Advertiser Disclosure

Small Business

Small Business Grants: 10 Programs to Get Started

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Small business grants
Getty Images

When you need funding for your small business, receiving money you don’t have to pay back would be the best case scenario. Various organizations award grants to small businesses without expectations of repayment. The catch: steep competition and stringent standards.

Government grants for small businesses, as well as corporate and private grants, are highly sought after, and are given to businesses that meet specific eligibility criteria. The application process can be time-consuming and competitive, but your efforts could pay off if your business is selected.

We’ll help you better understand what types of small business grants you may be eligible for, as well as a few programs that could be a good fit for your business.

Who can apply for small business grants?

Many grants are targeted toward certain types of businesses or owner demographics, such as women, minorities or military veterans. Grants could also be industry-specific, and recipients could be restricted in their use of funds.

Business grants can be separated into two general categories – grants from federal agencies and those from private groups or entities, including nonprofits.

Federal grants are available to all levels of government entities, like city or county governments or independent school districts, nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses. Grants.gov provides a searchable database of federal grant programs. State and local governments also have grant and assistance programs for small businesses. In these programs, federal money is typically awarded through state agencies. Recipients are typically chosen based on statewide social or economic concerns. You can find resources for business owners in your state at USA.gov. It’s also possible your city or county could have available grants for small businesses, so check your local government websites as well.

Private grants are available from for-profit businesses or nonprofit organizations. Corporations and foundations offer private business grants to small business owners, and these programs are usually competitive and focus on certain types of business.

Government grants are usually distributed to businesses that could help advance certain causes or initiatives or stimulate the economy in a specific way. Private grants are typically awarded with similar intentions, and grant makers would select businesses that support a particular focus or goal.

How to apply

Grant eligibility requirements would be based on the goals of the organization: who they want to give money to and how they want that money used. You could also expect a grant application to ask for common business information including how many years you’ve been in business and your annual revenue.

You may have to disclose additional personal information depending on the grant program. Your gender or income level could be a factor. You could be required to submit a personal statement or resume, as well as a business plan and a proposed use for the grant.

10 business grant programs to get started

The competitive nature and strict requirements of grant programs could make it challenging to receive a small business grant. But if you are chosen as a recipient, you would have access to debt-free funding for your company. We’ve compiled a list of general small business grant programs for which you could apply.

Government business grants

1. Small Business Innovation Research Program

The Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR, encourages research and development among small businesses. Through the Small Business Administration-powered program, federal agencies allocate a percentage of their research and development budgets to eligible businesses. Participating agencies include:

Grants for first-time applicants could be up to $150,000. Recipients can then apply for a second grant up to $1 million.

2. Small Business Technology Transfer Program

The Small Business Technology Transfer program is associated with the SBIR program and promotes technological innovation in business. Five federal agencies participate in the SBA-backed program:

The program has the same maximum grant amounts as the SBIR program – up to $150,000 for new applicants and up to $1 million for recipients continuing in the program.

3. Environmental Protection Agency Grant Programs

In addition to providing grants through the SBIR program, the Environmental Protection Agency offers grants for a range of environmental activity, such as making improvements to air quality and public health. Grants are available to small business owners, as well as community organizations, tribal programs and college students.

4. Challenge.gov

Government agencies post contests on Challenge.gov to crowdsource innovative solutions. Small business owners, academic researchers, hobbyists and students have won past challenges, which come with prize money to carry out the proposed solution.For example, the Department of Health and Human Services is awarding a total of $400,000 to three winning ideas for improving Alzheimer’s and dementia care through technology.

5. State Business Incentives Database

To help business owners find local assistance programs, The Council of State Governments provides information on available resources through the State Business Incentives Database. For instance, the site lists the Kansas Tourism Marketing Grant Program designed to help businesses and organizations in the tourism industry with innovative marketing strategies.You can’t apply through the database, but it could be a valuable resource when searching for state grant programs.

