Every initiative needs money – funding opportunities

Few sustainability projects are profit-oriented. It is often a question of disseminating information locally, drawing the attention of the local population to the interlocking of global and local problems or creating spaces for new activities. Often the principle is that many people can participate in an action – the hurdle money is to be cleared thereby from the way. The question therefore arises for many initiatives: how can we finance this?

Some of the information given here is based on a presentation by Frank Braun (BLUEPINGU e.V.). In it he reported about the money acquisition experiences of the group BLUEPINGU e.V. Many thanks to Frank Braun.

“If the project is good, and if there are people for it, then there will also be funding opportunities. Until today – we have been on the road for almost 10 years – no project has ever failed because of money. Never! We’ve always found ways to finance it.” (Frank Braun of BLUE PINGU e.V.)

For initiatives that promote a more sustainable society, the implementation of projects often comes first. What this means in concrete terms is very different. Sustainable projects range from disseminating information, learning and experiencing new horticultural, craft or social skills, to initiating and operating new value chains. These projects rarely focus on the sale of products or services. Nevertheless, money is needed to implement projects. So it needs other sources of income.

There are several ways to finance projects.

Donations and Sponsoring

What is the donation? What is the sponsoring?
“A donation is a voluntary contribution for a religious, scientific, non-profit, cultural, economic or political purpose. (…) Donations can be in cash or in kind or in a renunciation of pay for work done (time donation). A donation cannot be linked to consideration.


Sponsoring is the promotion of individuals, a group of individuals, organisations or events by an individual, an organisation or a commercially oriented company in the form of money, goods and services with the expectation of receiving consideration in support of their own communication and marketing objectives.”



The least expensive way to raise money is to donate. You don’t have to prove what you did with the money. In contrast to sponsoring, no consideration is required (e.g. two article letters for the sponsor’s website, the sponsor’s logo used x times in publications or a joint press event on site).

Donations can be collected at an event or can be larger amounts from private donors or companies.

“Who are we taking money from?”

For some groups, the question of who they accept money from is a controversial issue. Some initiatives do not want to accept money from the economy, for others it is enough if it is a donation and not sponsoring. Depending on which discussions arise in a group about certain donations and the donors associated with them, the question also arises: What responsibility must those take over, who reject a donation due to a donor not fitting to their standards? Do these critics*have to look for a replacement for the source of money? Finding a consensus on these issues can be very tedious.

Donation of time: An easy way to achieve your goals is to ask other people for their labour. Especially if these people do the same job full-time, you will quickly get high quality results. It is therefore worth considering together in your own group: Who do you know who has a lot of knowledge in one area? Can this person contribute his knowledge or skills pro bono?

  • Example: Example: lawyers, notaries, graphic designers, IT specialists, moderators, accountants, tax consultants

If your organization is a non-profit organization, it can also issue a donation receipt. With the receipt, donors can deduct the donations as special expenses from their wage and income tax returns, for example.

Attention public benefit!

“It is important that in a non-profit association the activities of an economic nature do not outweigh the non-profit activities. All surpluses from the work in the association must be used again and again for the stipulated purposes. It is also important that the funds are used up promptly, i.e. without medium to long-term capital formation (obligation to use funds promptly). The regular obligations to record, document and document should also not be underestimated. This also includes, for example, the strict accounting separation of non-profit and other, more economically oriented areas of activity.

A timely use of funds, which after the latest reform means that funds received by an association in the current calendar year are used for statutory purposes at the latest two years after their inflow or form reserves or are allocated to assets on a narrowly admissible scale“.

(Source: https://www.buergergesellschaft.de/praxishilfen/arbeit-im-verein/rechtsgrundlagen/gemeinnuetzigkeitsrecht-gemeinnuetziges-steuerrecht/?tx_smpagebrowser_pi1[action]=show&tx_smpagebrowser_pi1[controller]=Teaser&cHash=4d2b4e68520766f7de3d4896d1a81971)

A good way to get donations is to ask local companies related to the group’s work. These could be, for example, the following trades:

  • Local organic supermarkets
  • cooperative banks and savings banks
  • Environmental offices
  • Bicycle shops
  • wood or metal workshops
  • Trade fairs related to environmental protection

Financing of projects by the municipality

In addition to private donations and money from companies, networking with the respective municipality is an opportunity to mobilise resources.

