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 in order to pursue their own missions and to contribute to a more philanthropic environment generally.
In this guide we’ll cover the main sources for these kinds of grants, plus some extra tips for finding startup funding:
- 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
While starting a nonprofit isn’t easy, knowing where to look for initial support is the key to actually securing it! If your new organization is ready to begin pursuing outside funding, carefully read through the sections of this article and bookmark any resources you find useful.
1. Corporate giving programs for nonprofit startups
Corporate philanthropy is a major part of how the nonprofit world operates! If you’re unfamiliar with the major types of corporate philanthropy programs, be sure to research them now; 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 of 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. Check out the programs of some of the top volunteer grant companies for more information.
- Other donation requests. Many companies happily support nonprofits through other programs or individual policies, too. 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 with your nonprofit’s mission.
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 and funding their projects. When researching grant funds for any of your nonprofit’s upcoming projects or programming, private grant-giving foundations might be one of the first sources you’ll check.
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, engagement events, or donation platforms 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 new 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.
Plus, many grant-giving foundations will happily provide startup funding to new nonprofits! However, you’ll typically need to approach the foundation first. It will then determine whether or not supporting your startup aligns with its own mission. In this case, 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 that your nonprofit will address
- Projected budgets and financial needs to complete initial programs
These are similar to the kinds of materials that you’d 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 will specifically provide startup grants to new nonprofits can be a trial-and-error process, but the effort can pay off immensely!
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. The use of this official database requires a somewhat in-depth registration process, so be sure to designate some time to work on it. Access to this information can become invaluable as your nonprofit grows, so 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 in various fields. 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 huge 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 central 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.
Continually work to focus your mission and hone your case for support! The competition for federal startup and program grants for nonprofit organizations can sometimes be intense, but remaining focused and dedicated goes a long way to increasing your odds at securing financial support.
4. State and municipal-funded grant resources
Narrowing your scope when researching startup grant opportunities for your new nonprofit organization can be a great idea.
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 to apply for.
- 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 only a huge part of starting a nonprofit, it’s an extremely important element of running a nonprofit, period!
Federal and state-level grants will 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 from grant-giving private or government bodies means that your organization needs to focus its mission and be willing to conduct exhaustive searches for grant opportunities.
It’s important to make use of all kinds of effective donation platforms, but major donors and grants represent the core of 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 cutting out the clutter and focusing on what’s already been proven to work! A successful nonprofit can likely point you to the resources that it relied on after first starting.
- 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 get started pursuing your mission and securing funding. The IRS has special tax policies in place for organizations in this situation, so start building relationships and starting projects 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 get started learning the ropes.
It’s crucial that your nonprofit be able to effectively and persuasively communicate the value of its mission to relevant funders who would be interested in supporting your work. This is especially true when soliciting support in the form of a startup grant!
Funding a nonprofit organization is hard work, but it’s always worth it. Knowing where to find the resources and opportunities to help you further your mission, though, is key!
Initial startup grant funding for nonprofits can play a crucial role in the organization’s future growth, so focus your efforts now to ensure that your nonprofit has the chance to start building the strong community and professional relationships necessary for success.
For more information and tips on starting your nonprofit and applying for grants, check out these additional resources:
- 6 Tips for Writing a Perfect Nonprofit Mission Statement. Honing your mission statement is the first (and most meaningful!) step in starting your nonprofit organization! Check out what makes an actionable and lasting mission statement with our guide.
- 4 Awesome (and Effective) Fundraising Letter Templates from Qgiv. Building relationships with new donors the old-fashioned way is great practice for your written communication skills. Being able to effectively solicit support through a letter is the essence of grant writing!
- Getting Started with Grants: 5 Grant Writing Tips for Nonprofits. We’ve selected the most important things to remember when writing a grant proposal. Follow these techniques to guide your grant writing team to success.
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