Whether you’re a women, minority, or veteran aspiring to start a small business or to learn about being an entrepreneur, there are many free consulting and counseling resources available from charities. The options range from local programs to those run by national charities and local activism groups.
A major focus of these charity groups is on helping people gain new skills, including entrepreneurial or technical skills. The free assistance programs are targeted in particular at low income families and those without access to main-stream funding, which tends to be Black families, Latinos, immigrants, and women.
Charities not only give financial help or supplies such as career centers or computers, but they also provide opportunities for free one-on-one business coaching. This in addition to many other resources that are valuable to entrepreneurs and the support can even be beneficial to established women or minority business owners.
Charities that help new businesses or offer free training, classes or free advice
Catholic Charities USA is a nationwide organization. Local Catholic Charities branches sometimes offer various forms of business counseling, regardless of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity. This means that minority, LBGTQ, Black or women all have equal access. For example, there are programs such as a “first steps to entrepreneurial success” webinar series. Some of the Catholic Charity Diocese also offer the Refugee AIM Project for several years now, which focuses on counseling and access to low-interest loans for refugees or immigrants.
Catholic Charities offers both in person as well as sessions online. In addition, the charity offers financial aid (when possible) as well as basic needs, which may be free business supplies, textbooks, computers, clothing, and more. Catholic Charities has hundreds of churches and local charity agencies throughout the United States, and find one here.
Community Action Agencies business and employment resources are funded by the federal government. They operate in almost all cities and counties. Many of them partner with the Office of Economic Opportunity. Working together they provide a variety of services to low- and moderate-income individuals in the area, with a focus on the disadvantaged including veterans, women, single mothers, the disabled and minorities among others.
In terms of small business assistance, the main offering typically offered is the series of Entrepreneurial Training Academy sessions. They also offer information on business financing, which is very valuable for women owned companies (or entrepreneurs), minorities including Black or Asian business owners and others. Or many other small business and entrepreneurial classes can be offered by a community action agency as well. There are also financial assistance programs and start up programs including Individual Development Accounts.
These free programs start with the fundamentals of business and moves on to entrepreneurial mindset and skills training. Those who complete the program have access to free business valuation services for their ideas, one-on-one coaching and assistance with obtaining financing, including loans and grants for minorities or women from federal or state resources.
Low income families can get other support too. For those interested in obtaining a vehicle to start a business with, many community action agencies offer a savings-matching program called the IDA. While the terms and conditions may vary, in general the community action charity organization matches $2 dollars for every $1 dollar saved up to $4000, with a minimum of $1,333 saved to cash out. The proceeds can be used to invest in or start a business, pay for college, startup costs, or other business or educational skills. Find a local community action agency for startup help.
Goodwill is another national charity that help the low income, women, minorities, families in poverty and others. As with Catholic Charities, the nation-spanning Goodwill has different small business assistance opportunities at different locations. One example is the GoodBIZ! program, which gives participants 15 weeks of training (for free) and then pairs them with a business coach who provides free counseling, mentoring and support on an ongoing basis. Women can be partnered with female business owners, minorities with other minorities, and the Goodwill coaching program tires to provide a good fit.
Another example of a Goodwill charity startup program is free Business Smarts Course, which is a twice-weekly class that runs for a month and is oriented to those who are starting their very first business. They also offer national online glasses on using google products, Microsoft e learning, The Skills to Succeed classes and more., Check with your local Goodwill for opportunities; there are hundreds of organizations nationwide that potentially offer those sorts of courses. Find a Goodwill Office.
National Urban League offers free business classes, entrepreneurship, and other support. The charity focuses on the disadvantaged, including the Latino, immigrants, and Black community. Founded in 1910, the National Urban League has traditionally focused on advocacy and economic empowerment for African Americans but has expanded its umbrella recently to other marginalized groups (particularly the Latino community) as well as women of color.
The central feature for those looking to grow a small business or start a new company is the free NUL Entrepreneurship Center Program. This program targets current business owners who seek to grow their income to over $750k annually and become community employers. The main focus of the program is free one-on-one counseling provided by a small business expert, assisting with things like obtaining financing and management training.
Some of the NUL locations also offer periodic business development classes that focus on starting and growing a micro-business. The Urban League also helps Black and Latino business owners get financing for their current business or idea. Other relevant services include “digital career success” online events, an internal network with a job board, and the Project Empower University.
The NUL currently has offices in dozens of major cities across the United States including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Philadelphia and Washington DC. The African American, Latino, Hispanic and other minorities can get help starting a business, job programs, or other support. Find a National Urban League office.
Operation Hope is a nationwide non-profit that provides services to disadvantaged communities. They offer several free business resources, including information on loans as part of their Office of Small Business & Entrepreneurship program, Financial Literacy and entrepreneurship Classes from HOPE Business in a Box, Women Business Development Tools, and much more.
The non-profit/charity focuses on the low income and disadvantaged in inner cities, including minority neighborhoods. The aim is to help both children and adults from all ethnicities (Black, Latino, Asian, etc.) overcome barriers and bias on their way to financial stability. Entrepreneurship, small business assistance, and financial literacy are some of the main tools they to help females and minorities. More on Operation HOPE free business programs.
United Way offers financial aid (or referrals to programs), advice, basic needs and more. The United Way has a number of different charity programs designed to help small business efforts get off the ground, but they vary by region. For example, the organization runs a Social Innovation Accelerator in some markets Texas which links entrepreneurs to funding and coaching opportunities. There is also the MORTAR Entrepreneurship Academy provides business training to the African-American community as well as referrals to microloans for black business owners.
Founded in 1887, the United Way is one of the largest and most well-funded social assistance organizations in the United States. A major focus is on the disadvantaged, which unfortunately tends to be minorities, Latinos, the Black community and others. The charity has a presence in nearly every part of the country and partners with the federal or state government(s), churches, non-profits, and others or business start ups, clothing, and so much more.
Low income and struggling families can even get emergency financial help for their bills, learn about employment programs, and so much more. Check with your local United Way office to see what business programs might currently be available.
Free resources are always available at Public Libraries. While the idea of checking out some business books from the local library may have already occurred to you, you might not be aware of how many small business resources are available there. Local libraries are a great option for lower income families or those seeking funding, including minorities or women.
A number of libraries now have specific business departments and development centers. Offerings will vary by location, but it’s not uncommon for them to have a regular schedule of free presentations and classes that give one an opportunity to ask some one-on-one questions with business experts from all backgrounds. Many classes are run in partnership with charities or groups that focus on helping women, minorities and the vulnerable start a business or gain new skills. Classes may be tailored toward women or money entrepreneurs or small business owners or start up type companies.
Or public libraries offer free access to online training, such as with LinkedIn Learning. Some even have in-house business counselors that you can make appointments with. And it’s also a great free and low-cost service for many assorted business needs.
By Jon McNamara