Boston Women’s Fund: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Boston Women’s Fund is a “community of interest foundation” that focuses on women-centric justice issues in the Boston metropolitan area. It funds grassroots organizations with small budgets that have trouble finding support or connecting with like-minded women around the city.

FUNDING AREAS: Social justice, homelessness, housing, public policy women’s rights

IP TAKE: This is a great foundation to keep on your radar if you’re working for the advancement of women in Boston. This foundation views “advancement” pretty broadly, so programs in healthcare access, voting engagement, employment, domestic violence, and affordable housing are all fair game.

PROFILE: Established in 1984, the Boston Women’s Fund (BWF) supports community-based organizations and grassroots initiatives that are run by women and for women. This foundation strives to fight racism, sexism, and poverty and organize a diverse donor base to support social change movements. It has celebrated over 30 years of grantmaking and even supported men who actively support women’s leadership and nonviolence.

BWF currently has a couple grantmaking program areas, each of which is exclusively focused on the Boston metropolitan area. It's mission is to provide program support, seed money, and ongoing funding for organizations here that are led by women and girls.

It awards technical assistance through The Organizing Institute and focuses on girls programming and leadership development through Young Sisters for Justice in Philanthropy. BWF founded the Organizing Institute in 2000 to create stronger coalitions between women’s activists in the Boston area. Nonprofits received “mini grants” to help them build networks and spark dialogue through a luncheon series.

It collaborated with the Haymarket People's Fund and the Women's Theological Center to celebrate and encourage giving from people of color. BWF also has a Young Women's Ambassador's Program to inspire a new generation of donors.

In the past, BWF has paid attention to emerging social change groups that often get overlooked by other grantmakers and mainstream funding sources. Grants have often been awarded in amounts up to $20,000. This foundation does not support typically groups that already receive substantial ongoing support, one-time events, or individuals. Priority has been given to nonprofits with organizational budgets under $950,000, and the foundation caps funding for programs and initiatives at $550,000.

The Boston Women’s Fund was the first women’s foundation established in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest of the 100 or so such foundations in America. It grew out of a well-attended community meeting, when several racially and economically diverse women decided to create an organization that would help break down barriers and improve the lives of low-income women.

In a previous year, BWF awarded $150,000 in grants to 16 organizations. However, it gave $300,000 in grants to 20 nonprofit organizations and grassroots initiatives the year before. A list of current grantees with amounts and descriptions can be found here. As you can see the fund likes to stick with grantees it knows and trusts from year to year. Recent grants have been between $3,500 and $12,000.

In a past public statement, the foundation’s executive director wrote, “The Boston Women’s Fund will continue to exceed the grantmaking goals by ensuring that no less than 95 percent of our grant dollars benefit underserved communities through social justice grantmaking.”

At the time this profile was written, BWF was not accepting new applications from prospective grantees. Check the funder's Apply for a Grant page on its website for the most up-to-date information. Today, BWF is led by Interim Executive Director Janet Santos. They used to have a program officer on staff, but Santos is now the sole staff member.

General questions can be directed to Janet Santos at or 617-725-0035 ext. 3002.


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