Navigating Foundation Funding as a Small NGO

Written by Gurleen Grewal

As a small non-governmental organization (NGO) it can be difficult to search for funding from large global organizations. To help ease this process we’ve put together a list of organizations that provide funding opportunities for various initiatives, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). While the strategic focus of each organization is different, they offer small grants that suit the unique capacities of small NGOs. For instance, the Bullitt Foundation welcomes NGOs working to protect the environment in the Pacific Northwest, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation considers programs that promote employment through education for groups facing inequalities, and the Rita Allen Foundation invests in young leaders in science, and promotes programs for civic literacy and engagement.

For these organizations and others, the conversation for funding begins with a letter of inquiry (LOI). Though the format of the LOI might vary between organizations, they typically seek to learn more about an NGO, and the initiative they hope to secure funding for. Before submitting a letter of inquiry it can be helpful to look at the grants an organization has awarded in the past to better understand the kinds of initiatives that they fund. There are some organizations that stray from the model of grantmaking that starts with a LOI. The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative empowers high school students to connect with NGOs that provide social services in their local community, and the students that put together compelling presentations are awarded $5000 for their chosen NGO. In addition to accepting letters of inquiry for issues of social and environmental concern, the Oak Foundation also conducts their own initiatives. They occasionally issue calls for proposals on their website to bring together diverse stakeholders and explore solutions.

The process and criteria for grant-making vary across organizations, and while it can be confusing to navigate this labyrinth of regulations and deadlines, many organizations try to make it as simple as possible for NGOs to pursue impactful projects. The May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust operates on the west coast of BC. They prefer to support NGOs that give direct services to individuals, and clearly chart the path to funding as beginning with alignment to their criteria and concluding with a proposal. Meanwhile, the Joyce Family Foundation encourages funding requests that benefit children and youth, and while accepting applications they allow NGOs to contact them and assess whether their funding request is likely to be considered.

Foundations, public and private, are another potential source of funding for NGOs. Public or community foundations have an intimate understanding of issues that are particular to a locality, and can strengthen the connections between grassroots movements and the global SDGs. To depict the landscape of public foundations in Canada and show potential points of access for funding, the Community Foundations of Canada uses an interactive map resource. They provide the contact information for each public foundation that they document, making it easy for NGOs to find the resources closest to them.

To expand the search for funding it may be useful to consider private foundations, such as corporate or family organizations. Like large global organizations, smaller private foundations also communicate with NGOs through letters of inquiry and similar forms. The Max Bell Foundation provides project, development, and senior fellow grants for organizations working to shift public policy and practices around health and wellness, education, or environment. They follow the format of the LOI and accept inquiries on a rolling basis. The Laidlaw Foundation asks NGOs to contact their Program Managers before completing an expression of interest (EOI). They focus on funding initiatives that expand opportunity and dismantle barriers for young people in Canada, and offer funding to youth-led organizations. Further departing from the format of the LOI, the Vancity Community Foundation only requires that organizations fill in a brief discovery form. They support various social enterprises and review requests continuously.

While some private foundations take a rigorous approach to assessing funding requests, others use more informal strategies. The McConnell Foundation hopes to advance community wellbeing and environmental sustainability. Following the submission of an online application, they begin a 4 month long evaluative process, during which they consider an organization’s ability to experiment with innovative approaches and spark systems change. The R. Howard Webster Foundation has a large range of interests and issues grants for programs in arts, culture, education, environment, and medical and social services. Though they have no deadlines for application, they take 6 months to assess each request. Meanwhile, the Gordon Foundation, which focuses on protecting Canada’s north and its water, professes an interest in new partnerships and new ideas, and encourages organizations to contact them directly for discussion.

The pathways to securing funding are dynamic and variable. They present a wide scope of methods for implementing programs and initiatives that take on the challenges of improving, adapting, and pioneering change in the world, or even in a specific community. By forming links both locally and globally, NGOs and those that provide funding, can create a structure of support that is mutually beneficial.


Gurleen Grewal is a fourth-year student at Simon Fraser University. She is pursuing a Major in English and a Minor in Biological Sciences, and will begin her MA in English next year. She volunteers with the UBC Skin Cancer Awareness Network, the Embark Sustainability Society, and the BCCIC.

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