Nonprofits are essential to our lives. There are over 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the U.S. These include public charities, private foundations, chambers of commerce, civic leagues and fraternal organizations.
In fact until recently, the NFL (Nat'l Football League) was classified as a nonprofit! That may blow you away if you’ve noticed ticket prices. But ticket sales and ad revenues go to the 32 NFL clubs and have always been taxed. The tax exempt status pertained only to the NFL’s governing operation. They have voted to drop that status due to heavy criticism (the Commissioner made a cool $44 million in 2013…) and will pay taxes beginning with 2015…
Most nonprofits are entities like arts organizations, churches, neighborhood associations, universities, soup kitchens, charities that serve the poor, environmental groups, labor unions and so on.
A little over 20% of nonprofits’ total revenues come from contributions, gifts and government grants. But the government is not the only entity that awards grants to nonprofits. There are many others that could be important to your organization and we help you find them:
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If you are a nonprofit you may be in a good position to compete for lots of grants. This is true particularly if you are officially classified as a 501 ©(3) organization by the IRS. That means, among other things, that your donors can deduct their donations on their tax returns. It takes considerable paperwork, fees and follow-up to achieve that designation and you must have an IRS letter to prove your 501©(3) status.
If you are not a 501©(3) that doesn’t mean there are no grants for you. It just significantly reduces the number available. If you have a specific project in mind you might be able to partner with an organization that is one. This article focuses most on grants for 501©(3)’s but will include some with more flexible eligibility rules. If you are a looking for additional funding for a church, see grants for churches.
there are a number of things to consider before your non profit even go after a grant. First of all, are you relying on grants to be your main source of funding? Most grant-makers don’t have a positive reaction to that, preferring instead that you can show that you have other resources to sustain your operation. Too many organizations underestimate the costs of their projects and then run into trouble when they have to look beyond grants to keep going. Also, if you are trying to satisfy various grant makers who are looking for a match between your mission and their vision and goals, you may start to modify your plans to try to appeal to the grant maker. That can detract you from your original mission — so be sure you are finding potential grantmakers whose vision is a good match for your passion and programs.
Update February 2018 Does your nonprofit focus on sports for young people? If those sports include baseball and/or softball you could be eligible for a grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. Awards can be sued for money needed for new programs or to make improvements to current programs or facilities. Awards are made each quarter and the next deadline is April 1 of 2018. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is associated with Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. You can get more information about applying for a grant and learn about the criteria used to judge applications by going to mlb.com and searching Baseball Tomorrow Fund. You may not have time to go after the April 1, 2018 deadline but you can get ready and apply next quarter — applications are taken and awards made four times a year!
One of the best ways to find grants is actually the easiest. Just think local and always be alert to opportunities. The grants may be small but can add up - and you’ll have less competition than for larger grants advertised nationally. You might be in Starbucks and see something posted on their bulletin board about a grant or award competition from a local agency or business. Check out postings at libraries in your area. Drop into the Chamber of Commerce in your town and/or sign up for their newsletter if you haven’t already. Even if they don’t offer grants they are likely in touch with - and aware of - those who do. Visit your state’s web page regularly and search for grants — they can be a great source for both information and funds. Also check with the larger churches in your area. Sometimes they have a discretionary fund that they use to offer grants to local organizations that serve the community and you could apply even if you are not a member of the church. Read the local newspaper(s) and watch for ads or articles about large or small local awards or grants. If you are fortunate enough to have a staff, make it part of their jobs to always be on the lookout for grants and other funding sources.
Here are some additional ideas about how and where to look for organizations that give grants to nonprofits:
- Search your county or state for organizations of fundmakers. Sometimes they hold events so grant seekers can meet them and vice versa.
- Remember to look “in house”. You might be surprised to discover how many connections the members of your board might have. They could offer connections and introductions to foundations formed by private coporations, by families, or others.
- Do a general internet search for organizations that have received grants similar to those you are seeking. Sometimes they have websites that include a list of those who have made gifts to them recently.
- Check with your library to see if they can direct you to directories of regional foundations.
One of the things the federal government does right is make it easy to find current information about thousands (and thousands!) of grants. Our guide to grants.gov explains that it is the go-to site for government grant information. It is constantly updated and covers all government funding announcements with links to more information abut eligibility and how to apply. If you go to that site and enter “Grant Opportunities” in the search box at the top of the page you will see a tab called “Search Grants.” On the left enter your keywords according to the type of grant you are looking for. Below that you will find other criteria. Be sure to go to the box called “Eligibility” and scroll down to the nonprofit category. Check the correct box depending on whether you are or are not a 501©(3). Then click Search and voila: you will see a listing of grants with a very brief description. Click on any of them to learn more and see how to apply.
