One thing is for sure: there are not enough financial supports out there for women. As a woman myself developing the sustainability of my publishing work, I am always on the look-out for ways to get a stronger foothold in my own business/nonprofit niche, and I know many women who are in the same boat. Banks and investors routinely discriminate against women entrepreneurs when giving small business loans and venture capital, so where can women entrepreneurs turn when they are angling to start successful small businesses?
Amid this hostile climate for women in business, one woman-owned enterprise is filling a niche with grant-giving that supports women entrepreneurs: WomensNet, which gives out Amber grants of $1,000 a month to women business owners. These grants are able to be made because each woman entrepreneur applying for a grant pays a $15 fee. With the accumulation of these $15 fees across 300-500 grant applicants a month, WomensNet is able to cover the costs of reviewing and choosing grantees, as well as the overhead costs to run their LLC business, and sometimes even has money left over to make multiple grants in a given month.
The three-woman board of WomensNet engages in a relatively straightforward process to choose its grantees. They read through every grant application and select a group of finalists, usually 5. Then they discuss each finalist in more detail and vote to determine a winner.
Recipients of Amber grants vary widely, and are easily perusable on their website. A few that jumped out at me include Imagiread, which fosters literacy for families in Houston, Texas, Yoga2Sleep, which offers yoga classes, corporate trainings, and a free online yoga video, and The Functional Pelvis, which provides physical and occupational therapy for people with pelvic floor dysfunction and complications.
An added perk of the Amber Grants: every monthly winner is eligible to receive a larger grant of $10,000 distributed yearly in December. This grants is chosen partially through online voting, so an element of public participation is engaged here, adding to the way that this for-profit business is engaging with the community.
With the growing need for funding opportunities for women, WomensNet is providing a critical public service by helping women build their businesses. It would be great to see larger funders for women consider models such as this one in order to expand their reach to women in business, or to expand nonprofit micro-grantmaking to women in communities. An organization like a state women’s fund, for example, might be a great place to set up a similar grant-funding structure since, with the support of marketing from the organization, they can help drive applicants’ fees which will then pay for the grants.
The downside of Amber Grants is that only 1 in 300 to 500 grant applicants receives a grant of $1,000, whereas many more could doubtlessly benefit from such a grant. But with added support from a foundation that could cover some of the costs of the grant’s administration, perhaps the odds of receiving a grant could be brought into the 1 in 100 or even 1 in 50 range. That would mean many more women would be able to receive a boosting grant that might make all the difference to their sustainability as a business, particularly in the start-up years.
You can learn more about Amber Grants here.