Top Resources for Philanthropists with Few or No Staff

By: Exponent Philanthropy 

Across the country, tens of thousands of foundations, giving circle members, donor advised fund holders, and individual donors are intentionally keeping their operations lean and their ears to the ground. These lean funders seek to nimbly maneuver their dollars, skills, and influence to achieve the most good.

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’re dedicated to serving funders who choose to give big with few or no staff. We’re pleased to share the following top resources from our shop and trusted colleague organizations.

Get up to speed

If you are new to philanthropy or in need of a refresher, turn to Exponent Philanthropy’s The Trustee Handbook, Council on Foundation’s Complete Guide to Grantmaking Basics: A Field Guide for Funders, and Top 10 Lessons Learned in Grantmaking.

For more detail on particular topics, from administration to governance to investments, see Exponent Philanthropy’s 10- to 20-page primers or GrantCraft’s guides.

Stay in-the-know

Keep your finger on the field’s pulse with these top publications and blogs. Twitter is also a handy tool to scan news, learn from field leaders, and follow organizations and causes you support—even if you never tweet! See 3 Ways Any Funder Can Use Twitter.

Benchmark your philanthropy

Based on our annual Operations and Management Survey to our foundation members, this unique benchmarking tool gives powerful insight into the operations of small-staffed foundations in the United States. What are they earning on investments? What are they awarding in grants? How much are foundations paying for their operations and their staff salaries?Use these metrics to visualize where your foundation fits in with industry peers.

Work more efficiently

Drowning in paperwork? If you are drowning in paperwork, start with Project Streamline’s Grantmaker Assessment Tool for ideas to reduce the burdens of grant application and reporting on your foundation and its grantees, while still getting you the information you need for good decisions. Consult Idealware’s Consumers Guide to Grants Management Systems to leverage the power of technology tools. Get support for due diligence from BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar Charity Check, or these additional watchdog and charity review organizations. And consider the efficiencies of using multiple giving vehicles to meet your philanthropic goals. See The Universe of Giving Structures or Strategic Uses of Donor Advised Funds.

Give more effectively

Take the pulse of your giving, and identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, with Exponent Philanthropy’s 10-Minute Impact Assessment, comprehensive Practical Board Self-Assessment (members only), or other resources on impact and evaluation. See also The Makings of Phenomenal Foundation Executive Directors.

Get answers to your questions

By choosing to keep your operations lean, you’ll surely need to rely on outside help now and then. Before you engage an outsider, see Working With Consultants.

Find trusted professionals via the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers’ Online Directory or Exponent Philanthropy’s Directory of Foundation and Philanthropy Advisors, or call Exponent Philanthropy for one-on-one assistance with your questions about foundation operations and management (members only). You may also find the expertise you need at these sponsors, intermediaries, and support organizations or consulting organizations.

Find others like you

Don’t underestimate the importance of peer support when working solo or in a very small shop. Philanthropy-serving organizations exist for international givers, impact investors, and everyone in between; get involved for information and inspiration from like-minded funders. Find your regional association of grantmakers for local connections, and attend Exponent Philanthropy’s National Conference to meet lone or small-staffed philanthropists from around the country.




Content Partner: Exponent Philanthropy

Content Partner Website

Is your resource available to the public or only your members?:



Exponent Philanthropy



Individual Professional Development 
Top 5 Lists