Getting hired as a felon may be challenging. For this reason, many former inmates turn to entrepreneurship.
However, most new businesses require starting capital. While receiving a loan is generally even harder than finding a job as an employee, there are plenty of grant options available for ex-convicts.
In this guide, we’ll list the seven best grant options for people with a felony conviction. Some of them are specifically dedicated to helping felons, while others are available for anyone.
Additionally, we’ll discuss the differences between a loan and a grant, as well as share some tips for increasing your chances of getting funding.
Grant vs. Loan
A grant and a loan have nearly nothing in common apart from the fact that both involve taking money from someone else.
The fundamental difference is that a loan refers to a sum that has to be repaid to the lender, often with interest. Grants, on the other hand, are a sum given to someone for a specific purpose.
When a grant is issued, this purpose is usually stated in writing, and the conditions of the agreement are checked for fulfillment.
In other words, a grant isn’t a present and has to be used for a determined objective. Federal grants can’t be used to fund religious activities.
While both grants and loans require an individual to meet certain conditions, the eligibility criteria for grants are normally stricter. Loans may have a negative impact on a borrower’s credit score. Grants don’t affect it in any way.
Furthermore, grants may be the only option for ex-convicts who are frequently declined loans even with a spotless credit score due to a criminal record.
Federal Governmental Grants
Governmental grants are created for any person wishing to start a business, not solely for felons. However, a criminal record doesn’t affect the eligibility for such a grant. All the available grants are listed on the grants.gov website.
To find one that meets your needs, we suggest using a filter. Offers can be refined by eligibility, industry, and agency.
For instance, some grants are only available to county governments, higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, Native American tribal organizations, and other structures.
Felons aren’t eligible for such options unless they’re a part of such a community. Others are created to help individuals start a business, and that’s the type of grants felons should be searching for.
Each grant has different eligibility criteria and conditions. With a federal grant, you have to work on an objective listed by someone else instead of asking to fund your own idea.
Most governmental grants pursue specific community or national interests. For this reason, most governmental grants are focused on organizations rather than individuals.
To win funding in competition with legally registered entities as an individual, you must have plenty of knowledge and experience in the field. That doesn’t mean getting such a grant is impossible, though, as many felons are brilliant professionals.
Furthermore, sometimes grants related to helping ex-convicts appear on the website, and no one suits such a purpose better than an individual with a personal experience.
Pro Tip: Working with a program officer from the funding organization may boost your chances of receiving a grant. Such professionals can help you determine whether you’re a good fit for the proposal.
If you feel you have the required knowledge and experience, send out an email describing it and ask for help. This tip applies not only to government grants but also to those funded by independent organizations.
Correctional Facility Grants and Courses For Felons
The main objective of correctional facilities is to help felons return to their communities. This generally isn’t possible without getting a job, and such organizations may sponsor felon start-ups and education.
However, often correctional facilities are limited in income, depending on scarce governmental funding or donations. For this reason, business grants are rarely available and usually can’t be found online. If such a fund appears, it’s immediately given to one of the community members.
Although start-up funding options only appear occasionally, free courses are constantly available for anyone willing to learn. New skills can be of great help in managing a firm or becoming a freelancer.
Correctional facilities may provide beauty, culinary, computing, writing, business, or other classes that would otherwise cost several hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
Of course, not any skill on its own is sufficient to create and run a firm and funding may still be necessary. However, newly acquired knowledge may help you not fail a business funded from a grant received from another source.
Community Funded Grants
There are plenty of online platforms that allow people to raise the necessary sum on donations. It’s called crowdfunding.
This method of funding relies solely on the goodwill of those who come across an individual’s request. It may take a long time to achieve the desired sum. Furthermore, the money raised is more often insufficient than exceeding the expectations.
However, it merely depends on the nature of the request and how well the purpose is described. Generally, communities are more willing to help former felons than banks.
The most popular crowdfunding platforms are GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and IndieGoGo. The first one accepts any type of fundraisers, including medical expenses, educational fees, business, and even personal.
There were cases when people were asking for money for no reason, were honest about it, and still raised an impressive sum.
Kickstarter is focused on creative projects. It’s a perfect place for artists, designers, musicians, and other creative people. Individuals can fund book publishing, movie filming, gallery opening – you name it.
IndieGoGo supports innovation, especially technological. Both websites feature the most popular projects on the front page, allowing them to raise money faster. In other words, if you have a truly unique idea, it has a high chance of getting exposure.
Although all of the abovementioned crowdfunding platforms have millions of users, support typically begins from other sources. You may have to ask friends, social media followers, or other communities to take part first.
Once the project gets some recognition on a crowdfunding site, you can expect plenty of questions from potential backers. Upon remittance, the platform may take a specified fee – 5% for Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and 1.9% + $0.30 per donation for GoFundMe.
