Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

General Operating Grants: How to Find Them Fast in 2023

General Operating Grants: How to Find Them Fast in 2023

When running a nonprofit, grants are a crucial fundraising strategy. But not all grants are created equal, and general operating grants can truly make a difference in helping nonprofits thrive.

As coveted as these funds are, these types of unrestricted grants give nonprofits the freedom and flexibility to use the awarded funds however they need, with no strings attached.

This article will go over some of the key details about this type of funding while also showing you the best way to find general operating grants.

What Are General Operating Grants?


Sometimes known as “unrestricted grants,” general operating grants are simultaneously one of the least common and least restrictive types of grants. They provide funding to cover the operational expenses that come with running a successful nonprofit.

Simply put, unrestricted grants can be used on almost anything, without the need to be attached to specific programs or campaigns.

Some of the expenses you may finance through a general operating grant include:

  • Rent
  • Salaries
  • Utilities
  • Infrastructure
  • Daily expenses

It is this flexibility and lack of restriction that makes general operating grants so coveted and yet so rare, as most funders like to know that the grants awarded are being used to directly advance the nonprofit’s cause.

Why Are General Operating Grants Important?

Person wondering

It is an open-secret that nonprofits must use some of the money they raise to cover their expenses in order to stay afloat. However, few donors or funders like for their donations to be used for the benefit of the organization and it’s staff rather than the cause they care so deeply about.

But how can a nonprofit champion a cause if it cannot afford to continue existing?

This is what makes general operating grants so important. As mentioned above, general operating grants are a specific type of grant whose aim tends to be not the mission the nonprofit is fighting for, but rather the structures and people keeping the nonprofit alive.

By supporting nonprofits and those who work for them, general operating grants are also indirectly supporting their missions.

For this reason, operating grants tend to have few strings attached because funders have an understanding that each nonprofit has their own unique needs and those running it will know how to best use the funding to address them.

By allowing nonprofits to invest in themselves, general operating grants provide nonprofits with the tools they need to more efficiently work on their mission. This efficiency, in turn, can also foster innovation within the organization.

Furthermore, because general operating grants allow nonprofits to use those funds to cover their own costs, the nonprofits can then direct donations to the cause that their donors are so passionate about supporting.

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How to Find General Operating Grants in 11 Steps


Now that you understand what general operating grants are and why they can be so important to your nonprofit, it is time to learn how to find them.

1. Create a Budget

Believe it or not, the first step in your journey to find the best general operating grants starts not with a search engine, but with a budget.

This is because grant writing is a long and complicated process that will require many hours of investment.

When creating your budget, talk to your team and see what resources you already have available at your disposal. Can you afford to spend time and money on this process in order for it to be done well? If not, what sort of sacrifices will you need to make?

Once that is done, go over every single expense you have on a monthly basis. How will you be using the grant to cover all of your costs? This will not only give you a concrete idea as to how the grant will help your nonprofit, but it will also give you a target to aim for.

2. Begin with Your Network

In today’s heavily tech-reliant culture, it is easy to overlook the power of your in-person network. For this reason, this step is often skipped over by those searching for the best general operating grant for their nonprofit.

Before you jump to your computer, ask your staff if they know of any grants that your nonprofit may qualify for. Ask the same question to your volunteers or contractors you’ve worked with in the past.

If you’re in contact with other nonprofits or foundations, or if you know individuals that work for companies that are known for supporting philanthropic causes, ask them if they have any recommendations for grants your organization may qualify for, or if perhaps they have any tips that might be useful.

At best, the people you talk to will have names for grants you can apply for, tips for places to look into, or personalized pointers for when you begin your search. These will give you a good head start and some leads to chase later on. At worst, you’ll be at the same place you were in Step 1 while not having wasted that much time by simply asking around.

3. Look Locally

It is true that larger foundations and companies will often give you the largest funding. However, those opportunities tend to be far more competitive.

For this reason, it is recommended for you to start your search by looking at local companies and government agencies who seek to benefit their communities. While the fund will probably be smaller, so will your competition, increasing your chances of winning.

Create a list of companies based around your area, of government agencies operating at a local level whose work is adjacent to your cause, or of foundations in your state. After that, look at their websites and see if they have any information regarding their community initiatives. Make sure that these are general operating grants, and see if there are any restrictions as to how the funding could be used.

Take note of all the general operating grants you believe your nonprofit qualifies for, as well as any relevant information you can uncover.

4. Expand Your Search

Now that you have looked locally, it is time to expand your search.

Just like before, make a list of all the companies, government agencies, and foundations you can think of that would support a nonprofit like yours. Do not be afraid of going big, for large international corporations tend to have large philanthropic branches that are specifically aimed at supporting smaller nonprofits.

Once more, we encourage you to look closely at their websites. Take notes of requirements, restrictions, and see whether or not your nonprofit is a fit for their grant.

5. Look at Similar Nonprofits

A good way to find general operating grants is to look at nonprofits that are similar to yours and see if they have won any in the past.

Don’t limit yourself to nonprofits that share a mission with you. Look at their size, look at where they are located, look at how they operate. All of these might have been factors that contributed to them winning the grant, which means you could be eligible for it as well.

