How I Built a Virtual Social Enterprise for Women
Arlene Siller PhD
I became extremely ill in August of 2018. Because of my stressful lifestyle, I was forced to take a leave of absence from my career and life. That job I left behind exposed me to nonprofit administration and grant writing. It fed my desire to help others by connecting philanthropists to their personal and social interests and redistributing funds for the greater good. But that job was exhausting. Add to that a divorce and now being a single mother, and it’s easy to see why my health deteriorated.
My doctors told me that I needed to focus on my health. My way of life had to change. I thought I was done with grant writing. But what was I going to do next?
For the first time in my life, I had time. Time to heal and figure out my new path. The months that followed my diagnosis were characterized by fear, fatigue, uncertainty, and powerlessness. There, God revealed His plan for my new business, Ascend Nonprofit and Business Solutions.
Ascend NBS debuted in March of 2019. Instead of writing grants for a single organization, we serve multiple organizations, nonprofits, and small businesses in cities across the country, making a larger impact not only through dollars raised but also through connections. Ascend NBS has grown into something far greater than I could have imagined in the last three years.
As the demand for grant writing services grew and other women approached me, the company I started as a solopreneur to meet my need for flexibility quickly evolved into a social enterprise. Prior to the pandemic, the nonprofit sector was resistant to the concept of remote grant writers. I chose to create what didn’t exist for me, and in doing so, I’ve created opportunities for other women.
The 2020 pandemic provided an opportunity for our industry to embrace remote and flexible work, making it easier to market our grant writing services to nonprofit clients. Nonprofits that needed to cut costs while increasing revenue provided an opportunity for the Ascend NBS business model.
The wonderful thing about our business model is that it allows us to give women the freedom and tools they need to pursue successful grant writing careers while caring for their families and meeting their own needs. Many women imagine a life in which they are less stressed, have a good work-life balance and are productive while contributing to society and earning money. Our company has grown with pride from 1 to 8-12 contract grant writers from various cities, of various ages, ethnicities, career stages, education and socioeconomic backgrounds, and lived experiences.
When deciding what’s best for Ascend NBS, I’m inspired by what I wish I had as a career-oriented mother and what other working women who have struggled to find a work-life balance want. We carefully select grant writers to ensure they fit the company’s culture. We worked hard to create a supportive environment for women because this was something I didn’t have in the workplace. I’m interested in giving women the tools they need to succeed. They can focus on grant writing and family care while we concentrate on business development.
I want Ascend NBS to be an example and a role model for our industry and others. Unfortunately, many employers do not assist women in maintaining their careers after they have children, elderly parents, partners who move away, impairments, or health issues that do not fit a standard 9-5 schedule. Women thrive when proper systems, resources, and support are provided. Women who have flexible work options experience less stress, increased focus on work, increased productivity and quality, and increased creativity and innovation, to name a few.
It was critical for me that Ascend NBS continue to operate online with flexible remote work options, allowing women to resume or start their grant writing careers at their own pace and with plenty of freedom. Even Grant Yourself Success®, our online course that teaches nonprofit leaders and staff how to prepare for and write grants themselves, is 100 percent virtual. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing a disproportionate number of women out of work and shouldering a disproportionate amount of caregiving duties, Ascend NBS felt incredibly ahead of its time. While I wish our business model existed when my children were young, I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished for women today. Over the next three years, I hope to grow the company to 50 contract grant writers and attract more people looking for meaningful flexible work, such as people with disabilities, military spouses, those with gaps in employment, those who want to upskill or reskill, or those who don’t have a degree but prefer a career to a job. Grant writing is not for everyone, but for those who choose it, Ascend NBS wants to be the place they want to work.
Ascend NBS does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, or race, and we encourage anyone who meets the qualifications to apply for contract grant writer positions.
Arlene Siller can be reached at email@example.com. For all other inquiries, visit https://ascendnbs.com/contact/. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin @ascendnbs.