Grants, free money, and other financial assistance

“I need help finding grants for my small business”

“Are any grants available for low income people and/or veterans for home repair?”

“I want to find grants to buy a home or for real estate investment”

We get questions like this in the library every week, and we are happy to help!  But the first thing to know about many financial assistance programs is that most of them are not grants in the traditional sense, and that searching grants databases will not get you the information you want.

This post sorts through some of the myths about grants, and to point to sources of funding that might help for the types of questions we typically get at the library. And yes, we’ll cover actual grants, too!

Who gets grants?

Most grants are awarded to:

  • nonprofits like charities, schools, and arts and community organizations,
  • state & local government agencies,
  • federally-recognized tribes,
  • and public safety agencies like hospitals, police and fire departments

Most grants are for specific projects that will benefit many people, such as to produce a museum exhibit, to fund science or technology advances, or infrastructure projects (like installing broadband in a rural community). Grants are not generally given to individuals.  Grants are almost never available to businesses to hire staff, for ongoing expenses, or to expand. 

Applying for grants is a very involved process: you need to explain how you will spend the money, how it will benefit the targeted audience, and how you will document all of this. There’s a reason that “grant writer” is a full-time job held by people at places like non-profits and museums! 

Yep, that sounds like me and/or my organization! So how do I get a grant?

Grants.gov 
 “Despite what the late-night infomercials want you to believe, the federal government does not provide grants for business expansion and growth. There is no ‘free’ money for you to start or grow a business.”  Grants.gov is the source to find and apply for federal grants. It is a central storehouse for information on over 1,000 grant programs and provides access to approximately $500 billion in annual awards. Grants.gov does not provide personal financial assistance; it’s more like a directory. In order to find grants, go to the grants.gov web site and click on “Search Grants”  On the left hand side you can narrow eligibility to categories like 501(c)(3) nonprofits, state governments, independent school districts, etc. You can also narrow by category, or at least un-check the areas you don’t qualify in. They also have a mobile app.

SAM.gov Assistance listings  (formerly known as Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, or CFDA)
Sort of a companion to Grants.gov, and you may see some overlap. Covers assistance to both individuals and groups, especially state agencies, city governments, school districts, and Indigenous tribal governments and agencies. Some assistance listed here is administered by a state or county agency, which may have application requirements beyond those listed here.

Foundation Directory Online Professional
Library resource. Find potential grant-makers for your nonprofit by geographic area, type of organization, or population to be served. You can also see what kinds of projects a particular grantmaker has funded. Applicants must be a registered 501(c)(3) organization or an international NGO. This database must be used at a library location (no remote access).

Foundation Grants to Individuals Online
Library resource.  Similar to Foundation Directory Online Professional, this is easy to search. You can narrow by people served and geographic location served. It must be used at a library location (no remote access) 

Getting Your Share of the Pie : The Complete Guide to Finding Grants
E-book you can read online with a library card. One important thing it points out in the section on grants to individuals is that “Grant opportunities for individuals are very few in number” and “The vast majority of grants available in this category come in the form of scholarships or fellowships.” 

Candid's knowledge base
The company behind the Foundation Directory has answers to lots of common questions for grant seekers of all stripes, including artists and information on topics like fiscal sponsorship, crowdfunding, and corporate sponsorship. They also publish Philanthropy News Digest, which includes news and RFPs.

Okay, so it sounds like I’m not actually looking for a grant. What other kind of financial help is out there?

Here are some typical areas where individuals can get financial help for a specific purpose. Note that most of these have lots of restrictions, and not everyone will qualify.

Buying a home

Help is available in the form of down payment assistance or government-backed loans. Here are a few in the Portland area. To qualify for any of these programs, you’ll need to meet specific criteria:

Portland Housing Center down payment assistance
Down payment assistance is restricted to Portland Housing Center registered homebuyers.

Proud Ground
For first time homebuyers who meet income requirements

NeighborhoodLIFT and other bank programs
Banks sometimes have programs where a loan is forgiven after you live in the home for 5-10 years, such as NeighborhoodLIFT : “The NeighborhoodLIFT down payment assistance program provides a forgivable, zero-interest down payment loan with no required payments. Eligible homebuyers use the money from this loan for the down payment and closing costs of a home mortgage loan.”

Home Purchase Assistance Program 
Assistance with own payment and closing costs for first and non-first-time homebuyers looking to purchase a home within Portland city limits. (Currently unavailable, November 2021)

African American Alliance for Home Ownership
Programs include HAPP (The Homeownership Asset Preservation Program), a service for qualifying homeowners to protect homeownership and transfer wealth between generations,  pre-purchase counseling, and foreclosure prevention help.

Camino A Casa (thru Hacienda CDC)
Provides coaching for the homebuying process and help with down payments and closing costs through programs like a 3:1 match savings plan (the Individual Development Account) to larger down payment assistance loans.