Private and corporate small business grants

1. NASE Business Growth Grant

The National Association for the Self Employed awards $4,000 grants each month to business owners looking to grow their enterprises. Applicants must be members of the organization to be eligible. Purchasing an annual membership for $120 would allow you to apply immediately after joining, but you would have to wait 90 days to apply after buying a monthly membership for $11.95.

2. Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program

The Tory Burch Foundation, created in 2009 by fashion mogul Tory Burch, awards $5,000 to women entrepreneurs as part of a one-year fellowship. Recipients also receive four days of workshops with experts in the Tory Burch office in New York, as well as one year of access to the foundation’s online resources and peer network. Each year, 50 fellows are chosen to participate in the program, and a select few are also invited to pitch their businesses to industry professionals.

3. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

FedEx chooses 10 businesses each year to receive grants and FedEx Office services. One grand-prize winner receives a $50,000 grant and $7,500 in print and business services, while a second-place winner receives a $30,000 grant and $5,000 in print and business services. Eight additional winners each receive a $15,000 grant and $1,000 in print and business services. The general public can vote for contestants online, and FedEx selects winners from a pool of 100 finalists who received the most votes.

4. Street Shares Veteran Small Business Award

Business owners who are veterans, active-duty military members, spouses of military members or children of military members who died on active duty can apply for grants from the Street Shares Foundation. Eligible businesses must have some sort of social impact on the military community. The Street Shares Foundation awards a $15,000 grant to a first-place winner, while a second-place business receives $6,000. A $4,000 grant is reserved for third place. The Street Shares Foundation is a philanthropic branch of Street Shares, an online lender that specializes in loans for veteran-owned businesses.

5. Visa Everywhere Initiative

Visa awards business owners in the financial technology industry who pitch winning solutions to various business problems. For instance, Visa challenged applicants this year to create solutions that make it easier for consumers to access digital payment tools. Applicants’ ideas must be relevant to Visa’s business and should have the potential to add value to the company’s clients. The winning business receives $50,000 from Visa and a possible partnership with the company.

Alternatives to small business grants

Applying for grants may feel like a pointless effort because of tough eligibility requirements that are often tied to the agenda of the grant sponsor, whether it’s a federal entity or a private corporation. The way you use the funding could be regulated as well.

There are other ways to secure business financing if you would rather avoid the grant application process and competition for funding. Consider these alternatives, but keep in mind you would typically have to repay the money you receive, possibly with interest.

Small business loans

Different types of small business loans are available to meet your funding needs. You could take out a long-term or short-term loan and pay back the money over a set period of time. You may need a strong credit profile to qualify for a business loan, and lenders would also consider your business history, cash flow and assets that could secure the loan. If you need funding right away, you may want to consider a short-term loan rather than taking your chances on a grant. Short-term financing typically has fast time to funding because of minimal application requirements.

Crowdfunding

Small business owners can solicit funding from the general public through crowdfunding. Platforms like GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Kickstarter provide a platform for you to collect contributions for your business. Some platforms require you to offer products or equity in your company in exchange for funds, but others allow you to accept donations. Like applying for a grant, starting a crowdfunding campaign doesn’t ensure you’ll receive funding. It could take time to generate contributions, and you may not raise as much money as you’d like.

Microloans

Microloans are disbursed in small amounts less than $50,000 and are typically reserved for businesses involved in community development. Like many grants, some microloan programs target underserved demographics, such as the SBA Microloan Program that prioritizes low-income, women and minority business owners. A microloan may have higher interest rates than a traditional bank loan, and the small loan amount could result in a quick repayment schedule.

The bottom line

Small business grants are often referred to as “free money” from government entities or private organizations. Although you wouldn’t have to repay a grant, it’s not a handout for just any business.

Many grant programs are designed for certain types of businesses or business owners. You may have to meet strict requirements to be eligible. Competition is usually fierce for business grants, especially those from giant corporations like FedEx. Your chance of receiving a coveted grant could be slim.

