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United Way of Lancaster County


‘Reimagining Our Community’ offering grants for nonprofits to build out BIPOC business support

Participants in Lancaster’s Reinventing Our Communities program and members of the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia pose for a group photo at Southern Market Center during the Fed’s visit on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Source: Lancaster County Community Foundation)

A local group focused on expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs from marginalized communities is accepting applications from nonprofits for its first round of community grants.

The round will total $30,000, with awards ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, Lancaster County Community Foundation Program Officer Alma Felix said.

The money comes from a “giving circle” established last year by Reimagining Our Community, with support from the foundation. Giving circles allow members of a community to donate to a funding pool, from which grants can be made to support a cause.

Reimagining Our Community developed out of Reinventing Our Communities, a capacity-building project launched by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The Fed accepted a group of Lancaster nonprofits and entrepreneurs into its second cohort, announced in 2021, which focused on helping small businesses recover equitably after the pandemic. (Another local group is participating in the 2024 cohort, which is targeting housing affordability.)

Having completed the Fed’s program but wanting to remain active, the local 2021 cohort rebranded as “Reimagining Our Community” and launched the giving circle last year.

In line with its mission, the group is seeking applications from nonprofits interested in establishing or expanding programs “to support the development and sustainability of BIPOC-owned small businesses in Lancaster County” and fill resource gaps.

Possible initiatives might include marketing campaigns, scholarship opportunities for Black, Indigenous & People of Color entrepreneurs, cultural competency training and so on.

For details and application materials, click here. The deadline is May 17; awards will be announced July 19.

On Monday, Felix chaired a “community conversation,” held at the Lancaster Chamber, to discuss the small business landscape and what shortcomings exist that the grants could help remedy.

Participants said awareness and navigation are major concerns: Would-be entrepreneurs don’t necessarily know what’s available to them, or which resources or organizations are most appropriate to their need at a given stage of business development.

They urged nonprofits providing small-business support to think like an entrepreneur themselves, to reach out more, and to share information so that, for example, a business vetted at one organization doesn’t have to start all over again at another. Chris Ballentine, community relations manager at Willow Valley Communities and a ROC member, suggested a “concierge” model to help entrepreneurs navigate opportunities and find good fits.

To some extent Cultivate Lancaster is intended to be that one-stop shop, Felix said, but she agreed more can be done to make resources accessible. The foundation and other organizations providing small-business support will review the feedback, she said.