Pro Tip: Conduct proper industry research and put your idea into context when describing it. Help potential supporters understand how your idea relates to those already existing and expands them, or why it’s innovative. The more expert knowledge you can showcase, the higher are your chances of receiving funding.
Non-Profit Organizations Grants For Felons
A good portion of US citizens has been convicted of a felony at some point in their lives. Every year, about 600,000 people leave prison.
For this reason, many non-profit organizations are dedicated to helping felons. Some non-profits offer education, mentorships, or cash grants for personal or business support and depend solely on donations.
Inmates to Entrepreneurs is the longest-running program of its kind, focusing both on providing the necessary education to start a business. The organization offers eight-week or online courses and correctional facility camps.
Topics covered include marketing, finance, sales, management, and other business-related classes. Although Inmates to Entrepreneurs don’t advertise themselves as a start-up funding program, you may share your ideas with the community and possibly get some financial support.
Regardless of the fundraising outcome, education costs money, and this program may be a highly useful addition to a business grant. After all, setting up a business is only the first step. Then, you have to successfully manage and expand it.
Pro Tip: You may have to research your local non-profit communities. Some of them aren’t widely advertised online and can only be found via correctional facilities or other governmental institutions. Of course, online and offline inmate communities may also advise on some charity organizations in your area.
Creative Capital Artist Grant
Many former felons are brilliant artists. Creative Capital Artist Grant provides select projects with $50,000 in direct funding plus additional career development services. Since 1999, the organization has awarded over $50 million to support artists across the US, and felons aren’t an exception.
The application process is pretty straightforward. Individuals seeking a grant must fill out an online form that contains questions helping the organization evaluate the project.
All applicants are required to write a short project description, three related themes, estimated completion date, status, target audience, and context.
Additionally, the organization asks how a project takes an innovative approach to content and form and what kind of impact it should have. The list of questions included in the form continues.
Some artists have reported that the questions were so detailed that they managed to learn more about their own work after answering.
Even if your project doesn’t receive a grant, Creative Capital may help to connect you with an artist community and provide the tools other than money. Artist retreat gatherings allow creative people to build connections, collaborations and find independent investors.
Some artistic people aren’t great at commerce. Online and offline workshops hosted by Creative Capital encourage artists to transition to full-time practice. They provide confidence-building tools such as time and finance management, leadership, and other practical skills necessary for running a business.
MicroGrants Personal Grant
MicroGrants offers $1,000 to selected individuals. All money is raised from donations. The organization’s partner agencies recommend their best-qualified clients as potential grant recipients. MicroGrants then review the applications and issue grants.
Partner agencies mentor the recipients, making sure all grant conditions are met, and share the information with MicroGrants.
As all applications for a personal grant are accepted via partner agencies, it’s crucial to find one that fits your business vision. The list of partners is impressive, ensuring that everyone can find an organization that aligns with their fundraising purpose.
Some of them are dedicated to providing education or social support to anyone in need. Others are only helping people from specific communities. Of course, to receive a business grant, you have to contact an agency that specializes in such.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have a coherent description of your business idea before searching for funding. Read your proposal out loud and think about whether it leaves any questions.
Rather than hunting for information that isn’t included in the description, they will simply move to the next proposal. Thus, you’ll want to create an informative and detailed application.
SBA Grants and Investors
The SBA, or Small Business Administration, is a federal agency that provides business grants and loans and helps individuals find independent investors.
Unlike most funding organizations mentioned in this guide, SBA focuses specifically on small business support. As the niche is narrower, the competition for grants is lower, so SBA may be a great starting point for anyone seeking starting capital.
As the SBA is a governmental institution, the available grants follow a national interest. Businesses engaged in scientific research and development and trade expansion can receive a specified sum.
The organization also offers Covid-19 relief options, such as the paycheck protection program, shuttered venues grant, and restaurant revitalization fund.
Even if you get a grant from another source and start a business, you may be eligible for additional help during the pandemic.
Investor funding is provided mainly as a loan, equity, or combination of both. In other words, people who invest in your company are willing to receive a share of its future profit.
Some investments may reach $10 million, so that’s a fair request. To qualify, you must be a US citizen setting up a small business in one of the approved industries. Farmland, real estate, and financing don’t qualify for SBA grants.
Bring Value And Receive Rewards
Hopefully, our guide has helped you identify the most suitable grant option for your business idea.
As the competition for grants is generally challenging, we advise thinking out your idea thoroughly. A truly unique, innovative project dedicated to bringing value to society has a higher chance of receiving funding than any basic idea.
Finding the right organization that matches your values is also important. We suggest trying out all available options to raise your odds.