Maximising the Impact of Grant Funding: Large Value Grants for the Few or Small Value Grants for the Many?

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August 14, 2023

A common question when allocating grant funds is: Should we focus on awarding large value grants to a few recipients or distributing small value grants to a broad range of beneficiaries?

There is never an easy answer to that question and it largely depends on each organisation’s mission and vision. With that said, each approach comes with its own benefits and drawbacks, and there are certain situations in which one may be favourable over the other.

This article explores both options and gives some tips for maximising impact through a hybrid approach.

The Key Benefits of Large Vs. Small Value Grants

Before we consider why an organisation might select one approach over another, let’s take a look at some general advantages that each has to offer. 

Large Value Grants for the Few

Catalytic Impact

Large value grants have the potential to act as catalysts for significant change. They can enable organisations or projects to scale up their operations, undertake ambitious initiatives, or develop ground-breaking solutions. 

Depth of Impact

Large grants allow organisations to invest in comprehensive and sustained programs. They provide the financial stability required for long-term planning and implementation, fostering deeper and more substantial impact. With such resources, recipients can address complex challenges more effectively and achieve lasting outcomes.

Capacity Building

Large grants often come with additional support, such as mentorship, technical assistance, or capacity-building opportunities. This assistance can strengthen recipient organisations, enhance their capabilities, and enable them to better deliver on their missions – beyond the grant period. 

Small Value Grants for the Many

Reach and Inclusivity

Small grants allow for broader outreach and can support grassroots initiatives, community-based projects, and underrepresented groups that may not have access to larger funding opportunities. As such, small grants ensure inclusivity and enable diverse perspectives to contribute to positive change. 

Small grants can also bring significant benefits during difficult situations such as recessions, helping organisations stay afloat when they may not have otherwise. 

Innovation and Agility

Small grants promote innovation by providing the flexibility for recipients to explore new ideas and adapt quickly to evolving needs. By supporting a wide range of projects, funders can tap into a diverse set of solutions to address complex challenges.

Collaboration and Networking

Small grants often foster collaboration among recipients, encouraging knowledge sharing, partnership building, and collective action. Connecting organisations and individuals within a grantee network in this way supports the exchange of best practices and enhances the collective impact of grant funding.

Attributing the Impact of Large and Small Value Grants

Some funders prefer the large value approach as it’s often easier to measure their impact compared to small value grants. In fact, some organisations prefer to be the sole funder of a project despite the substantial value required, as they can pinpoint exactly how they have generated impact compared to when multiple funders contribute smaller amounts. 

Below are several more reasons that large value grants are easier to monitor.  

Scale of Impact

The scope and magnitude of large value grants make it easier to measure and observe their outcomes. In contrast, small value grants may be directed towards minor activities or operational expenses, making it harder to discern their specific impact in isolation.

Measurable Outcomes

Large grants often come with clear and specific objectives and expected outcomes, and organisations are more likely to set up comprehensive monitoring and evaluation frameworks to track progress and measure the success of such projects. With small value grants, it’s not always possible to have such structured evaluation mechanisms in place due to resource constraints. 

Statistical Significance

Large value grants often generate statistically significant data due to their scale and reach. The data obtained from a larger sample size provides more reliable and robust conclusions about the project’s impact. Small value grants, with limited sample sizes, may not yield statistically significant results, making it harder to draw definitive conclusions about their effectiveness.

Long-Term Impact

Large grants often support projects with longer time frames, allowing organisations to assess sustained outcomes. On the other hand, the impact of small value grants may be short-lived, making it difficult to assess their significance over time.

Measuring the Impact of Small Value Grants

When organisations look to fund projects on the basis of measuring impact, that does not mean they must avoid small value grants completely. Although the capacity to evaluate their impact is often limited, it’s possible to get a clear picture by:  

  • Ensuring that each small value grant has well-defined objectives and expected outcomes.
  • Using qualitative data to capture individual and community-level changes, and using quantitative data where possible (focusing on a few critical indicators will make it easier to track the grant’s impact without needing a great deal of resources). 
  • Partnering with researchers or academic institutions – they may be interested in conducting small-scale studies to assess the effectiveness of such grants.
  • Analysing the outcomes achieved relative to the resources invested. This gives a different perspective on the value produced compared to just measuring the direct impact on awardees. Ultimately, it focuses on whether the grant’s benefits justify the costs. 

