Is it worth it to go after small grants?

Crafting a winning grant proposal requires an investment of time, and the size of the award is not always commensurate with the complexity of the proposal package. This raises important strategic questions for grantseekers: If you’re going to commit the time to knock proposals out of the park, why would you want to pursue small grants? Is going after pocket change really worth it?

Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center, in Los Angeles, Calif., said there are plenty of good reasons to pursue small grants — as long as it makes strategic sense to do so. “Time is money, but small grants of a couple thousand dollars or less can leverage powerful benefits for both small and large organizations.” Going small can help nonprofits to:

  • Build an institutional funding base. A small grant can be an excellent way to get a foot in the door with funders and lay the groundwork for larger grants, technical assistance, and introductions to other grantmakers.
  • Expand and diversify a funding base. Having a larger, broader pool of funders can provide a stable foundation for nonprofits. Relying on a handful of larger grants can make organizations vulnerable when even one of those grants dries up.
  • Seed a core mission-related project. A $500 grant for soil, seeds, and tools can make a big difference for a charter school focused on environmental sustainability. $2,500 for computers can get a job development project in a homeless shelter up and running.
  • Join like organizations together in a strategic partnership. Sometimes funders give small, targeted grants to groups of organizations working to solve the same problem. Being a part of such a consortium can help organizations attract new partners, PR, and funding opportunities.

Thompson said it can be natural for nonprofits to want to use the limited resources to focus on large grants, but there are downsides to big money. “Large grants can be a long shot, and they can come with strings attached that can overwhelm the organization’s capacity,” Thompson said. “Small grants that are in the nonprofit’s sweet spot can accomplish a lot with a little.”