Update August 2019
If your nonprofit is a certified 501© 3 organization located in Texas, with a focus on helping women over age 18 you might want to check out the Boulware Foundation, This foundation provides small grants to organizations that specifically help women to gain training and job-related skills, to develop financial literacy, to learn how to budget, among others. They do not award grants to religious organizations, individuals, or political parties. They also focus on teaching women proper workplace behavior and other tips for success not limited just to finances. Unfortunately they are not accepting applications right now, but you can go to their website to sign up to receive information from them.
The Marriott Foundation is another source of funding for nonprofits. It is endowed with money from the estate of J. Willard Marriott, Sr. and is not connected to Marriott International. It does not put out any requests for unsolicited proposals. It considers its own goals and values and when they find effective organizations that are consistent with their vision and objectives, they invite those organizations to submit proposals. Grants are both single year and multi-year and can be used for a wide range of applications such as building campaigns, operating costs and more. You can learn more about their funding priorities and see if your nonprofit might be a fit on the website of the morriott foundation.
Update September 2017 Sometimes grants come in the form of products or services rather than financial awards. Though you may be looking for cash, these awards can still be very useful. They can help to make your organization more effective and better recognized as well as saving you money that is just as good as more money in the bank. One example is the Firespring Foundation. They support nonprofits that are doing work that strengthens their communities by providing professional support for creating your website. There are no specific deadlines, you can submit an application at any time. You must be a 501©(3) per the IRS. They also are looking for applications that clearly state your goals and the results of your work, a history of successfully accomplishing your mission and evidence that your organization is financially sound.
Update January 2017 The Leona Guber Trust offers Foundation Grants to organizations that offer the most benefits to humanity. They particularly focus on hospitals and educational institutions. They also note that they give preference to those institutions that are established by the Roman Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA and YWCA. A part of Wells Fargo Bank, this Foundation claims that there are no requirements as to where applicants are located, but they do tend to make grants most often to those organizations locate in Northampton County and Lehigh County in Pennsylvania. Applying entities must be 501 © (3)’s per the IRS and must not be seeking funds for political support. The average grants size is about $2000 and they award an average of 15 grants per year. There are application cycles throughout the year. Current applications to be considered at their grant meeting in March should be in by January 31. You can apply online at the wellsfargo website.
Update June 2016 Grants have been announced by the Marguerite Casey Foundation for journalists. Called the 2016 Equal Voice Journalism Awards, the program focuses on increasing public awareness of poverty. Those who receive the awards will be required to write a minimum of one short series or in-depth piece regarding poor people and how various aspects of poverty and the poor affect public perception and policy. They will receive $2250 and up to $1000 in travel reimbursement. You can also apply if you’re a journalist currently in college. Students can get the Equal Voice Scholarship and receive $500 plus as much as $800 for travel. Check the Marguerite Casey Foundation for details.
Foundations are a major source of grants for nonprofits. They are not as easy to identify as government grants because there is no public central database. An organization called The Foundation Center does maintain an excellent database that you can subscribe to but it's not inexpensive. If you are near a major city you may be able to find a library that has a subscription and you can use that. Learn more about the Foundation Center in Types of Grants and Where to Find Them. If you plan to compete for Foundation Grants you should also check out Write Foundation Grants Fast — just the description of this ingenious system will give you some great tips!
Think Crowdfunding is just for businesses, individuals and artistic projects? Think again! There are lots of online fundraisers going on right now — and many have been successful! One of the best known platforms is Razoo. They have helped people and organizations set up over 150,000 fundraising websites and let caring people donate more than $500 million to causes that matter to them. And they are very good at taking advantage of social media to spread the word. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of setting up an online fundraiser. They make it very easy and you probably could enlist a young relative or student you know to help out
While Grants are the best source of financing after donations, sometimes they simply are not available. Or the may not be large enough to cover major projects like purchasing property, making significant capital improvements or renovations, etc. If you are a large organization, consider a loan from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. Their Nonprofit Finance Fund makes loans to qualified 501©(3)’s with 3+ years of operating history, $1 million or more each year in unrestricted revenue and a minimum loan need of around $500,000. And their New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC) can help with even larger projects. They use millions of dollars in tax credit allocations awarded to them by the CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) fund of the U.S. Treasury Department. Since their initial year 20007, they have been awarded over $231 million in such credits. The credits have been used to make financing that is very flexible available to nonprofits. Nonprofits have used these credits to build health centers, theaters, charter schools, food banks and more. Those are mighty big projects which may be beyond your scope but —- you never know. Check them out at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and think big!