The municipality can support a group with the provision of premises. Or it helps a company to learn more about local funding opportunities. In addition, networking with actors in local government ensures that one’s own initiative is noticed at the political level in the city. It is a simple form of political work.

Agenda 21

Agenda 21 is the United Nations Action Plan, adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. They are guidelines for sustainable development in the 21st century. This action plan has been translated into the local Agenda 21, which is to ensure that the sustainability goals are implemented at local level.

In addition, many municipalities have a so-called “Agenda 21 funding” or climate protection programme – in some form. These are called differently in each case. It may not always be easy to find the right contact person in the municipality for these funding opportunities. In some municipalities, the tasks have been transferred to other departments following the abolition of the official Agenda 21 posts. To find out who is responsible for Agenda 21 or climate protection work, you can ask the “Environmental Office“, the “Department for the Environment” or the “Department for Public Relations” in the municipality. Or one tries it over the respective national office for environment

In the city of Nuremberg, for example, according to Frank Braun (BLUEPINGU e.V.), 60,000 € are in the Agenda 21 funding. Each group can apply for a maximum of € 2,500 for small projects. All groups that have applied for funding from this pot decide jointly on the distribution of the funds.

If a city has registered as a Fairtrade city or organic city, this can also be a possibility for financing small projects, even if there are no official fundings. The own project may then fit into the self-imposed agenda of the municipality, which can open up new financing possibilities.

Raise funds, apply for funding

When it comes to large sums of funding, there is no getting around writing an application for funding. Whether it is a state, national or Europe-wide funding programme or a foundation: applying for funding is arduous and time-consuming. Depending on the funding programme, the application letter can take between a few days or several weeks. It requires an understanding and use of application-specific technical vocabulary – because what is an indicator? And what exactly is a measure? and a certain’language of application’. Writing applications for funding is a task that must be learned and in which you are constantly learning.

Please note that no funding application is the same: do you want to finance a small or a large project? Is it a one-off event or do you want to carry out a long-term project over several years? The answers to these questions determine which funding options are possible and which partners may need to be found.

If you are submitting an application for a specific funding programme for the first time, it is worth asking about an initiative that has already received funding. Probably no initiative has enough time to supervise a complete application process of another initiative. However, other initiatives may pass on their applications or help in arranging contacts. It helps to get a feel for how an application was formulated on another topic. It gives information about it…

… to what extent certain aspects must be dealt with in the application.

… which focal points should be set when formulating.

One phone call:

In many cases it is worthwhile to simply call the financier. One call made possible:

·        Get a list of successful projects.

·        To ask whether one’s own idea fits into the support programme.

·        The conditions under which funding is possible.

·        How much money can be applied for what.

·        Which topics are particularly worthy of support.

·        Presentation of your own organization. An application has only limited informative value about the applicant organisation. By calling you can introduce yourself personally. This is especially important when applying for money for the first time.

·        If necessary, you can send some information in advance. It is about giving employees a sense of what constitutes their own initiative and what activities they are pursuing.

·        Counselling is usually seen as proof that an initiative is capable of learning. Because this initiative listens and allows itself to be told what has proven itself and what has not.

It is possible that unknown organisations may not always receive the full or a high amount of funding directly. Government agencies in particular want to see first of all that an organisation has the necessary know-how and the infrastructure to carry out a project. Especially because project accounting is very complex. However, there is also the reverse case: donors prefer somewhat higher amounts of funding. Because a financial backer must operate the same account expenditure in many respects independently of the height of the sum. Here too, a call to the financier can help to get a feel for the right amount.

Once you have submitted an application that has been approved, it becomes easier. Because then you already know the right clerk*, for example. And they in turn can assess their own group.

Before you can submit an application, you must first register as an organisation in some funding programmes. In the process, the organisation is subjected to an audit of its sponsors, in which, for example, the non-profit status recognised for tax purposes is examined.

For EU projects you partly need the support of agencies that are specialized in applying for EU projects. The disadvantage of commissioning an agency is that the agency itself claims a large part of the funding. (But if you write the application yourself, you will incur costs.

Helpful considerations when writing a funding application:

(1) Search for networking with others.

Networking with other partners can be a helpful strategy to convince investors. Many funding pools even require the cooperation of initiatives. Networking with other initiatives shows that you think beyond your own organisation. It demonstrates that a group pursues its goals in a creative and collaborative way. Networking is optimal for a funding application if different areas are linked: e.g. environmental protection, development policy and fair trade.