NAYA
Provides culturally-specific homeownership coaching and assistance for Indigenous people, as well as repair grants

Home repair

Weatherization and Repair from Community Energy Project
Free weatherization and safety repairs for hundreds of low-income households, seniors, and people with disabilities in Portland.

Water leak repair program  
Free water leak repair services for income-qualified homeowners in Portland. Through this program, they can arrange to repair leaking toilets, faucets, or underground water pipes. Sewer repairs are not eligible.

Oregon Energy Trust
Multiple programs, including Savings Within Reach, for help with home energy upgrades for income-qualified households and utility bill payment assistance and help with weatherization improvements for low-income households

Rent and utility assistance for people impacted by COVID-19 (or other emergencies):

Multnomah County Emergency Rent Assistance
Local rent relief for tenant households with incomes at or below 80% area median income who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. 

Afloat: Utility Debt Relief
A limited-time program to give bill credits for overdue sewer/stormwater/water bills to low-income households with debt related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadline to apply for a bill credit  is April 11, 2022.

211
211 is a good place to look for other social service or crisis/ emergency needs.

Aunt Bertha/Findhelp.org
Type in your ZIP code, then click “money” icon and “Help pay for housing”

Small Business help

Small Business Association (federal government) 
Multiple programs for small businesses, including grants and loans

Business Oregon (State government) : Access to Capital- Loans, Loan Guarantees, and Bond Programs
Provides direct loans, and other programs to fund your business.

Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs Credit Corporation (OAMECC)
Helps minority small businesses to overcome the specific problems that limit their success and growth through technical assistance and loans.

Mercy Corps Northwest
Provides financing, mentorship and education to small business owners. This includes loans ranging from $500-$50,000 to startups and existing small businesses and matching contributions to  an Individual Development Account (IDA). They also run Oregon Women's Business Center (open to everyone, despite the name), a training and coaching service for small business owners.

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO)
Provides loans up to $250,000 to small businesses and matching contributions to an Individual Development Account (IDA), a matched savings account that helps people with modest means to save towards the purchase of assets.

SCORE
Not a funding source, but a great resource for entrepreneurial questions. "SCORE is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. The Portland Chapter is run by about 70 volunteers who have in depth, practical experience running and managing businesses." SCORE also runs a mentorship program. 

Livelihood NW (formerly known as the PSU Business Outreach Program) 
Non-profit organization that provides free and low cost professional business support to underserved entrepreneurs and small business owners in Portland, OR and throughout the Pacific NW.

Grants and Scholarships for College

Please begin by reading this Planning and Paying for College resource list from MCL’s home learning team.

Oregon Goes to College
Need-based grants, such as Pell Grants, the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) and Oregon Promise Grants

Foundation Grants to Individuals Online 
Library resource.  Similar to Foundation Directory Online Professional, this is easy to search. It must be used at a library location (no remote access)  Grants and scholarships for higher education, generally restricted to a particular course of study/degree program and/or to people meeting specific criteria. Some examples of scholarships listed in this database:

  • Need-based Scholarships for dependents of those killed or permanently disabled as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks 
  • Scholarships to graduating high school seniors of Walla Walla County, WA 
  • Scholarships for WA and OR residents of Danish descent who have shown exceptional involvement in the Danish community
     

Scholarship America
Free website listing scholarship opportunities with links to sponsoring organizations. These also tend to be for specific courses of study, for people with residency or demographic matches, or students who have demonstrated leadership or ability in certain areas.

And of course, contact the financial aid and scholarship office at your college or university for more ideas!

Everything Else

SAM.gov Assistance listings (formerly known as Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, or CFDA)
Sort of a companion to Grants.gov, and you may see some overlap. Covers assistance to both individuals and groups, especially state agencies, city governments, school districts, and Indigenous tribal governments and agencies. Some assistance listed here is administered by a state or county agency, which may have application requirements beyond those listed here.

Some examples of assistance for individuals listed here are  grants intended to help very low-income owner-occupants in rural areas repair their properties, scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives studying health professions who commit to serving in the Indian Health Service for two years ,and financial assistance to organic producers and handlers for certification programs.

Benefits.gov
A list, searchable by state and subcategory (Living assistance, Insurance, etc) of state and federal government-funded programs, from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to Crop Insurance to State Crime Victims Compensation. Includes links to apply for assistance or get more information about eligibility.

Black Resilience Fund
An emergency fund dedicated to healing and resilience by providing immediate resources to Black Portlanders.

Oregon IDA
Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs, are matched savings accounts that build the financial management skills of qualifying Oregonians with lower incomes while they save towards a defined goal. Oregonians who qualify can save for goals including homeownership or home repair, small business start-up or expansion, post-secondary education or job training, employment-related adaptive equipment, vehicle purchase, and more.

 

Have more questions? Contact us if you have other questions about grants or financial assistance, or if there's a resource we should add.

 

 



 

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