Even with the advances women have made in the workplace, they are still under-represented among business owners. To encourage women owned and directed businesses and nonprofit organizations, government agencies and private and corporate foundations create grant programs that give incentives for women to apply for funding. Unscrupulous hucksters take advantage of this by offering to sell women special lists of funders who give away “free grant money”. “Don’t believe the hype,” says the U.S. Small Business Adminstration. Government and private grant makers do not give grants to business start-ups no matter who owns them.
Grant funders support such programs for women as education loans, low interest development loans, women’s business conferences and incentives to apply for grants. What government and private foundations do not fund, however, are for profit business start-ups. Most grant programs for women are designed to help women build new skills sets and establish professional networks that will help them in their business career. Some state and local level community development programs have added incentives for woman-owned nonprofits and for-profits to apply, but again, these are seldom for start-ups except in underserved, high-risk, high-poverty, high-crime or low resource areas.
The few grants that will help you start a business come in the form of infrastructure development grants which are more like contracts, low interest loans and or tax credits for a project instead of cash. These “grants” usually require you to raise some of the funds yourself and to have a considerable level of expertise in providing the service or building the thing the funder wants built. You have to be able to deliver the services or essential business that the disadvantaged community needs. This can include housing, telecommunications, water systems, medical clinics and other essential services not available in a targeted community. A county might, for instance, provide tax credits and a free facility for a young physician to set up his practice in a small rural community that has no doctor. If you are a woman doctor, you might have your pick of such deals if the state is sponsoring several programs and trying to encourage women entering business at the same time.
Who Makes Grants for Women
There are 26 federal agencies, thousands of state and local agencies and tens of thousands of foundations that award grant funding. Many of these offer an incentive for women to apply. To find Requests for Proposals, look at Grants.gov, the federal grants clearinghouse website as well as your state's grants website.
RFPs are complete information packets about what kinds of grants are available and for what purpose. Get on their email lists and set up the filters so you only get the kinds of grant alerts you are interested in. As funds become available the sites will alert you.
Private foundations, large corporate foundations and professional associations for women sometimes release grants with incentives for women who own and run businesses to apply. To find these go to your local funding library (at the public library, United Way or regional nonprofit management center). They have subscriptions to grant announcements and web-based premium search tools to help you find private grant funding for your project. These listings include information about whether there are incentives for women applicants.
Even if you do find a grant that favors woman-owned endeavors, you still have to meet the requirements of the grant. You often have to sell the idea to a funder before you are allowed to apply for funding. Even if you are invited to submit an application, your proposal will have to meet conditions specified in the RFP. Grants are rather like contracts that pay for activities and facilities that serve the general public welfare. Grants are never given merely to serve the interests of an individual or organization. No government agencies or private foundations offer general grants to for profit businesses. The IRS will not allow a nonprofit foundation to do so. The only thing grants will fund are nonprofit charities and businesses that do some sort of scientific, defense, educational, medical, research or development work that the foundation or government agency believes is in the public interest. If there are a significant numbers of women on your charity’s board of directors or if your company is owned or run by women, it may be eligible for extra consideration, but you still have to meet all the requirements of the grant.
If all you have is a vague business idea and want some money to develop it, the Small Business Administration advises that there are no funders that give such grants to general for profit business start-ups no matter who owns them. If, however, your new business is a nonprofit that provides a public service or is a for profit that can do something the government or private funder wants done AND you own it or run it, then, IF the funder wants to encourage women in business, you may find yourself given a better place in line for the funds.