(2) Courage pays off!

If the idea is a good one, then you can also dare to apply for a large grant. True to the motto: “What have we got to lose? If you don’t think big, but always make yourself small, then it becomes difficult to initiate big changes.” If you present yourself courageously, then new things are possible that were not even in view before.

(3) Learning from others is allowed!

It is always helpful to mention predecessor or example projects. This shows to what extent the new project builds on previous experience and knowledge. It is always valued not to reinvent the wheel completely. The point is to show that not every group stumbles over the same stones and goes through the same learning cycles.

(4) How connectable is your own project idea?

In addition, the applicability of the project should be addressed in the application. This includes: to record in some way the experiences that will be made with the proposed project. In addition, it helps to present a strategy for reflecting and consolidating one’s own experiences. The multiplication of experience and knowledge is also highly appreciated by donors. These could, for example, be handouts that other initiatives can take on.

(5) What happens when the financing expires?

It is generally highly regarded to have an idea of what happens to a project when funding expires. What could follow-up financing look like? Are there other places where the project could continue? Rarely can the same project be applied for again. Even if many experiences could only be taken up or the project could only be continued with a new term.

Voluntary work, full-time job and the consequences for the initiative

Financing full-time positions is one way of creating jobs where people can work sensibly. In addition, a permanent position that lasts for several years can give a great boost to your own initiatives. But what happens when the subsidies expire? If you do not worry about losing this manpower, it can lead to great disillusionment and frustration.

If the budget allows it, then hiring staff on a 450-euro basis can also be a good idea. It offers the possibility to get the tedious financial, administrative and accounting work done regularly. This person can also, for example, distribute or answer incoming requests that come in by e-mail. It can give a group the freedom to concentrate on their projects. Similar possibilities are offered by a federal volunteer. However, the experience of the BluePingu e.V. group in Nuremberg is that a volunteer needs a lot of time to learn, for their holiday and their further training. There is not much time left for the actual work in the initiative.

Permanent positions carry the danger that the social dynamics in a group will change. It can be a problem if one person gets money for their work and others do not. The reaction may be that the unpleasant tasks are passed on to the person working full-time. A permanent position is also a prerequisite for your own organization:

-There must be an institution that hires the person and can take over social security.

-Proof that an office space can be provided is required. (One way to get a cheap office space is to network with other organizations (e.g. church institutions).

-In addition, project and board work must be separated. Everything that concerns the work of the board cannot be paid. Other board members may then have to take over the personnel responsibility or handling of a project position.

One way to deal with this difficulty is to pay for other work. Of course, this requires a certain budget. The BluePingu e.V. group in Nuremberg has decided that every work that has a’job character’ should be remunerated with 10 € per hour. This includes work that takes place regularly and requires a binding commitment. For example, watering plants in the city garden in summer. The Group finances these expenses through donations, subsidies and membership fees. This remuneration can be paid out as part of the flat fee for voluntary work – without issuing invoices or having registered for self-employment. The flat fee for voluntary work is tax-free.

Writing a grant application – step by step

The Stiftung Mitarbeit published its book “Erfolgreich Fördermittel einwerben” in its 3rd edition in 2015.

Very helpful excerpts from the book can be called up online free of charge. Here are a few examples:

– Overview of all chapters

– Writing a grant application

Step by step

Excursus: budget and finances

Postprocessing of the project – Attention accounting!

It takes a very good organization behind every major project. At the end of the project, time must be allowed for the project to be completed. If you don’t have clean bookkeeping, this process becomes very cumbersome. For example, care must be taken to ensure that every invoice is issued to the association. One idea is to finance the post-processing of these tasks via the project application as a body.

Selected funding pools

Small public fundings
name description amount
Start-up support from the Cooperation Foundation Four times a year, the Stiftung Mitarbeit awards financial grants to new initiatives and projects of civil society that are active in the fields of democracy and politics, social affairs and education, culture and environmental protection. Here you will find everything you need to know about our start-up assistance. Up to 500€
Living Democracy

Here is the list of participating municipalities.


Support through the federal programme “Living democracy” is provided by the respective municipality. Within the municipalities, local politics and administration as well as active members of civil society form a “Partnership for Democracy”. It can independently set priorities for which it allocates the funding.

