Spreading it Around: How a Health Funder is Using Small Grants to Sustain Momentum


Mini-grants are small awards, typically between $500 and $2,000, but sometimes larger. In an era when the bold moves of mega-givers often make headlines and there's lots of talk of "big bets," mini-grants seem out of step with the times. Why slice the salami so thinly when there seems to be growing agreement that nonprofits require larger infusions of capital in order to scale for impact? 

Yet last fall, when we wrote about who’s giving mini-grants and why, that article turned out to be remarkably popular among IP readers. As it happens, many funders give out mini-grants and plenty of nonprofits are hustling after these modest awards. What's more, the logic behind such grants can be pretty strong. 

Related: The Wonderful World of Mini-Grants: Who’s Giving Them and Why?

Community foundations and corporate funders have traditionally been the largest suppliers of mini-grants, but the ever-growing world of health legacy foundations can be found using such grants as well. As we've reported, there's now over 200 of these grantmakers—also known as health conversion foundations—and they're playing an increasingly large role in regional philanthropy, including in places where there aren't a lot of other foundations. As critical supporters of local health and human services nonprofits, health foundations may see good reasons to spread their grant money widely. 

For example, Tufts Health Plan Foundation, a funder that gives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, recently announced a new mini-grants program. Lots of funders use mini-grants as a way to explore new interest areas without committing too much or to get their name out into the community. However, neither of these seems to be the case for Tufts. Although this foundation has only been around for about a decade, it’s already well-known in New England and solely committed to the needs of older adults.

Instead, the motivation behind this particular mini-grants investment is momentum. There’s a lot of healthy aging work already going on right now in New England, so what’s needed most is to keep that momentum going. There’s a gap that exists between launching new ideas and keeping them going for the long term, and that’s where Tufts' mini-grants program steps in. Momentum Fund grants are designed to “energize innovation to support communities pursuing and/or advancing age- or dementia-friendly efforts.”

“Communities often find it challenging to secure resources to support emerging work. We created the Momentum Fund to address this gap,” said Phillip González, the foundation’s senior program officer.

However, some funders would argue that Momentum Fund grants really aren’t all that “mini,” after all. Nonprofits can receive up to $10,000 per year to support their early-stage initiatives and innovation efforts, which is well more than the average mini-grant range. The funds must be used for a well-defined project, not general operating support, and should also catalyze community engagement with a broad impact that involves system-level change. Groups that receive a Momentum Fund grant are eligible to apply for a second year of support without going through the foundation's regular grant process.

Although the foundation has only been funding groups in New Hampshire since 2016, this mini-grant opportunity is available equally to all three states it serves. A total of $100,000 has been allocated for each state’s mini-grants. In fact, each state will have its own review committee to review proposals and make recommendations to the foundation. Both early-stage grassroots efforts and well-established community collaborations that are taking new risks will be considered for Tufts' mini-grants.

The Tufts Health Plan Foundation is the only regional funder focused exclusively on healthy aging and has given more than $27 million to nonprofits since inception. The funder is providing webinar information sessions that will address the guidelines for applying for a new mini-grant in more detail on June 6 and August 23.