One-Seventh of the Pie

Grants from private foundations comprise a bit less than 14% of all charitable gifts.  Yet they loom large for many nonprofits.  Indeed, when I left the cloistered world of university fund raising, I was surprised to discover that many of the people I met who said they were “fundraisers” were, in actuality, grant writers.  What surprised me even more was the difference in how they went about getting grants and how I had when I was Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. In my (clearly cloistered) world, most of my time was spent with program officers working out with them the parameters of the grant.  I wrote grants, but that really want the least of my job.

Most of the grantwriters I know (and, indeed, myself when I am writing grants for clients) spend their time at their desk, writing grant proposals.

Often, when I doing a fundraising workshop, I talk about where charitable monies come from.  I draw a circle carve out a little more than two-thirds of it.

“About 75% of all charitable dollars,” I will ask, pointing to the large piece, “come from where?”  Mainly the answer I get is…grants.  People seem surprised that the right answer is “Individuals.”  Living individuals, to be precise, because another 7-8% come from those no longer living.  And they are really surprised to discover that is almost twice as much as corporate largesse (or would that be smallesse?).

Still, the idea that grants are the answer for nonprofits keeps growing.  For me, that’s a good thing—I teach an online grants class; I’ve written a grantwriting workbook (both can be accessed at my website

But I’m not always sure it is the best thing for many of the nonprofits out there.

Most grants are restricted, and too often, nonprofit organizations tie themselves into knots to fit guidelines that don’t actually fit them.

Grants, I firmly believe, should be a part of your resource development program—but only a part. To be successful, you need to ensure a diversified funding stream and not just focus on one-seventh of the charitable giving pie.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to build their resource development capacity (and yes, that does include grants!).  To learn more about her, her grantwriting class and Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants the only grantwriting book you really need, check out  You can buy the book directly at