The funding conditions can be found in the funding guidelines for 2017 and the funding guidelines for 2018.

Further information can be found here.

In each case differently in the individual municipalities.


Engagement Global’s Action Group Programme With the Action Group Programme, Engagement Global promotes small projects in development information and education work.

– Reference to SDGs

– Application six weeks before the start of the action

2 times a year up to 2000€
Funding from the Federal Agency for Civic Education The Federal Government promotes events on political education that convey knowledge about society and the state, European and international politics as well as politically and socially significant developments in culture, business, technology and science.


A simple overview can be found here.

The funding is financed through grants. Per day and participant the subsidy amounts up to 50 €.
Catholic Fond The Catholic Fund supports ecclesiastical and other Christian groups, but also groups that “know that they are connected to the goals and contents of work in the global church and in development”. It promotes educational and public relations projects on global church and development-related topics in Germany.

– It is beneficial if you ask for the fund at the same time and then the project is financed by both.

Up tp 1.500 €
Anstiftung Ertomis Funding opportunities for community gardens and open workshops Depending on the project


Big public fundings


name description amount
Federal Environment Agency


Programme to promote associations in environmental protection and nature conservation


The Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB) would like to strengthen the environmental and nature conservation associations in their efforts to anchor environmental policy concerns in society.

The projects are designed to raise awareness and commitment to environmental protection and nature conservation. This includes, among other things:

– Projects for children and young people with a broad impact

– Projects that promote environmentally and nature-compatible behaviour

– environmental consultancy and training measures.

Associations, initiatives and organisations active in environmental protection or nature conservation are eligible to apply. Individuals are not eligible.


The project must be a model. There must be a special federal interest in the measures. The project must not have been started yet.

The application deadline for 2019 is most likely April 2018.

Multi-stage procedure: All you have to do is submit a project outline. An application can only be submitted once it has been evaluated positively.

Term: max. 2 years

Up to 75.000 € per year
Engagement Global


Development Education funding programme


The development education funding programme, FEB, supports projects in Germany that provide lifelike and vivid information on development policy issues and show how citizens can get involved in development policy.

Seminars and conferences,

Lessons and project days,



developmental theatre or

– other forms of innovative educational work.

Eligible applicants are non-profit organisations with development policy objectives and domicile in Germany, including

– registered non-profit associations (non-governmental organisations),

– Networks of organizations or non-profit organizations,

– foundations with legal capacity,

– Public corporations such as churches, museums, libraries and universities

The project must thematically present the situation in developing and transition countries and the interdependencies between these countries and the OECD countries.


The connections and causes of political, economic, ecological, social and cultural developments in industrialized, developing and transition countries must be made visible.


The project is intended to show citizens how they can become involved in development policy.

The project must address the following target groups in particular:

– Children and teenagers,

– Organisations, media and individuals who achieve a broad impact as multipliers,

– People with little experience in development policy,

– Groups of people with a migration background.

Term: max. 3 years

Die Förderung erfolgt als Zuschuss.

Der erste Antrag darf nicht größer als 10.000 € sein. Der nächste Antrag kann größer sein. (Ab dem dritten Antrag kann man auch Projekte über 100.000 € fördern lassen.)


Der Antragsteller muss mindestens einen Eigenanteil von 25% der zuwendungsfähigen Gesamtausgaben erbringen.

Council for Sustainable Development




Culture and its actors are to play an even stronger role in the sustainable development of society in the future. They are believed in a special way that they can point out new solutions and break through existing patterns of thought, if these problems only reproduce and are no longer useful for their solution.

The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) has now set up a programme with the “Sustainability Culture Fund” to promote transformative projects on sustainability culture. This is divided into two parts. Over the next three years there will be six ideas competitions on various areas of everyday culture (e.g. food, mobility, construction). There will also be direct support. However, this will only be awarded to a few initiatives.

– No projects can be funded that have already started.

– No own funds required.


·        Most important criterion: Transformation potential

·        Target group reference (target group does not have to be large)

·        Innovative

·        connectivity

·        Economic viability of the initiatives


– Can be combined with other federal funding programmes.

– The funding procedure has two stages. Project outlines with time and financial planning must be submitted by the respective deadline. Subsequently, the applicants of the positively evaluated project outlines are requested to submit a complete formal application for funding.

