Working with Start-Ups Discussion Guide for Thoughtful Funder Reflection

These questions pertain to GrantCraft’s guide: Working with Start-ups: Grantmakers and New Organizations. Read the guide independently. Then, together with your executive, program, and communications teams, dive into the following questions:

Focus on the Start-Up

Start-ups come in all shapes and sizes, but at the beginning there are a few common questions to apply. Use “Start-up Organizations: What, Why, Who?” (page 4) to help identify the key characteristics of the organization you're working with.

  • Which "type" of start-up are you working with?
  • What is the need the organization addresses? What is the gap in the field being filled?
  • Who is proposing the organization?

Since start-ups have such varying makeups, they also have different sets of needs.

  • What level of technical assistance does the organization need?
  • What is the organization’s level of capacity, in governance, staff, and management?

Focus on Your Foundation


Your foundation's initial grant can be strategically arranged to support an organization's overall financial plan.

  • What do you think indicates the most useful timing for delivering funding?
  • How should levels of support be structured? Should they diminish over time?

Eventually, a start-up will need to achieve independence. The case study “Looking Ahead: Envisioning the Funder’s Withdrawal” provides some useful tips.

  • What can you do to connect the organization to other sources of funding?
  • What are three ways you can help build the organization's own fundraising skills?
  • Should you support an endowment campaign? Use the GrantCraft guide Providing for the Long Term: Supporting Endowments and Investable Assets as a resource.

Additional Support

Review what you identified as the start-up's needs for technical assistance.

  • What advice, knowledge, and expertise can your foundation provide as in-kind assistance?

Sue Stevens' interview (pages 26-27) highlights the importance of building an organization's financial management skills.

  • What conversations have you had with the organization on financial management?
  • What are some ways you, as a funder, can help a start-up organize financially?

Your Role as a Funder

The funder's role will likely change as the new organization grows and matures.

  • How do you envision your role in the organization’s planning and development?
  • What is your role before and after launch? What about long term?
  • How will you manage your withdrawal from the organization?

Working with start-ups gives an opportunity to build the organization around diversity (page 15).

  • How can you inpire thoughtful practice? Think of an example when someone inspired you in this way.
  • How does diversity contribute to the organization's work?

Some funders insist on having a seat on the organization's board. Some do not. What works best for your partnership? Explore the perspectives on page 17.

  • What conflicts have you seen arise when a grantmaker served as a board member? What were the benefits?
  • How would funder involvement with the board affect the organization you are working with? How would it benefit your approach as a grantmaker?
  • What alternate strategies have you seen funders use in working with boards?
  • If you decide to sit on the board, take some time to think strategically about the role you can play (use page 18 as a resource).

About the author(s)

Research Assistant
Foundation Center