Not Just Grants

The board member was telling me that his organization “doesn’t bother” with individual donors. “Grants,” he said (smugly, I might add), “make so much more sense.   Bigger dollars. Why spend time getting $100 or even $1,000 from a individuals?” I, of course, got on my soapbox and talked about the value of individual supporters—and how they create a sustainability that grants simply cannot. Next to me, a gentleman was enthusiastically nodding his head.

“Grants,” he opined, “are not meant to support your organization as an ongoing effort. And foundations, at least, do look carefully at the diversity of your funding pool.”

He, it turned out, was on the board of several smaller local foundations. In fact, two of those foundations had been funding the board member’s organization for three years and, he told us, they would not be renewing this year. “Time for you to broaden your base.”

Specific as this case is, it is not unique. While individual donors do want to become part of the organization and stay with it (when they are treated as part of the family) for the duration, most foundations do not have that long-view. They see themselves more as opportunities to start programs that might not otherwise have a chance; enhance the work you do for awhile; help to enhance an existing project. And while they may fund your organization numerous times over a number of years, many will insist on anywhere from a year to five year hiatus between grants, and others will continue their support only if they see you working hard to have others join in.

Really successful fundraising programs rest on two important pillars: An organization that has a culture of philanthropy and one that has a diversified funding stream.

That culture of philanthropy simply means that everyone at the organization believes that it is doing work worthy of being supported by others and is willing to help ensure that others are asked to help fund that work.

Diversification in funding means that you are reaching out to many sources for funding and looking at a variety of ways to support your work. Grants most likely will be a part of that, but they should not be the only way.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to build stronger, more involved boards. Learn more at While there, sign up for her monthly newsletter.