Ideas competitions: 5.000 – 50.000 €, up to max. 12 month

Direct grants: up to 250.000 € up to 24 months

Further financing concepts

Square metre sponsorships

Square metre sponsorships are one way of financing premises and all the associated costs. The concept is simple: one calculates the price for one square meter of a room including rent, electricity, heating, other operating costs, insurance, bookkeeping etc.. Then you try to inspire people to pay this price over a longer period of time per month. A sponsor can of course also become patron for several square metres.

This often includes a well thought-out advertising strategy so that people can easily be convinced of the benefits of the premises.

The neighborhood house SprengelHaus in Berlin finances a part of the house.


Similar to the square metre sponsorships, crowdfunding relies on many small individual donations from different people. Normally crowdfunding is about a clearly defined project, such as building a prototype, organizing an event or publishing a CD. A certain amount of money is to be collected for this project within a certain period of time. Normally, a crowdfunding action is linked to material consideration. The artist Rocky Votalato, for example, offered the following in return for his support with his record.

The difficulties of crowdfunding are that you have to advertise a lot. For crowdfunding to work, you need well-rehearsed social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagramm etc.). This makes it a very time-consuming measure. Because you have to draw attention to your action every day, several times in some way. Example of crowdfunding platforms in sustainability

Example of crowdfunding platforms in sustainability

WikiHow: How to Crodfunding: https://www.wikihow.com/Crowdfund

How does crowdfunding (German): https://www.wikihow.com/Crowdfund

Episode 70 of the financial rocker podcast deals with sustainability, the future and crowdfunding. The interview partner is Patrick Mijnals, the managing director of bettervest.

Without money

A core principle of The Free Cafe (Link) is “no money in play”. The question is, how do you do it without money? What are the costs for rent, electricity and water? Find a place where you don’t have to pay rent. Otherwise it will be difficult to organise a free dinner. Sometimes you may also ask for small donations or small contributions for each meal so that you can make payments for electricity and water. You may also think of subsidies or funds from charities. If you are as lucky as the Free Cafe and the owner likes your ideas, you may even get free accommodation.

Further Information

Further practical aids (e.g. work in the association, successfully raise funds, campaign and actions) of the foundation Mitarbeit: https://www.buergergesellschaft.de/praxishilfen/

Further practical aids (organization, law, taxes, personnel, accounting, financing) of the page Vereins-Knowhow.de: http://vereinsknowhow.de/vhandbuch/index.html


Non-profit Status and Donation Law: https://www.lstn.niedersachsen.de/steuer/steuermerkblaetter_und_broschueren/gemeinnuetzigkeit-und-spendenrecht-67744.html



Literature and Websites

Formats What Details
Book Funding for associations, self-organized projects and political initiatives Overview of funding opportunities 2017 for associations, self-organized projects and political initiatives, subject to a fee
Website Financing guide for municipalities and NGOs The “Servicetelle Kommunen in der Einen Welt” together with the Wissenschaftsladen Bonn describes the development cooperation funding funds available at state, federal and EU level. Furthermore, successful examples will be presented and further information given.
Website List of the city of Hamburg Overview of funding opportunities for sustainability initiatives (foundations, competitions, other funding opportunities).
Website General funding opportunities for formal and informal citizen participation Detailed list of funding opportunities around the topic of citizen participation.
Website Environmental education with refugees Detailed overview of funding for projects on global justice and development policy issues.
Website Search engine for sponsoring foundations The search engine of the German umbrella organisation provides a comprehensive overview of all the funding foundations.
Website The funding database of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy The federal funding database provides a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the funding programmes of the Federal Government, the Federal States and the European Union.

Story of success:

The group TransitionHaus Bayreuth e.V. needed a real estate for their wish, an independently administered event house and the financing of this real estate. The real estate opened at short notice. In order to attract attention in the city, the group first carries out a’day of the open door’. This weekend the various activities that were to take place in the house were already tried out. The house, in which this so-called “trying out” took place, had been empty until then and the landlady made it available to the group free of charge for this weekend. After the weekend, she was so enthusiastic that she offered the group the house for rent for three months. In order to be able to pay the rent for the property, the group submitted an application for funding at short notice to the local branch of the “Demokratie Living” support programme. Everything came together at the right time: There was one property, the landlady was open for the project, there were people in the group who knew the support programme, the registration period for the support programme had not yet expired and there was approval for the support funds. The group was able to move in.