However, if you do qualify for a small business grant, you would be able to fund your venture without the worry of paying off debt. There are numerous small business grants available both nationally and locally, so it could be worth your while to find grant programs that align with your business.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure

Small Business

How to Convert Your For-Profit Business into a Nonprofit

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Getty Images

Converting a for-profit business to a nonprofit entity could be a smart move if charity and community impact has become your focus as a business owner. But making the change requires more than applying for tax-exempt status.

The process would largely depend on your state’s laws regarding business conversions, and not every company can become a nonprofit organization without a good reason for doing so. Only certain types of businesses can turn into a tax-exempt entity, a procedure that requires filing paperwork with state organizations and the IRS.

Keep reading to learn what it takes to turn a for-profit enterprise into a nonprofit organization, and if it’s the right move for your business.

Reasons to convert a for-profit business to a nonprofit

Although there are several tax-exempt designations within the IRS’ Internal Revenue Code, most nonprofits fall under the 501(c)(3) umbrella for charitable, religious and educational organizations.

The benefits of 501(c)(3) status include exemption from federal income tax, as well as the ability to receive tax-deductible charitable donations. Organizations with the 501(c)(3) designation are also more likely to receive recognition from grant-making institutions and foundations.

Before you can be awarded tax-exempt status, you would need to meet the IRS’ criteria. Organizations may not be formed to benefit private interests, and no portion of the organization’s net earnings can benefit a private shareholder or individual. Nonprofit employees can earn a salary though.

Meeting these requirements could be difficult as a for-profit business, unless you’ve had charitable intentions from the start, said Gene Takagi, an attorney with NEO Law Group, which represents nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations.

“Consider making that conversion if the existing for-profit entity really has a goal that’s not financial…but is really all about providing a public service or public good for charitable or welfare purposes,” he said.

Here’s an example: A neighborhood store that sells the work of low-income artists started as a for-profit business to get equity investments from community members but was unable to generate substantial interest and capital. Turning the business into a nonprofit organization would allow the owners to collect philanthropic donations to keep the store open. Because the business had a charitable, community-focused intent from the start, it could be approved for tax-exempt status.

But if a business seeks 501(c)(3) status for less charitable reasons, the IRS could deny the request, Takagi said. For instance, a failing business looking to get out of tax obligations couldn’t become a nonprofit without making operational changes.

“You’re really going to have to make a good case to the IRS,” he said. “It’s got to look different than what you were doing in the past.”

Converting for-profit to nonprofit: 5 steps to follow

Nonprofits are highly scrutinized, and business owners may be faced with more regulations than they’re used to, said Brenda Asare, president and CEO of The Alford Group, a consulting firm that advises nonprofits.

“Those processes are in place to dissuade people who may want to come into this sector to take advantage of other people philanthropically,” Asare said.

To make sure you correctly convert your for-profit business to a nonprofit, here are a few steps to follow.

1. Check entity conversion laws in your state

When you form a business, you must set up a certain entity, or structure, which determines the number of owners a business can have, the owners’ personal liability and taxes the business owes. Common entities include sole proprietorships, limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations. Nonprofits are usually formed as corporations, though they are able to receive tax-exempts status.

When changing your business to a nonprofit, you would have to convert the current structure to a nonprofit corporation structure. Depending on where you live, only some entities may be eligible for conversion.

In Louisiana and California, for example, corporations, LLCs, general partnerships and limited partnerships can convert to another type of entity through the state’s Secretary of State office. On the other hand, New York does not permit statutory conversions for business entities. Instead, business owners must establish a new entity, then merge the two companies into one.

Check with your state’s Secretary of State office to make sure you would be permitted to change entities.