Large Vs. Small Value Research Grants

The debate is just as relevant in the research community. Should a funder give large value grants to scientists or other researchers with a proven track record? Or should they give small value grants to a larger number of applicants to ensure that more research is being done overall?  

Organisations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States are known for their high value grants. Likewise, in the UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) provide funding of more than £800 million per year. While they support research in a wide range of areas, many of their current opportunities offer awards in excess of £1,000,000, along with a handful of lower value grants.  

On the other hand, research funding from Structural Transformation and Economic Growth (STEG) in the UK offers small grants (£10,000 – £25,000) as their primary type of funding and also have opportunities for larger grants of up to £100,000. Canada’s National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) also traditionally gave small grants to a large number of applicants. 

The NSERC’s approach has been criticised, with claims that it is bad for science and reduces the funding of ongoing research, sometimes causing projects to stop prematurely due to a lack of budget. The NSERC has been moving towards giving larger grants but not everyone agrees with this move. 

When funding research projects, one of the main issues is how to predict future research productivity. Despite the researcher’s track record and their selection of the most promising projects for funding, there is still no guarantee. 

Some funders therefore prefer to spread the risk by giving small grants to the many. In addition, the review process for research grants can sometimes cost more than giving every qualified applicant a baseline grant.   

Small grants also provide the opportunity for beneficiaries to build a track record (for any type of grant, research or otherwise), which is helpful when making decisions for future grants and building ongoing relationships.  

Large Vs. Small Value Grants for Charities

Charity funding is another area that comes with its own unique challenges when deciding the optimal value of a grant. 

It’s common practise to fund charities for several years unless the funds are required for one-off expenses. However, if a grant’s value is too high and capacity-building support is not provided, the charity may grow beyond its capabilities, leading to many challenges after the grant period ends. 

If the value is too low, the charity may need to find the additional funds themselves. This can either lead to resources being taken away from other activities or the project being delayed. 

However, an advantage of small grants is that they can help to attract other funders who see that progress is being made, and some of these funders may supply larger sums.  

With small grants, it’s important to ensure that reporting requirements are not too complex and burdensome, especially if the charity has to partially fund the project out of their own resources.  

Small Grants for Grassroots and Community Efforts

Small value grants bring some distinct advantages when it comes to community projects, especially those surrounding social justice. This is based on the theory that injustice results from institutionalised power imbalances, and these can be addressed by empowering marginalised groups. 

As individuals in such communities improve their lives and gain access to better opportunities, they can influence important decisions and help to address imbalances on a broader level. Some small funders also directly facilitate the involvement of communities in important decisions. 

Ultimately, by having an impact locally, the collective influence can spread and affect wider regions.  

Tips to Maximise Grant Impact

To maximise the impact of grant funding, funders can consider adopting a hybrid approach that combines elements of both large value grants and small value grants. Some ways to achieve this include:

  • Identifying key areas where large value grants can drive transformation and allocate resources accordingly, while simultaneously distributing smaller grants to a wider range of beneficiaries. 
  • Tailoring the size of grants based on the needs and capacities of the recipients. Some organisations may require larger investments to achieve significant outcomes, while others may thrive with smaller grants that support specific activities or projects.
  • Providing capacity-building support to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of recipient organisations. 
  • Implement monitoring and evaluation frameworks to assess the impact of both large and small grants. Regularly review and learn from the outcomes, successes, and challenges experienced by recipients and use this feedback to inform future funding decisions. 


Choosing the appropriate size of a grant is a complex matter. Organisations must not only consider what works best for beneficiaries, but also which projects help to further their mission on the whole. 

Some key advantages of large grants include the potential depth and scale of impact, as well as the potential for long-term impact. On the other hand, small value grants allow funders to spread their risk and can support marginalised communities whose collective action can make difference on a large scale. 

In addition, different types of funders have their own considerations – for example, with research grants, it can be difficult to predict the impact of future research based on a researcher’s reputation. 

Ultimately, the chosen strategy should align with the funder’s mission, and in many cases, will involve a degree of flexibility in terms of what works best for awardees. 

Flexigrant is the UK’s leading cloud based grant management system, supporting some of the country’s most prominent funders. To learn how we can streamline your grant management processes, contact us today to book a demo. 

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