Making small grants: where to start

Alliance magazine

Grassroots Grantmakers
Grassroots Grantmakers is a community of funders whose projects work at a local or community level. The organization does not fund projects directly, but instead seeks to build connections between funders and facilitate peer learning. The resources section of its website shows the scope of the organization’s work. Here you can find, among other things, application forms, case studies and tips from member organizations, all aimed at helping other grantmakers refine and improve their processes. The organization is mainly aimed at US grantmakers, but it has many articles and ideas that will help grantmakers all over the world, and may also be of use to those applying for grants.

For more information

Association of Small Foundations
The Association of Small Foundations (ASF) has over 3,000 members, all of whom are foundations with few or no staff. The association provides peer learning opportunities and numerous online resources, creates links between foundations working in similar fields, and gives small foundations a collective voice. Non-members can access some of ASF’s publications and resources online, including the directory of foundation advisers and a toolkit for foundation boards, but much of the website remains restricted to members.

For more information

Global Greengrants Fund

Over the last 16 years, Global Greengrants Fund has supported upwards of 5,000 grassroots groups in more than 100 countries in the global South with small grants aimed at moving forward local initiatives for social justice and the environment. Greengrants focuses on small grants, typically under $5,000, to respond to the needs of smaller, community-based groups that are often unable to access strategic funding for their initiatives. It identifies grantees through the expertise and networks of volunteer advisers, working together in regional and thematic boards. These boards design grantmaking strategies that fit the specific contexts and priorities in each region on issues including climate change, biodiversity, sustainable livelihoods and indigenous rights, with an emphasis on the nexus of sustainability and human rights. Each year, Greengrants supports around 700 groups; it has awarded more than $20 million in small grants since it was founded.

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Greengrants Alliance of Funds
Greegrants Alliance is an international alliance of organizations that seek to solve the environmental and social challenges the world faces by increasing support for grassroots action. The Greengrants Alliance was established in 2005 to assist advisers of the Global Greengrants Fund in Brazil and South-east Asia to establish local funding organizations. Since then, it has grown to five members – in Brazil/South America, Canada, Mexico, South-east Asia and the US. The Greengrants Alliance links to a growing number of partners around the world and seeks to assist in building and expanding small grants approaches.

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International Network of Women’s Funds
The International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) is an organization that seeks to expand the resources available to women’s rights groups around the world. Currently it has 27 members globally, most of which grew from the feminist movement, and links between North and South are positively encouraged. The network holds a biennial meeting to share information and ideas and provide opportunities for professional development and mentoring schemes. Although the INWF itself does not give grants, its website has links to its members’ websites.

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Global Fund for Women
Global Fund for Women (GFW) is an international network of people committed to defending women’s rights and achieving equality. As a grantmaking foundation, it gives more than 500 grants per year to women’s groups around the world, ranging from $500 to a maximum of $20,000. These cover a range of areas that affect women, such as education, reproductive health, trafficking and promoting women in government. The GFW website has a range of resources for women’s groups, such as links to other groups working in the same area, grantee case studies and an online version of the Women’s Fundraising Handbook, which is aimed at helping first-time fundraisers.

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X minus Y Solidarity Fund
Amsterdam-based X minus Y is an independent fund that has been giving political and financial support to grassroots groups all over the world for the last 40 years. The fund focuses on projects that are likely to be rejected elsewhere because they deal with controversial issues or are politically sensitive; the fund was a long-standing supporter of the ANC during apartheid and has been supporting the liberation movement in Burma for many years.

X minus Y gives a number of small grants (€500-€5,000) each year to projects that deal with similarly controversial or sensitive themes. Some recent examples include grants to Lady Mermaid, a group campaigning to legalize prostitution in Uganda in order to give better conditions for sex workers, and to the campaign against the arms trade in the Czech Republic.

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Both Ends Foundation
Both Ends, based in the Netherlands, was formed in 1986 with the remit of supporting organizations in the developing world that are both fighting poverty and working for sustainable environmental management. Since then, it has supported hundreds of environmental organizations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.

Following the death in 2005 of Joke Waller-Hunter (Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), Both Ends set up the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative, which gives grants to young people nominated by organizations from developing countries. Eighteen grants, ranging from €2,500 to €15,000, are given each year to individuals who display leadership potential but lack practical skills. Grants can be spent on anything that will improve the person’s leadership skills, such as language lessons, a study trip or a management course.

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UnLtd: the foundation for social entrepreneurs in the UK

UnLtd supports around 1,000 people every year to turn their idea for a social or environmental venture into reality, from first steps through to being ready to scale up. It is an unusual scheme for a foundation in a number of ways. Support is offered to individuals, not organizations. Decisions are made on the individuals first and their project ideas second: the underlying belief is that a good social entrepreneur will improve their project as it develops.

UnLtd makes large numbers of small grants under its Level 1 scheme, averaging £2,600 per person. That allows the foundation to take risks without major worries, and to operate a quite subjective assessment system with little paperwork. The grants are backed up by substantial support from staff and pro bono support from business professionals. Level 2 awards, up to £15,000, support people whose ideas are more developed and pay for the living expenses of award winners to help them devote more time to their projects. These are judged on a mix of the potential of the individual and the business plan of their venture.

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Global Fund for Community Foundations
The Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) uses a combination of small grants (in the range of $5,000 to $20,000), technical support and grantee convenings to strengthen the capacities of individual community foundations, and to support the development of local philanthropy more broadly in low- and middle-income countries.

Many of GFCF’s grantees are newly established community foundations in developing contexts which are outside the more mainstream, internationally supported NGO sector, and in many instances GFCF is the first external funder. GFCF emphasizes the role of the small grant as a specific development tool both at the community level (the grants made by community foundations can often be as small as $50) and through its own grantmaking.

Because one of its key objectives is to promote the role of local resources in driving local development, GFCF deliberately seeks to remain a minor funding partner, providing the kind of ‘patient capital’ that can support sound − but often difficult to fund − institutional development processes. GFCF also recognizes and seeks to maximize the role that a grant from a global institution can play in acting as a catalyst for mobilization (of both communities and boards) and in leveraging other resources and relationships.

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Philanthropic Ventures Foundation’s Ambassador Program
Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, based in Oakland, California, was set up in 1991, and has developed a reputation for its innovative approaches to grantmaking. Its programmes, such as the Paperless Grant (a single-page funding request) and Immediate Response Grants (which delivers money within 48 hours) are designed to minimize red tape and maximize the social impact of every donated dollar.

In 2007, founder Bill Somerville launched the Ambassador Program, which recognizes the work of selected community service providers by awarding them with an immediate $10,000 grant to use at their discretion. These ‘paperless’ grants have no formal application or review processes, and instead rely on trusted relationships and acknowledged good work on the part of the recipients.

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Learning from the small grants experience
For many funders, the use of small grants is an important mechanism for the accomplishment of larger goals, but for a core of dozens of organizations it has also become centrally important to success on an array of issues including sustainable development, human rights and the environment. With this in mind, small grants organizations and programmes met in 2005 and 2006 to tackle the challenges of how to make small grants more widely accessible and learn from each other’s experiences.

For more information
To download reports from the small grants workshops, Evaluating and valuing small grants and Global Grantmaking for Small Grants, see


Comments (2)

Molly Akoth Odhiiambo

I am getting a very compassionate donor, X minus Y Solidarity. Thanks to Alliance Magazine. We are doing consultation straighr away on how we can partner.

Kuule Andrew

thanks alliance magazine for that update, if we could get ways if partnering with those foundations listed above, it would help some of our local and young organizations

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