of the project. This does not have to be a complicated statistical model; simple surveys that produce data can be sufficient. Evaluation is something that does require some thought, however. A proposal that does not have a good evaluation methodology is likely to be rejected, since without a good measuring there is no way to gauge overall success.

Also read: Getting Your Grant: 10 Things to Focus on Besides Writing

Think of the Mini-Grant Proposal as Training

The volunteers and staff of a new nonprofit organization might have little or no experience in grants writing. The mini-grant is a means of not just securing money, but also becoming knowledgeable in how to write a fundable grant. The experience is invaluable. No one should assume that the proposal will not be accepted or funded; that is just being defeatist.

Mini-grants are an excellent way to get an infusion of cash for projects, and also helps educate the nonprofit organization and what has to be done in order for success. Experience with these smaller grants can pave the way for the submission of larger ones later on!

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