January 15, 2016

How Can a Philanthropist Support Nonprofits Beyond Money?

Supporting grantee organizations well requires two primary approaches. First, think broadly about how you can help an organization reach its goals. Ask "What can I offer besides grant money?" Second, communicate your own goals and strategy clearly and consistently to grantees, and make sure that your interactions are characterized by fairness, responsiveness, and approachability. 

Offering more than money: How to assess what is needed

First, ensure that you and the grantee are aligned on what the organization's primary goals are in areas such as:

  • Sustainability
  • Growth
  • Strengthening program quality
  • Improving operational efficiency
  • Addressing existing weaknesses
  • Preparing for a smooth transition away from a funder's support

Then, assess the organization's starting point, informed by your findings through the due diligence process.

Based on what you know of your grantee's strengths and weaknesses, you and the grantee may decide to refine your goals. During this assessment, keep in mind:

  • Both internal and external perspectives on the organization are valuable. Grantee staff should play an active role in driving the needs assessment process, while you, your staff, and external expert perspectives are also helpful.
  • Certain needs may be already evident, while others require exploration and diagnosis. Look for root causes rather than symptoms.
  • Don't hesitate to use diagnostic tools and techniques, such as financial analysis and organizational surveys, exercises or diagnostics, to help you take stock and identify issues.
  • Consider current strengths and weaknesses, and also look ahead. Ask: "What new capabilities might this organization need in the future due to growth or strategic changes?"

Offering more than money: How to assess what you can do

Once you have a sense of where the organization needs assistance to reach its goals, consider what you might be able to provide.

Using your goals as the lens, there are basically two ways to approach aligning with a grantee. One is to identify organizations (or individuals) whose goals are compatible with your own, then support their work in its entirety. The other is to align with a grantee around one or more of its programs or initiatives (existing or to be created).

Where you or your team have relevant expertise, you may be able to provide assistance or in-kind support directly, for example:

  • Introduce a grantee to business colleagues or friends who have knowledge or expertise the grantee needs.
  • Use your legal experience to advise grantees on nonprofit mergers or other issues.
  • Introduce grantees to potential partners.

In areas where you have limited skill but strong interests (for example, if you are just beginning to fund programs in a particular area), you might broker the relationship between a provider and your grantee.


  • This approach would allow you to have a voice in the work while still deferring to the grantee's strategic direction and the more knowledgeable provider.
  • Over time, if you establish a strong network of intermediaries, or develop your own staff capabilities, you will be able to help more grantees with similar needs/challenges. 

If you do decide to provide non-monetary support, concentrate efforts on a few high-value activities such as leadership development and business planning.

Where you have limited capabilities and little need for voice (e.g., for grantees that need tactical assistance in areas where you don't have experience), your direct participation is unlikely to be useful, and simply writing a check will make the most sense.

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