2. File conversion paperwork

Because nonprofits are corporations, they must be incorporated through the local Secretary of State. If your for-profit business was formed as a corporation, a conversion could be as simple as amending your incorporation documents, also known as articles of incorporation. You’d need to file incorporation forms again to make the conversion, which would typically range in cost from $50 to $150. Additionally, because a nonprofit corporation does not have ownership, as a board of directors shares responsibility of the organization, existing shareholders of the for-profit business would have to forfeit ownership.

If your business is not a corporation, you would need to file new articles of incorporation with your Secretary of State. The articles of incorporation would call for the organization’s name, the purpose of the nonprofit and a designated registered agent to receive lawsuits and correspondence on behalf of the organization.

Other requirements when forming a nonprofit corporation include appointing a board of directors to make decisions about the organization’s activities, finances and legal compliance and drafting bylaws that regulate the board’s management and activities. The board of directors would also approve your compensation as the executive director or CEO of the organization, including your salary, health insurance and paid leave.

3. Apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS

You would need to submit IRS Form 1023 to apply for tax exemption under the 501(c)(3) code. Additionally, you would need to include a statement of your receipts and expenses, a copy of your articles of incorporation, a written description of your organization’s activities and a copy of your bylaws. You may need to apply for tax exemption at the state level as well.

For instance, nonprofits in California must file Form 3500A with the California Franchise Tax Board to be exempt from state income taxes. Organizations in Texas need to file Form AP-204 with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, while nonprofits in Florida must submit Form DR-5 to the state’s Department of Revenue.

Timing is key when forming a nonprofit and requesting 501(c)(3) status, Takagi said. Make sure your organization is compliant as a nonprofit — meaning you have a charitable purpose, board members and bylaws in place — as soon as you make the entity conversion. This could help you avoid getting turned down for tax-exempt status and owing taxes to the IRS, he said.

4. Decide what to do with your business assets

After you convert a for-profit corporation to a nonprofit organization, all existing business assets would be held in a charitable trust, which means assets could only be used for the organization’s charitable purposes going forward. Intellectual property could be included as well, such as books, music or art.

You could take assets out of the business before making the conversion if you want to limit the assets that are put into the nonprofit, Takagi said. Then, any assets you decide to put into the nonprofit at a later time could be categorized as a charitable donation.

If you’re concerned about a delay in receiving tax-exempt status, you may not want to lock all of your assets in a charitable trust right away. You could form a separate nonprofit and continue running your business to maintain access to your assets, Takagi said.

“It might be more practical in some cases to not convert but run them side by side for a little while,” he said. “Then either merge or dissolve the company and then donate assets to the nonprofit at that time [when] you already know the nonprofit has 501(c)(3) status.”

5. Set up your fundraising strategy

Once you no longer run a for-profit business, you must begin collecting charitable donations to keep the operation afloat. Nonprofits need to generate a profit, despite their title, but those profits must be reinvested in the organization rather than distributed to owners and shareholders, as a business would do.

State laws regulate fundraising activities. You may be required to register with a state entity before you begin soliciting donations from local residents, and you may need to register in multiple states if your donor base crosses state lines. For example, nonprofits in North Carolina must obtain a license from the Charities Division of the Secretary of State’s office. Depending on your state, you could be required to renew your registration each year to continue legally accepting donations.

Private and public grants and individual donations are common funding avenues for nonprofits. Donors would likely want to understand the organization’s mission and target market before giving money. A misconception about the nonprofit sector is that organizations can easily secure money with few strings attached, Asare said. However, donors often scrutinize nonprofits before making a contribution.

“Nowadays, there aren’t many places you can get money without the expectation that organization is making an impact,” she said.

Donors could be suspicious of a nonprofit that was formerly a for-profit business, Asare said. Be prepared to explain how you plan to spend donations to show you’re not seeking personal financial gain.

“I think a good measure would be looking at what percentage of the dollar is going to the services and programs,” she said. “This is something donors are interested in and they will ask.”

