Funding Your Nonprofit Startup: Available Grants to Support Your Mission

December 5, 2016
10 minutes

There is no doubt at this stage; your efforts and dedication to your nonprofit have been successful so far. Just the process of registering and searching for funding alone can seem intimidating or overwhelming at times. While it may seem like a struggle most times, there are plenty of resources available to you to help guide and support you to get your nonprofit up and running financially.

Startup grants are the one key source for new nonprofits to use as financial support. If this were the business world, these grants would be similar to using seed money from investors.

Both established and new nonprofit organizations benefit from grant-giving foundations such as government agencies and other public or private funding bodies. This type of support gives nonprofits the ability to focus more on contributing to their philanthropic mission.

Main sources of grant-giving organizations

  • Corporate giving programs for nonprofit startups
  • Grant-giving private foundations
  • Federal nonprofit grant programs and endowments
  • State and municipal-funded grant resources
  • Bonus nonprofit startup grant tips

Taking the time to understand each of the above will help you to reach your goal of getting your nonprofit up and running.

Key things to know before you begin

Starting a nonprofit isn't easy, no matter how you look at it, but having strong initial support is vital when laying the groundwork for success. While startup grants are great, they definitely are not 100% guaranteed. You will need funding sources that are reliable, accessible, and highly effective.

Get your technology in place first: There are many donation software applications around with the sole purpose of helping nonprofits secure funding sources in a secure digital environment. The use of online donations software like Funraise is essential, as this is one step toward setting your startup nonprofit for growth. It will also help grant application reviewers see that you are thinking through the practical steps of running your nonprofit.

You will need to go through the technology to see what features and functionality you want to begin with. Keep in mind there are many free tools out there to help, so don't jump at the first one you find. You will be looking for software that is intuitive, simple to install, use, and track the data you are looking for (donor contact information, etc.). Lucky you! Funraise is all that and more. 

Make sure the giving process of the software is easy to complete. Too long a giving process will result in donors pausing half-way through or abandoning the donation altogether. Look for software that completes donations in a few clicks, and also makes setting up reccurring donations quick and straightforward.

Your donation software technology is a powerful tool to support your nonprofit right from the start.

Grant organizations

Corporate giving programs

Corporate philanthropy has always been a significant part of the nonprofit's world. Familiarity with the three critical types of corporate philanthropy programs out there is necessary. 

  • Matching gift programs: This is where companies match donations made by their employees to pre-approved nonprofits. Collecting donor employment information and raising awareness for these programs will help you capitalize on them.
  •  Volunteer grant programs: Companies participating in this program match the financial cost of employees who donate time to your organization by volunteering. It is similar to gift programs but can be quite generous over a period of time.
  • Other donation requests: A majority of companies will support nonprofits through other programs or individual donor policies. Your primary focus should be here for a new nonprofit to secure initial or early startup grants well before you've had the chance to build up an extensive donor or volunteer base.

Grant giving private foundations

When most people hear the term "nonprofit startup grants," they tend to think about private foundations and grant-giving endowments, and for a good reason.

For the most part, privately funded foundations support nonprofit organizations as their way of improving on the betterment of society. When researching grant funds for any projects or programming you've got upcoming, you may wish to look here first to secure funding.

This can be a bit tricky, to begin with, though if your nonprofit is just starting out and you don't have any established outreach or engagement events in place yet. If this is the case, then take the time to familiarize yourself with the major grant-giving foundations that are located in your region.

Federal nonprofit grant programs and endowments

The other primary source for nonprofits related to initial support is in federally funded programs.

Making use of the governments' database (grants.gov) for comprehensive federal grant resources is the first place to look.

Two of the government's most active federal grant-giving bodies are national endowments devoted explicitly to supporting nonprofit projects:

  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): Grants are provided to an individual or nonprofit projects that are art-based activities in many communities around the country.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Organizations with a focus on social, historical, literary, and educational topics would benefit from this program. Generally, the grants are awarded to larger institutions, established scholars, and public media. While they are nationally focused on the surface, the NEH operates councils in each state that are available to provide resources, support, and guidance to smaller organizations.

State- and municipal-funded grant resources 

Narrowing your scope is helpful here when researching startup grant opportunities for your nonprofit.

You will find state and city governments, regional commissions, and smaller foundations eager to invest in the growth of local nonprofits in their areas. They would include: 

  • Your state or city government websites
  • NEH state councils
  • Searchable Databases of philanthropic foundations (filtered by region and state)
  • State government agencies and endowments
  • Local municipal commissions

Nonprofit startup grant tips

Securing startup funding and inquiring about startup grants is a job in itself. Your organization needs to focus on its mission but also be willing to execute exhaustive searches for grant opportunities.

The few tips below may prove useful to help guide you in this process:

  • Online donations are extremely popular and valuable. In a recent survey, 54% of baby boomers prefer making online donations while that number goes up to 55% for millennials and Gen X donors.
  • Identify an established nonprofit similar to your organization. Introduce yourself and ask about their early days. You will be able to glean best practices and hopefully avoid pitfalls and obstacles. The successful nonprofit can most likely point you in the direction of resources they may have used in their early days that may be able to help.
  • There is no way of knowing how long it will be before you are granted your official status and receive your completed 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. With that said, don't wait to get started and pursue your mission and secure funding. The IRS has a unique set of tax policies in place for organizations in this situation. 
  • Take the time to practice your grant writing skills. Grantwriting is vitally essential to nonprofits. Unless your organization is a national-level institution, all major projects and much of your work will depend on grant funding. Learn the ropes on this one as soon as possible.

Final thoughts

Funding any nonprofit organization is incredibly hard work, but it is worth it. The key to financing is knowing where to find resources and creating opportunities to help your organization.

Focusing your efforts sooner rather than later on startup grant funding can very well play a significant role in your organization's initial growth. Ensure your organization is building the strong community and professional relationships needed to see success over time.

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