Making an Impact on a Very Small Budget - Exponent Philanthropy
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Making an Impact on a Very Small Budget

Our little family foundation is very, very small. Last year, we gave away $50,000 in grants, which is not enough money to solve any of the world’s problems.

Our family is also extremely diverse. We are scattered across the country and are interested in a very wide range of charitable causes. This makes focusing our efforts by geography or subject area extremely difficult at best, and also limits how much we can give to a single organization. As a result, last year we awarded grants of $500 to $10,000 to 12 different nonprofits in five different states.

Nevertheless, we are making an impact in our respective communities with our small targeted grants.

How do we do it?

Instead of trying to solve the world’s problems, we focus on solving the operational problems of small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations. Many of these organizations put all their limited resources into program expenses, leaving little or no money for essential operational expenses, unexpected budget shortfalls, or much needed community outreach projects. That’s where we come in.

With our little grants, we have replaced 10-year-old computers, flood-damaged library books, and the mast of a youth group’s sailing ship, initiated a public school nestbox webcam program, published a children’s book about bat conservation, and helped bring a nationally recognized chamber music group to a rural community.

Most of our grant money goes to small-staffed nonprofits located in economically depressed areas with few reliable funding sources. While most of their problems are well out of our price range, we have used creative grantmaking strategies to do the greatest possible good within our limited budget.

For instance, we couldn’t build a much-needed new library, but we could provide the funds to launch a capital campaign. We couldn’t solve the funding challenges of a struggling public radio station, but we could help them raise additional money through a matching grant challenge. Most recently, we helped a small human services nonprofit stay in compliance with ADA regulations and retain their Americorps volunteers by funding the building of a wheelchair ramp for their offices.

We also assist numerous small, volunteer-based grassroots organizations, run off kitchen tables by dedicated volunteers with little or no paid staff. These start-ups operate under the radar of most foundations and are often ill-equipped to write formal grant proposals. Their annual operating budgets are typically $50,000 or less, so even a very small grant can have significant impact on capacity building or volunteer retention. With our small grants, we have helped these very small nonprofits reimburse volunteers for out of pocket expenses, purchase professional displays, promotional materials, and advertising space, and obtain bookkeeping software for tax preparation and grantwriting.

Certainly there are days when we dream of having more grant money and more resources, like a “proper” foundation. But we’re making a difference, despite our very small size. And that’s what counts.

Exponent Philanthropy member Celeste Land of Vienna, Virginia, is a trustee with the Land Family Foundation Trust in Columbus, Ohio, and a member of Exponent Philanthropy’s Impact Working Group (IWG).


  1. Floyd Keene

    Great blog post. Inspiring to hear how to leverage small amounts into major changes.

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