The Not-So-Obvious Grant Opportunities

While the government, foundations, and corporations are the largest sources of grant funding, other opportunities are often forgotten in the quest for the big dollars. And these can lead to substantial rewards for nonprofit organizations — often without a lengthy grant application process. A list of possible suggestions follows, but first, let’s look at why these Not-So-Obvious funders might want to give to our organizations and programs.

Several years ago, I took over as executive director of a large family foundation in my city. It was a daunting task getting to know 20 board members relatively quickly, most of whom were not local. I began with personal interviews and asked the same questions of each person, including “Why are you involved with your family foundation?” The most frequent answer was that they wanted to make a difference. I always like to keep this in mind when searching for funders for my nonprofit clients.

So where are the funders who want to make a difference but are a bit harder to find? Here are just a few places you can look right now.

  • Service Clubs – They are in almost every town and include Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, etc. When I was working for a nonprofit, I was invited to present to these clubs about our environmental work and almost always received a donation. While the donations may not be in the six-figure range, you never know who on their board takes an active interest and becomes that major donor.
  • Community Foundations – There are over 725 grant-making community foundations in the U.S. While most of them offer competitive grant opportunities and issue Requests for Proposals, they also hold a multitude of donor-advised funds. In Rochester NY, for example, there are over 1,000 donor advised funds. About half of those will consider giving to a program or organization that aligns with their interest and mission. Often there is a key staff person at the community foundation who serves as the go-between to help you access those funds.
  • Professional Organizations – Bar Associations, Nurses Associations, realtors, architects, engineers – there are many possibilities. Find a board member involved with one of these organizations as they often award funds to their local nonprofits.
  • Hobbies or Special Interest Groups – I’ve secured grants from Garden Clubs, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, and women’s sports clubs. Consider those clubs that may be close to home but also operate nationally since they often give donations. And don’t forget: many of their members may be personal donors far into the future.
  • Fraternal Organizations – such as the Elks, Moose, Eagles, Owls (see a pattern here?) and Masons often give grants/donations of significant amounts.

There are many other possibilities. The important thing is to look carefully, see if your missions align, and be visible.