NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund: New York City Grants

OVERVIEW: The NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund is a collaboration of individual New Yorkers who pool modest contributions to impact social issues. Donors vote on one grantee each year, and grants typically fall in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Not only does VPF award grants, but its donors are also assigned to volunteer with grantees on a pro bono basis.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, poverty, environment, health, youth, arts

IP TAKE: Even though this funder only provides one grant each year, VPF is stands out because its focus is on emerging under-funded and under-recognized projects that embody an entrepreneurial spirit. Although any program area is fair game, nonprofits should exclusively serve New York City.  

PROFILE: The NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund (VPF) is a giving circle of individuals who invest in social entrepreneurs that are tackling social and economic problems in New York City. VPF aims to build partnerships that help emerging nonprofit groups build capacity and try out innovative approaches. This fund has been on the philanthropy scene since 2008 and founded on a simple idea: the collective power of individual effort. Here’s how it works.

VPF seeks out investors who are willing to give at least $1 per day. Considering that VPF involves just a $365 yearly minimum commitment, this is one of the most accessible donor programs in the country. Each year, the donors’ money is pooled together to award one cash grant to a New York City nonprofit. Some past grantees include Concrete Safaris, an East Harlem youth health startup, Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective, a resource for disadvantaged young mothers, and Full Circle Education, a public school tutoring program. Poverty, education, and the environment are common grantmaking focus areas.

Although donor contributions vary from year to year, the average yearly grant is between $5,000 and $10,000. All grants are unrestricted, and individual investors are encouraged to actively participate with grantees. VPF is set up like a funder training program, helping newbie philanthropists gain experience through working on an investor team and volunteering for grantee projects. Unlike individual or family-based philanthropies, this is a community effort of individuals who want to achieve a greater impact than they could on their own.

There are two key committees at VPF that facilitate cash and capacity, while enhancing New York City’s social entrepreneurs. The Grants Committee is responsible for seeking out potential grantees, evaluating proposals, and creating candidate portfolios. Members of the Project Management Committee volunteer with grantees to turn small money into big change. This type of volunteering involves everything from fundraising, brand marketing, and board governance. VPF members vote to determine the area of focus for each year's grant. In terms of staffing, VPF is tiny, run by two co-directors, two board members, and the founder.

VPF announced its 2014 Investee, 596 Acres at the end of 2013. This is a land access advocacy nonprofit that connects people with vacant lots in desperate need of transformation. Runners up were Shore Soup Project and Green Jobs for Youth. Even though this funder only provides one grant each year, VPF stands out because its focus is on emerging under-funded and under-recognized projects that embody an entrepreneurial spirit. A solution to complex persistent social problems is funder’s top goal.

Over the years, VPF has maintained the sort of transparency and helpfulness that grantseekers really appreciate. On VPF’s blog, LinkedIn group, and Facebook page, the staff keeps curious nonprofits informed about social entrepreneurship, community service, and funding opportunities in the area. In the true spirit of collaboration, VPF contributions are deposited into a donor-advised fund at the North Star Fund until a grantee is selected. North Star Fund is a New York City community foundation that supports grassroots groups leading the movement for equality, economic justice and peace.

VPF will begin reviewing new applications soon, so check the Grantseekers page for updates. In the meantime, you can reach out to VPF leadership at info@nycvpf.org or sign up for the fund mailing list.

PEOPLE:

  • Heather Rees, VPF Founder
  • Heidi Klaimitz, Co-Director
  • Emily R. Kessler, Co-Director

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