This study examines survival patterns in a large, representative panel of Ugandan nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) between 2002 and 2008. It finds no evidence that more effective or more altruistic NGOs have a greater likelihood of survival. The main determinant of survival appears to be access to grants, and NGOs without grants struggle to survive. An investigation of the grant allocation mechanism suggests that effectiveness does not increase an NGO's likelihood of receiving a grant. Grant allocation appears to be neither fair nor effective, but rather to be awarded on the basis of habit rather than merit: once a grant has been allocated there is a strong tendency for it to persist. The odds are stacked against small NGOs that have not previously received grants. A picture emerges of two parallel NGO worlds: one where revenues are small, variable and hard to come by and survival is not very likely, and the other where revenues are high, more stable and more accessible and survival is more likely. The study suggests it may be difficult for an NGO to move from the former to the latter.