The Macro Impact of Micro Grants

by No’a Gorlin

In the world of philanthropy, multi-million-dollar grants often grab the headlines. But smaller investments can also make a big difference.

In recent years, micro-giving in particular has grown across a variety of sectors. By taking advantage of platforms like Donors Choose, Kickstarter, Kiva and Indiegogo that have enabled the rise of crowd-funding and the $5 donor, small investments are empowering people who might not otherwise have access to funds, thus enabling grassroots ideas and innovation to spread.

At ROI, we have developed a micro grants program that puts a twist on this growing model.

Our community members now have the opportunity to apply for up to $1,000 for various grants, which cover costs ranging from professional development classes, registration fees to attend conferences, and even money to sponsor an event with Jewish or Israeli content.

The process is simple: ROI Community members apply online, applications are approved within days and funding is sent via Paypal.

Adding micro grants to our suite of offerings has enabled us to invest more – and more deeply – in our community members. An independent study we commissioned found that 90 percent of those who received micro grants last year expect the small investment will make a significant contribution to the success of their venture, and 95% said that the grant provided them “a sense of empowerment.”

When Heather Wilk, for example, decided to expand Straight But Not Narrow – a rapidly growing LGBT equality organization she founded in Los Angeles – she used her micro grant to develop the group’s network in England. She flew to London for a series of meetings and networking events, which have already turned into new campaigns and initiatives.

Renato Huarte, a teacher in Mexico City, meanwhile, used his micro grant to attend Limmud UK, which helped him launch Mexico’s first ever Limmud conference – an experience he described as a “dream come true.”

The success of our micro-grants initiative has pushed us to think deeply about the potential for this model to be adapted and adopted by organizations across the Jewish world.

While not intended to replace, but rather to complement, larger-scale models of investment, there are a number of benefits to including micro grants in our collective portfolio of initiatives to support the development of the next generation of Jewish leaders.

1. Micro grants enable us to invest in people.

Traditional forms of grant-making often provide wholesale support for programs and organizations, but not necessarily for the continued development of the people entrusted to run them today and in the future. Micro grants can provide an antidote.

By making available small amounts of hasslefree money on a rolling application basis, we can help to professionalize and empower young adults with the tools and skills they need to take the reins of leadership – whether of an existing organization or one they are building. Moreover, we can also ignite the spark that comes from hearing their first “yes” to a grant request.

One of our micro grants, for example, Go Professional!, invests in professional development, covering costs ranging from media training and fundraising consulting to graphic design and time-management classes. The model also provides the flexibility to offer different types of support that enables young leaders to choose the development form that most speaks to their needs.

2. Micro grants provide a scalable low-risk model with a high potential for payoff.

As is the case with any investment, not all grant recipients will create transformative projects that will move our community forward.

Micro grants, however, significantly lower the risk factor of betting that some can, and will.

With low overhead and low administrative costs – for both the grantee and grantor – we can give more young people more opportunities to explore new ideas, initiatives, skills and experiences, without much risk for either side.

3. Micro grants enable grantors to be a part of the learning process.

By investing in a wide range of people, we get exposure to new and creative initiatives and, in doing so, learn about the ideas that are out there.

In turn, we facilitate collaborations and, more significantly, are better positioned to help initiatives we believe in mature into full-fledged projects.

We are now building on the success of our pilot by expanding the micro grant model within ROI and experimenting with it more broadly across the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network. Participants in Schusterman’s REALITY program, as well as its South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering, for example, can apply for small grants to cover the cost of anything from a public-speaking class to organizing a community service project.

To be sure, micro grants cannot exist in a vacuum.

Rather, they ought to be considered a powerful tool in the suite of approaches required to empower the next generation of Jewish leaders to gain the skills, resources and networks they need.

Importantly, they do not require a huge budget, as even a small amount set aside for micro giving can make a big difference.

Ensuring a vibrant Jewish future requires an investment in the people who form our leadership base today and in the future.

In this regard, micro grants have the potential to make a macro impact.

No’a Gorlin is the Director of Strategy and Leadership Development for ROI Community.