5 Types of Nonprofit Startup Grants to Fund Your Mission

5 Types of Nonprofit Startup Grants to Fund Your Mission

You already know that starting a nonprofit takes dedication and hard work. The entire process of registering and funding a brand new nonprofit organization might feel overwhelming, but there are plenty of resources out there to help guide and support you through the process.

Startup grants are one major source of support for new nonprofits. In the for-profit business world, these grants are akin to seed money from investors.

Grant-giving foundations, government agencies, and other funding bodies support the work of both established and new nonprofit organizations. This support allows nonprofits to pursue their missions and contribute to a more philanthropic world.

In this guide we’ll cover the main sources for these kinds of grants, plus some extra tips for finding startup funding:

  1. Corporate giving programs for nonprofit startups
  2. Grant-giving private foundations
  3. Federal nonprofit grant programs and endowments
  4. State and municipal-funded grant resources
  5. Bonus nonprofit startup grant tips

Understanding each primary source of nonprofit support will go a long way toward getting your nonprofit up and running.

Before You Get Started, Make Sure You Have the Basics in Place.

While starting a nonprofit isn’t easy, having strong initial support is key to laying the groundwork for long-term success. Yes, startup grants can be great, but they’re not 100% guaranteed. You need funding sources that are reliable, accessible, and highly effective.

Before you start pursuing grants, make sure your nonprofit technology is in place.

Leading donations software is available that has been built for one simple purpose: to help nonprofits. Some software options are free, so you’re not spending any money that could go toward building your nonprofit—and achieving its mission.

Using resources like online donations software is important because it sets your nonprofit up for growth. It also shows grant application reviewers that you’re thinking through the practical aspects of running a nonprofit. You’re in it for the long haul.

There are plenty of free tools out there for nonprofits. Not surprisingly, their features and functionality differ widely. Look for technology that will become an easy part of your nonprofit team’s day to day, without the need for extensive training. It should be intuitive and simple to install, use, and track information (such as donor contact information) in.

It should also make the giving process easier for your donors. The longer the giving process, the likelier that the donor will pause midway through it—and never complete the donation. Look for technology that completes donations in a few clicks, and that makes it just as easy to set up recurring donations. If technology is the bedrock of successful fundraising, recurring donations are the layer just above that bedrock. They’re crucial to long-term engagement.

At Snowball, we’ve seen how incredibly effective (not to mention gratifying) it is for nonprofits to unleash generosity through online tools. We’re honored to have helped nonprofits achieve their missions through free tools including an online donation page, recurring gifts, and transaction and donor data. We’ve been helping nonprofits for ten years, and if we had to sum up that decade in one sentence, it would be: Free technology is one of the most powerful tools a nonprofit can have by its side.

Now that you have the basics in place, it’s time to start telling grant organizations how amazing your nonprofit is!

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1. Corporate Giving Programs for Nonprofit Startups

Corporate philanthropy is a major part of the nonprofit world. If you’re unfamiliar with the key types of corporate philanthropy programs, now’s the time to change that. Your nonprofit organization will almost certainly be interacting with them in the future.

These are the three main types of corporate giving programs that support nonprofits:

  • Matching gift programs. Companies will financially match the donations made by their employees to eligible nonprofits. Raising awareness for these programs and collecting donor employment information will help you to capitalize on these programs.
  • Volunteer grant programs. Companies will financially match the time that employees donate to your organization by volunteering. Similar to matching gift programs, some volunteer grants can be quite generous.
  • Other donation requests. Many companies happily support nonprofits through other programs or individual policies. These are where your new nonprofit should focus to secure initial or early corporate startup grants, before you’ve grown an extensive donor or volunteer base.

You’ve already put in all the hard work to complete your 501(c)(3) application, but now it’s time to conduct even more research. If you want corporate support for your nonprofit organization, you’ll need to identify companies that might be interested in helping you pursue your mission.

For example, the Home Depot’s Framing Hope program focuses on supporting nonprofit and community-based rebuilding efforts by donating materials. If your new nonprofit’s first major project involves construction in any way, this corporate giving program is definitely worth exploring.

Check out Double the Donation’s guide to corporate donation requests for more examples of programs like this one.

Individual corporate giving programs and nonprofit startup grants vary widely by company. Some are topic- or region-specific, and others provide either financial support or in-kind donations to help get your projects started. This means you’ll need to research your options and determine which corporate giving programs might be the best fit for your nonprofit.

2. Grant-Giving Private Foundations

Private foundations and grant-giving endowments are probably what most people think of when they hear the term “nonprofit startup grants,” and for good reason.

Many privately funded foundations exist to better society by supporting nonprofit organizations. When researching grant funds for any of your nonprofit’s upcoming projects or programming, you might first look into private grant-giving foundations.

If your nonprofit is just starting out, though, it can be tricky to know where to begin, especially when you don’t yet have a major program of outreach or engagement events established yet. This is when it can be extremely useful to simply familiarize yourself with the major grant-giving foundations that operate in your region.

For instance, here are some of the top grant-giving foundations in Georgia. Let’s say you just started a nonprofit in Atlanta. Beginning your startup grant research with this list would be a smart move. Even if you don’t immediately find a grant that aligns with your mission, you’ll have an idea of what kind of support is available from grant-giving foundations.

Many grant-giving foundations will happily provide startup funding to new nonprofits. You’ll typically need to approach the foundation first, and it will then determine whether supporting your startup aligns with its own mission. It’s helpful to have some materials already prepared, including:

  • A cover letter to inquire about startup funding
  • A business plan for your organization, or other structural plans
  • A description of your mission and the need your nonprofit will address
  • Projected budgets and financial needs to complete initial programs

These are similar to the kinds of materials you would submit in a full, formal grant proposal, but offering them in a condensed version enables the foundation to quickly make a decision about startup funding. If interested in your mission, the foundation will likely then request that you submit a full proposal for funding.

