Helping small nonprofits make a big difference

There are hundreds of small but vital nonprofits in Greater Hartford contributing to our region’s character and quality of life.

Every day, their efforts nurture our children and families and support residents’ basic needs. They inspire hearts and minds through the arts, strengthen the bonds of community in our neighborhoods and towns, and so much more.

Small nonprofits often rely on limited or no staffing and many dedicated volunteers to drive operations, awareness and participation. “Our staff, Chorus Council, and G-Clef volunteers, with support from our board of directors, keep this organization running,” shared Robert Reader, executive director and co-founder of the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus. “They support our rehearsals and concerts, fundraising, marketing and technology, music collection, membership, finances, and business.”

Because of their small size and structure, obtaining financial support from government and philanthropic funders can be incredibly difficult. “The question of how to responsibly expand support for small nonprofits has long persisted,” said Judy Rozie-Battle, senior vice president for community investments at the Hartford Foundation. “The Foundation receives ongoing requests from small agencies, as well as feedback from them regarding the supports available, and not available.”

Input from small agency leaders was thus key to developing a meaningful solution.

In October 2015, leaders of 20 small organizations representing Hartford and six surrounding towns met with Foundation staff to discuss their passions, challenges and needs. Their invaluable input, along with best practices in nonprofit capacity building, informed the types of supports that could help strengthen and stabilize organizations with annual revenues below $200,000.

The resulting initiative, the Small Agency Project, will ultimately include several new programs, including collaborations with community partners. The first part of this effort, launched in September 2016, was the Building on Success program.

Building on Success leverages consultants, a learning community and small grants to assist a cohort of twelve qualifying nonprofits.

Each participating nonprofit is assigned an organizational development consultant. Together, they complete an assessment and capacity building plan to guide their work over the course of the two-year program. Quarterly group learning sessions cover important areas of nonprofit management and provide an opportunity for organizational leaders to develop a network of support. Each participating organization also receives $10,000 in grants ($5,000 each year) to assist in fulfilling their respective missions.

“It’s important to us that the area’s small nonprofits have had, and continue to have, a voice in shaping the program to best meet their needs. Building on Success implements several solutions that they brought to the table,” shared Doug Shipman, senior Nonprofit Support Program officer.

“Evaluation is also an important part of our program design and implementation. It helps us understand if we are providing the best possible support to these small but important organizations, and how we can improve our efforts going forward,” added Yvette Bello, senior community investments officer.

Building on Success is one example of the Foundation’s strategic focus on fostering vibrant communities. The program not only aims to help strengthen small nonprofits that provide valuable community services, but it also helps inspire the residents who participate generously in their communities as volunteers, board members and donors to such organizations.


  • Two-year program of capacity building and grant support
  • Cohort of 8-12 nonprofits selected through competitive application process
  • Quarterly cohort learning sessions
  • Individual organizational consultation
  • Grants of $5,000 each year (total of $10,000) contingent on full program participation
  • Understand current capabilities and areas for future development
  • Plan to strengthen areas of greatest need
  • Learn and apply information about important nonprofit management functions
  • Develop a strategic plan
  • Fund mission-related requirements