Business consortium awards $100,000 in microgrants to hyperlocal nonprofits

The Westside Community Fund made the first of two annual distributions to organizations on Manhattan’s West Side.

A view of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side.

A view of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side. Alexander Spatari

The Westside Community Fund, a consortium of some of the city’s leading businesses and companies, has awarded $100,000 in microgrants to local nonprofits. With a goal to support hyperlocal initiatives based in Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and Hudson Yards, the Fund oversees two $100,000 grant cycles per year, locating pockets of need within the affluent West Side. 

“I think a lot of affluence does come to mind, but we still have many residents who are under-resourced,” said Jalen Lisbon, program development officer at Hudson Guild, which administers the grants for the Fund. “Our office at Hudson guild is not far from Chelsea Market, which is where Google is. But we’re set near project housing. So even though there are these great, almost empires around us, there are a lot of pockets of poverty.” 

Since 2018, the Fund has distributed over $925,000 in grants. Past award recipients have included organizations specialized in food security, education, and economic empowerment, community improvement, health and wellness. Eligible applicants, which can receive up to $10,000, typically represent neighborhood organizations, city agencies, school programs, health clinics, New York City Housing Authority projects and police community programs, among others. Services must be offered within Community Board 4 by organizations that have a total annual budget below $15 million. 

“Microgrants have really been the primary intention so that these leading businesses could come together to support people who have been here, the grassroots organizations, hyperlocal initiatives that really uplift just the ordinary, everyday residents,” Lisbon told New York Nonprofit media. 

The fund’s 2023 recipients included NYC Salt, a high school digital photography initiative that empowers marginalized students by fostering creativity and professional skills; Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, which provides aid to newly arrived migrant families through its support hubs near the Port Authority Bus Terminal; NYCHA entrepreneurship startup Cambio Labs and S3V3N Inc., which offers domestic violence support, workshops and educational events across the West Side. 

While most grantees tend to apply based on specific projects per cycle, some recipients have relied on the fund’s microgrants for essential expenses. “We have quite a few longtime grantees who continue to apply, they continue to do their work and make an impact on the west side. So they're able to return, maybe with an extension of a previous project or maybe something new,” said Lisbon. 

Microgrants also help promote diversity and equity in the nonprofit space, by extending funds to a larger range of grassroots organizations, said Ken Jockers, executive director at Hudson Guild. 

“When people come up with new ideas, or a person or group is trying to access capital and support to launch a new idea, often it’s very hard to get any starting capital,” he said. “Many institutional funders aren't going to make a grant to an entity that's not a 501(c)(3) corporation. So it means that support goes to places that are more established, in forms of mainstream donations and giving.”

“(Microgrants) allow people with new ideas who haven't been in the fundraising circuit at all or for very long, to access money to start and build an idea,” he added. “It means that a broader group of people can make their way in and get their idea started.” 

By supporting budding initiatives, the fund allows a diverse array of local initiatives to gain traction, especially in mixed-income areas where underserved communities may often be overlooked. 

“One block to the east of us is middle income, co-op housing, where the typical household incomes about $50,000 to $80,000 a year, and then one block to the west of us – the sky's the limit with luxury, business and real estate. I think that the West Side community fund sort of acknowledges that it’s ok for people at different income levels, to all exist, as long as we're all looking out for each other,” stressed Lisbon. 

Despite its robust donor base of mega corporations such as Google, Amazon and Blackrock, the fund aims to maintain its microgrant model. 

“The goal is to remain as a microgrant organization. The genesis of the program is to support small and starting ideas that need support in order to get off the ground,” Lisbon said. “So the goal is to grow in the dollars given out, but to keep small grants, so more money is given away, but to a larger group of grantees.”