Check out our grant proposal template for more guidance on how to present a case of support to a funding body. Identifying grant-giving private foundations that specifically provide startup grants to new nonprofits can be a trial-and-error process, but the effort could pay off immensely.

Get started with a free fundraising platform that is perfect for nonprofits.

3. Federal Nonprofit Grant Programs and Endowments

Federally funded programs are another major source of initial support for new nonprofit organizations.

The first place to look for federal grant resources is the comprehensive database at grants.gov. This official database requires a somewhat in-depth registration process, so be sure to set aside some time to work on it. Access to this information can become invaluable as your nonprofit grows, so it’s worth it to put the effort in now.

Two of the largest and most active grant-giving federal bodies are national endowments devoted specifically to supporting nonprofit projects. They are:

  • The National Endowment for the Arts, or the NEA. The NEA serves to provide funding to individual or nonprofit projects that create new American art or increase access to art-based activities for communities around the country. The NEA awards several major grants annually, each focused on different types of arts engagement.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities, or the NEH. The NEH offers a wide array of support to organizations that focus on social, historical, literary, and educational topics. These grants are typically awarded to larger institutions, established scholars, and public media outlets, but the NEH also operates councils in each state that can provide resources, support, and guidance to smaller organizations.

Even if your organization is starting very small, these federal endowments can be great places to start your research. As hubs of the country’s nonprofit network, they’re excellent resources for learning more about grants and grant resources, especially in conjunction with the federal grant database above.

Always explore your grant options when seeking initial funding. At the federal level, this support will typically need to be connected with a specific programming proposal, but more general startup grants and support are certainly available if you search for them.

Either way, it’s usually a smart idea to have specific programming plans in mind even at the earliest stages of your nonprofit’s development. And as noted above, it’s smart to have the groundwork laid for how you’ll continue to receive support down the line.

The competition for federal startup and program grants for nonprofit organizations can be intense, so remain focused and dedicated to your mission. Increase your odds of securing financial support by showing that you’re committed to your goals, and you have the tools, systems, and software in place to meet them.

4. State- and Municipal-Funded Grant Resources

It can be a great idea to narrow your scope when researching startup grant opportunities for your new nonprofit organization.

State and city governments, regional commissions, and smaller foundations are often quite eager to invest in the growth of nonprofit networks in their areas.

This means that the opportunities to secure startup or program-specific funding for your nonprofit are fairly diverse at this level. They might include:

  • Your state or city government’s website. This should be your first stop as you research state-level nonprofit startup grants.
  • NEH State Councils. As described above, the NEH councils in each state regularly offer resources and grants to nonprofits.
  • Databases of philanthropic foundations. Searchable databases that allow you to filter by region and state are a great way to identify private foundations, community-based groups, and corporate giving programs.
  • State government agencies and endowments. Most states have their own arts and/or humanities endowments too. Be sure to research every state-level opportunity.
  • Regional and municipal commissions. The websites of these groups can be invaluable resources not only for finding new funding opportunities for your community- and social-issue-based mission, but also for familiarizing your new nonprofit with the local landscape.

Remember, when looking for funding for your new nonprofit organization, you can search for general startup grants or grant funds with more specific programming requirements. The grant writing process isn’t just a huge part of starting a nonprofit. It’s an extremely important element of running a nonprofit, period

Federal- and state-level grants typically have more specific requirements about how nonprofits will use awarded funds, but more general startup funds must often be solicited. Don’t be afraid to reach out to any funding source for more information.

5. Bonus Nonprofit Startup Grant Tips

Soliciting startup funding and inquiring about startup grants means that your organization needs to focus its mission. And it needs to be willing to conduct exhaustive searches for grant opportunities.

It’s important to make use of a donations platform like the one we offer here at Snowball, since online donations are the most popular way to give. (Among baby boomers, 54% prefer to donate online; that number goes up to 55% for millennials and Gen X donors. Source: Double the Donation.) Once you have online donations in place, grants are integral to the average nonprofit’s annual or operating fund, so begin sharpening your grant proposal skills now.

Here are a few helpful tips that might help guide you in this process:

  • Find an established nonprofit similar to your own. Reach out, introduce yourself, and ask about its early days. Looking to your professional peers and forebears in the nonprofit space is a great strategy for focusing on what’s already worked! A successful nonprofit can likely point you to the resources it relied when first getting started.
  • Don’t wait until you’re completely official to get started. There’s no way of knowing how long it could take to receive your nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, so don’t wait to start pursuing your mission and securing funding. The IRS has special tax policies in place for organizations in this situation. Start building relationships and growing support as soon as possible.
  • Practice your grant-writing skills. Grant writing is incredibly important to most nonprofits. Unless yours is a national-level institution, much of your work and major projects will depend on grant funding. Study each section outlined in our grant proposal template to learn the ropes.

Your nonprofit’s team needs to be able to effectively and persuasively communicate the value of your mission to relevant funders. This is especially true when soliciting support in the form of a startup grant.


Funding a nonprofit organization is hard work, but it’s worth it. Knowing where to find the resources and opportunities to help you further your mission is key!

Initial startup grant funding for nonprofits can play a crucial role in your organization’s future growth, so focus your efforts now. Make sure your nonprofit is building the strong community and professional relationships that are necessary for success.

For more information and tips on starting your nonprofit and applying for grants, check out these additional resources:

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