Federal, state and local governments and foundations have been studying ways to increase the participation of women in business. Women-owned or led businesses and organizations often receive extra “points” in grant reviews or extra consideration for low-cost government-backed loans. Many funders consider businesses owned by women to be “historically underutilized businesses” (HUB’s) and target grant programs toward them. Here’s how to find out which ones do.
Federal, state and local government agencies and private foundations want to encourage women to participate more fully in all areas of business. Funders have done that by providing opportunities, financial resources and support to women in order to encourage them to build new skills and networks that help them take advantage of business opportunities. Some recent development programs have been aimed specifically toward aiding women 35 years of age and older.
There are 26 federal agencies offering grants and development funding. These agencies release Requests for Proposal (RFPs) at various times throughout the year as funds become available. RFPs are formal announcements of funding availability by government and private funders. The U.S. Department of Commerce and Small Business Administration are the most obvious sources of business funding but are not the only federal agencies that offer grants. Each state also operates agencies that offer grants and loans as well as distribute pass-through federal funds for business development, training opportunities and support services. Private foundations, large corporate foundations and professional associations for women and older Americans may also offer grants and low-cost loans to encourage women and particularly senior women to own and run businesses. Links to several search tools are provided below to help you find grant programs for older women.
Grants.gov is the federal government’s clearinghouse website for federal grant opportunities (see link below). Grants.gov contains information about how to apply for all federal grants. If you can find no current opportunities on the site, you should at least sign up for Grants.gov’s email alert newsletter in your area of interest while you are there. Grants.gov will regularly send you announcements of RFPs about grants in which you may be interested. States also have grant alert web pages on their websites. Sign up there for any RFP announcement newsletters they may offer covering state grant programs and federal pass-through programs administered by the state. There may sometimes be funds available at the local city and county level offering development funds for women, particularly in underserved areas. It may take a serious search to find what's available and how to take advantage of local funds, but these may sometimes be more quickly and easily obtained than funding at the national level.
Even if you find grants that award extra points for being a woman over 45, these will still be subject to the requirements of the grant funding. They will be for specific purposes that serve the general public welfare. Few government agencies or private foundations offer grants to for-profit businesses. Most grants are offered to nonprofit charities or to businesses that do scientific, medical, defense or other research and development work for the government or in the public interest. If your charity has women in leadership positions or your company is owned or run by women and is eligible to provide the research, product development or work the funder wants done, you may have a shot at grant funding. If all you have is a vague business idea you want someone to give you money for, the Small Business Administration advises that your chances are just about zero to be funded.
If you do locate a potential grant, go to the funder’s website and download an application packet. Applications come as Word documents, downloadable PDFs or text files. The Federal Register website contains links to all federal grant applications with instructions and other tools for completing the application process. These files will work in your word processor and allow you to type the application information directly into the document. Most foundations, government programs and other grantors now allow you to upload completed applications directly to their websites. This will save you the cost of postage, packaging and copying. Electronic filing can also give you more time to complete the application.