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Lazar Finker—The Value and Challenge of Microgrants

In the philanthropy world, much of the attention is given to larger grants—leaving many smaller nonprofits searching for their big break in the form of a generous donor. However, smaller grants can fill a niche for organizations to supplement their other sources of funding. Additionally, nonprofits that are just starting out can find value in little donations.


The unfortunate side of microgrants is that, while they are easy to raise and solicit from donors, they are often tightly restricted. Reporting on these donations can also eat up time and overhead better spent putting funds to good use. However, savvy nonprofits can learn to implement them to the best of their ability and come out ahead.


The easy acquisition of microgrants allows for more niche nonprofits to arise. These organizations might deal with a very specific community issue or assist in underserved populations without having to worry “making it big” with sizable donations.


One such example is the Sparkgrants program, which provides microgrants to individuals working toward social and community change in Pierce County, Tacoma. The brainchild of a 2011 community gathering, Sparkgrants focuses on individual funding but can often lead to early-stage nonprofits getting off of the ground. These sorts of initiatives can be valuable not only for the actual money but for introducing small-scale philanthropic efforts to larger communities.


For smaller nonprofits, microgrants can help organizations expand their reach and scale in a manageable way. Oftentimes, these programs can expose like-minded philanthropists to each other and foster the creation of joint efforts that can better serve specific interests. Nonprofit alliances, though not often discussed, are a great way to circumvent the competitive environment of the industry. Though many organizations fight for the attention of donors, using microgrants to build these connections can allow for all to reach a wider audience and to address weak points in the scope of partners.


Microgrants can also be leveraged to help a specific mission, given to organizations and businesses that contribute. For instance, a food waste initiative promoted by the New York Department of Sanitation offered funds and other incentives to businesses that addressed this specific problem. This approach is beneficial in that it allows for direct change on part of those that can make the most impact without the need for the “middleman” of a nonprofit.


Even so, don’t expect nonprofits to go away when it comes to providing direct support. And microgrants can serve as a way to fill in the niche needs of nonprofits and cause the rise of new organizations for which there is a need. While it can be challenging for nonprofits to survive solely on microgrants, they provide a strategic need that any savvy professional in the industry should recognize.