Grant money to start up a nonprofit organization is some of the most difficult money to raise. Unless the founder is well-connected, he must contend with being one applicant in a pool of many thousands for very few seed-money opportunities.
The easiest way to check for startup grants on the federal level is to start at the government's Grants.gov site. It serves as the nexus for all government agencies. Government grants change every year, but the office that is most likely to have startup money is the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, because it has a local mandate. It is almost impossible for a new nonprofit to obtain a federal startup grant because of the stringent fiscal controls that have to be in place, but if your nonprofit has a relationship with a larger organization that can shore up the application and handle the money, it is much more likely that a federal grant application will be successful.
There are a few, highly competitive national competitions specifically for nonprofit startup grants. One of the most well-known is Echoing Green. Another is the Draper Richards Foundation. Some foundations maintain helpful lists of sources of seed funding for nonprofit startups, but the easiest way to determine all available startup funding at any given time is to visit the Foundation Center website and conduct a category search for grant opportunities in the Foundation Directory Online, under the "seed money" or "startup" section.
The more local the potential grant source, the more likely it is that an innovative project can obtain startup funding. Most cities have a community trust (for example, the New York Community Trust) that is more accessible than the national foundations. Some local government agencies will grant money to startups upon proof of an innovative concept and community buy-in. However, it is a fact that donations from individual donors make up the largest contributor group to nonprofit organizations. The most accessible startup money will come from a supportive board of directors.
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