Ongoing requirements after making the switch

After you’ve made the change from for-profit to nonprofit, you’d need to meet ongoing requirements to remain compliant as an organization. From filing certain tax forms and reports to paying particular taxes, here are some requirements to keep on your radar:

Form 990: Most tax-exempt organizations are required to file IRS Form 990 each year. Nonprofit entities must describe the organization’s activities, governance, financial information and accomplishments to justify its tax-exempt status.

Organizations that have generated at least $200,000 annually or have assets worth at least $500,000 must file Form 990 yearly, while organizations with fewer assets and a lower income can file Form 990-EZ, a shorter version of the form. Form 990-N, which is even shorter, is available to nonprofits with gross receipts of $50,000 or less.

Employment taxes: Nonprofits with employees must pay employment taxes, which include federal income tax withholding and Social Security and Medicare taxes. You could be responsible for federal unemployment tax as well.

State filings: States often require nonprofits to file reports each year. These reports could include corporate filings, financial reports, fundraising registrations and state tax-exemption forms. Failing to file annual reports with your state office could result in penalties or loss of your tax-exempt status.

The requirements for nonprofits may seem excessive, but policies are in place to ensure that organizations are honest about how the program uses donated money, Asare said. Compliance standards act as a safeguard to make sure money is going toward services and not into the pockets of the people in charge.

“The window is closing on some of that bad behavior,” she said.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure

Small Business

Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online Banks: Which is Better for Small Businesses?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Getty Images

Separating your personal and professional finances is crucial when starting a business, and changes in technology are making it more convenient to do so. Not only could you turn to traditional brick-and-mortar banks, but you could take advantage of the resources that digital banks offer.

Opening a business bank account would allow you to clearly track your income and expenses without putting your personal spending in the mix. Managing a business bank account would also help you build your credit profile — you could become eligible to open a business line of credit or credit cards connected to your account.

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank would depend on which type fits your needs as a business owner. Keep reading to find out what kind of bank would be best suited for you.

Small business banking: Brick-and-mortar vs. online banks

A key difference between traditional and online banking is the flexibility that digital banks provide, said Barry Coleman, vice president of counseling and education programs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Small business owners could have around-the-clock access to online banking services as long as they have a device and an internet connection.

“This can certainly help busy business owners who are strapped for time by allowing them the option to bank on their schedules,” he said.

Brick-and-mortar banks

Although most brick-and-mortar banks now offer online banking features, consumers still must make some transactions in person, Coleman said, such as cash transactions that require personal identification. When opening a business checking account with Chase, for example, customers must meet with a business banker before enrolling in online and mobile programs. Still, this could be a draw for some business owners.

“Some consumers are simply more comfortable having a physical banking location where they can perform transactions and speak to banking associates in person,” Coleman said.

New business owners could also benefit from the guidance that bankers provide, said Grier Melick, business consultant at the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Establishing a personal relationship with a banker could also be beneficial if you plan to apply for a small business loan. You may have a better chance of being approved for funding if the bank already knows and trusts you.

“Oftentimes, small business owners do not know everything that they need to from a business banking perspective,” Melick said. “Having some direct human involvement can help with that.”

Online banks

Online banks have lower overhead costs than traditional banks, and those lower costs typically result in higher interest rate yields on deposits for digital banks than branch-based banks, he said. For instance, a high-yield business savings account could have an APY as high as 2% and no minimum account balance.

However, brick-and-mortar banks have the advantage of allowing customers to make cash deposits or withdrawals; an online bank typically wouldn’t offer that feature, Coleman said. Online banks sometimes belong to free ATM networks, like Allpoint, which would allow you to avoid the withdrawal fees that you’d incur at other ATMs.

Best of both worlds

It’s possible to have accounts at both types of banks, Melick said. For example, the owners of a brick-and-mortar store may start with an account at a local bank branch, then open a digital account when they decide to start selling online.

“Instead of severing ties with the bank, they could open an online account as well to handle their other revenue streams,” he said.

