Have you ever tried to partner with a nonprofit?

Did that experience leave you frustrated, or just stymied by how it all works?

Do you ever find yourself wondering, “What IS fiscal sponsorship, anyway?”

Today’s Reader Question is all you!

Dear Mazarine,

There needs to be some education around Fiscal Sponsoring, being a lead agency & the need for Collaboration.

I’ve asked many local agencies to become my partner fiscal sponsor, etc… and 99.9% of those people (in the non profit arena) didn’t know what I was talking about. They’ve never heard of that before. How can I educate them and do you know of this being a problem for anyone else but me?


Dianne Sikel
Communication & Relationship Consultant


Hi Dianne!

I do think it’s difficult to find nonprofits who have heard of this concept. Especially small nonprofits. So you will find yourself educating them. Which isn’t bad, if they are open minded and willing to collaborate! But you have to build a partnership first!

How do you birth a partnership? How do you INCUBATE your idea inside a larger nonprofit, and get to do the work that you want to do?

1. What is Fiscal Sponsorship?
Well, when a nonprofit loves an individual very much, they get together and 9 months later fiscal sponsorship is born!

You + A Nonprofit = Fiscal-Sponsorship-Marmoset!

You + A Nonprofit = Fiscal-Sponsorship-Marmoset! Picture by floridapfe from Flickr

There you have it! A beautiful baby marmoset!

Just kidding. It doesn’t take that long.

(Prepare yourself for Marmosets everywhere!)

Fiscal Sponsorship means that a nonprofit allows an individual to use their 501 (c) 3 number to get money from foundations, corporations, or individuals, and allows the nonprofit to be a “pass-through” for the money. The nonprofit may or may not take responsibility for what the individual does.

2. How can I get fiscal sponsorship by a nonprofit for my idea?
You need to do the grant research, OR the sponsorship research/acquisition, on your own. Preferably, you also need to have been volunteering your time at the nonprofit so that they know you, they know what you do for their organization, and they are pre-disposed to like you. Come to them with the money in your hands, and say, “I have the money to do what I want to do for your organization’s constituents. Will you give me fiscal sponsorship?”

3. How do I educate nonprofits about what fiscal sponsorship means?
I never met a nonprofit yet that didn’t like money! You can tell them, “I have a foundation or corporation ready and willing to pay for my work that I already do for your nonprofit, but I need to get fiscal sponsorship from you, which means I need to have your blessing to use your tax id number. You would get a percentage of the money.” And then you can negotiate how much that is. Could be 5-10% of the money. They may ask you, “What sort of paperwork will I have to fill out, and when is it due?” So prepare that information in advance.

4. What if the nonprofit says no?
If they say no to money, did you ask the right person? Did you look for your own money, or did you walk in there wanting a piece of their grant money? (That’s never a good idea, by the way). Is someone being a gatekeeper? Did you spend enough time building the relationship by volunteering? Did you introduce yourself to the executive director? Are they in the middle of a crazy-making cycle? (Is their big event next week?) Is the development director stressed to the max? All of these things can impact whether or not they want to be your fiscal sponsor.

5. How can I research which nonprofits might be interested in being my fiscal sponsor?
Ask around to other people who have been successful at getting fiscal sponsorship. How did they do it? And who did they go through? Look at your local community foundation. They might be willing to be a fiscal sponsor. If no one in your town or city wants to have a partnership with you, look at your idea again. Is it really, truly useful? If it is, look at national nonprofits that deal with your same issue. Start to build a relationship with them, and then ask about fiscal sponsorship. You can also research http://idealist.org to discover which nonprofits might be open to the idea of collaboration. You can call them up and say, “How often does your nonprofit collaborate with other nonprofits or individuals?” That will save you a lot of time right there.

Do you have any more ideas about how to get fiscal sponsorship? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!