You could be subject to banking fees at both traditional and online banks, Coleman said. However, online banks generally charge considerably fewer fees and you may be able to avoid overdraft, monthly maintenance and ATM fees that come with a traditional bank account.

Here’s a quick look at how the two types of banks stack up.

Online banksBrick-and-mortar banks
24/7 access to accounts and banking features.Online banking features typically offered, but some transactions may have to be completed in-person during bank hours.
High-yield accounts available.Lower interest rates because of overhead costs.
Customers cannot complete in-person cash transactions or meet with bank representatives.Customers can make cash transactions, and bank representatives are available for meetings.

Digital services on the horizon for traditional banks

Online banks are growing in numbers and popularity, Coleman said. Traditional banks have taken this trend as a cue to bolster digital offerings for consumers.

“As a result, we are seeing traditional banking introduce more digital options for providing services,” he said.

The presence of digital financial technology is expanding within the financial services industry, comprising 7% of the total equity of U.S. banks, according to research from consulting firm McKinsey. To keep up, traditional banks must consider ramping up digital efforts in areas such as design, innovation, personalization, digital marketing, data and analytics to provide value to customers.

A few traditional banks rolling out expanded digital services include:

Bank of America

Earlier this year, Bank of America created Business Advantage 360 for customers who have business deposit accounts with the bank. The free tool provides a digital dashboard showing business owners their major expenses and transactions, as well as automated cash flow projections that can be adjusted to account for new sales or other data. Users can also connect with small business bankers through the dashboard.

PNC Bank

PNC Bank rolled out a digital business lending platform this year in partnership with OnDeck, an online small business lender. Leveraging OnDeck’s digital loan origination process, PNC aims to provide customers with business financing in as few as three days, a significantly faster timeline than how long it would take to process a conventional bank loan.

Popular Bank

Similarly, New York-based Popular Bank announced a partnership last year with Biz2Credit, an online lender serving small businesses. Popular Bank leans on Biz2Credit’s technology to digitally process loan applications outside of regular bank hours, effectively speeding up time to funding.

As the lines begin to blur between online and brick-and-mortar banks, business owners may find themselves with an increasing amount of digital opportunities. However, a demand for brick-and-mortar banking will likely remain. Small business owners who borrowed from an online lender reported feeling less satisfied than those who borrowed from a community bank — 49% vs. 79% — according to a Federal Reserve survey.

“Whether consumers turn to online only banks, or traditional banks that offer online products and services, the availability of online options will more than likely continue to grow,” Coleman said.

Which bank is best for your small business?

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank to house your business funds would depend on your personal preference, Coleman said.

No matter which you pick, make sure the Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation insures your bank of choice, he said. Single consumer accounts, joint accounts and business accounts, among others, would be protected at FDIC-insured banks in the event of bank failure. Deposits up to $250,000 should be safe and covered.

If you like having the ability to sit down with a banking professional to discuss your business needs, a branch-based bank could be the better choice, Coleman said. The physical presence that traditional banks provide could add a level of trust and reassurance. Keep in mind, though, that most locations have standard business hours that may not be conducive to your schedule as a business owner, he said.

A digital bank would allow you to complete your banking activities on your own time, said Coleman, though traditional banks oftentimes provide online services as well. He also noted that you may want to avoid using a public WiFi network to make business transactions, as those networks may not be secure and your information could be vulnerable.

A digital bank wouldn’t offer the same in-person service as a traditional bank, Coleman said, but you may not feel like you’re missing out.

“If the business owner already knows what they are looking for in a bank, and the online bank meets their needs, then they may prefer the online bank for its convenience, potential lower fees and higher interest on deposits,” he said.

All business owners should at least consider opening a high-yield savings account for cash that isn’t needed for daily operations, Melick said.

“Small businesses need to make sure that every penny they make works for them,” Melick said. “Oftentimes, the best way it can is through online banking accounts.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]