6. Use Search Engines

Now that you’ve exhausted the obvious choices, it is time to dig deeper into your search. By using search engines, you can find the less obvious grants given by organizations you are not well-familiar with.

When doing your research, try different keywords, use words closely associated with grants and nonprofits, or try to specify your location or field of work. The trick to getting a wider variety of results that are still relevant to your objective is to not limit yourself to the most obvious phrases.

7. Search Through Free Online Databases

After you used your search engine of choice, it is time to give free online databases a try.

Databases can be incredibly helpful in finding obscure grants by filtering out irrelevant information. While at first a search engine and a database may seem similar, there are some key differences between them.

To put it simply, a search engine looks through the entire web and pulls relevant results by zeroing in on keyword choices, while the database looks through an already curated collection of information.

When it comes to grant research, this curated approach gives databases a huge advantage over search engines, as not all funders who award general operating grants have websites, much less one that is kept up to date with important information. While this would make it impossible for search engines to find them, because databases do not rely solely on websearch, they are able to connect nonprofits with these funders.

Furthermore, features such as filters help you narrow down your search results so you do not have to personally sift through thousands upon thousands of irrelevant links. There are some great paid database options that can help you streamline your research. We’ll go over those later in this article.

8. Narrow Down Your List

Now that you have created an extensive list of potential general operating grants, it is time to narrow it down.

Start by looking at deadlines. Do you have enough time to complete an application for a particular grant? If the answer is no, then strike it out. Remember that just because you missed the timing this year, it does not mean you cannot apply for it next time.

Next, double-check the requirements. Do you still believe you are a good fit for those grants? Consider organizing them in order of which ones more closely align with your nonprofit to the ones that feel more like a stretch.

As we discussed already, general operating grants have few restrictions with how nonprofits can use the funds received. However, it is advisable to double-check and ensure that the grant can be used to cover the expenses you are seeking to finance.

Finally, check the amount of funding awarded. Would it be enough for what you need? Would there be a surplus? Or would there still be something missing?

By eliminating and ranking these grants according to these questions, you can see which ones are truly the best ones for your nonprofit to pursue.

9. Prepare Your Documents

Now that you have a curated list of which grants you not only qualify for, but that are a good fit for your nonprofit, it is time to prepare your documents.

Every grant is unique, and as such, every grant will have its own unique set of requirements. Thanks to the previous step, you should already be somewhat familiar as to what each funder expects from you. Gather all of your forms and your paperwork you’ll need to provide with your application.

Remember that though general operating grants tend to not have as much restriction when it comes to how you can use the funds given, they will still have requirements as to who can apply, how it should be done, and what sort of documentation they’ll want to see from you. 

10. If Needed, Contact Funders

There are many funders who do not accept unsolicited applications for their grants. While this sort of information should be readily available on their website, if you are still unsure whether or not your application would be welcome, it is good practice to reach out and ask them directly.

11. Consider Whether a Grant Writing Consultant is the Right Choice for Your Nonprofit

Finally, the last step in finding the best general operating grant for your organization is also the first step you should take in your grant writing application process.

Consider whether a grant writing consultant is right for you and your nonprofit. Thanks to the budget you created in the beginning of this process, and thanks to the research you made, you can now assess whether the money spent to hire a grant writing consultant is the right choice for your nonprofit.

How Instrumentl Can Help You Find General Operating Grants in 3 Easy Steps


While finding general operating grants may seem daunting, there are tools you can use to save you time without sacrificing quality of research.

Instrumentl is a paid online grant database that aims to help nonprofits secure more funding for their causes. Thanks to its intuitive design and unique features, this platform condenses all 11 steps above into 3 simple ones.

1. Create Your Instrumentl Account

Instrumentl Homepage

The first step to using Instrumentl’s comprehensive online database is to set up your account. If you’re not entirely sure if this is the right choice for your nonprofit, you can sign up for a 14 day free trial with no credit card information required to see if the service is right for you.

After registering, fill in the information about your nonprofit and your fundraising needs.

2. Instrumentl Matches You with Active Upcoming Grants

Do you remember all those steps required for you to find different types of grants? From starting locally, looking through companies you are familiar with, to finally searching with search engines and databases?

Well, Instrumentl’s smart matching feature condenses all those steps into one.

Its algorithm takes your fundraising needs into consideration and searches through its comprehensive database to see not only which grants are a good match for your nonprofit and your projects, but to also show you all of the information you need to craft a winning application.

Instrumentl’s Smart Matching Feature

3. Manage Your Grants with Instrumentl’s Unique Features

Instrumentl’s Grant Tracker feature allows you to manage your grants more easily so that you can always be on top of your tasks and future opportunities.

Instrumentl’s Grant Tracker feature

Instrumentl’s tools show you the funder’s history so that you know how your nonprofit compares to previous winners. You can also create tasks, and Instrumentl will send you reminders of approaching deadlines.

You can also export the data on saved grants to PDF or CSV files, to more easily share it with your staff, potential investors, or simply just to keep a physical copy with your files.

5 Common General Operating Grants Questions


How Can I Qualify for Larger Grants?

Larger grants usually require you to demonstrate successful experience managing smaller grants. Consider creating detailed grant reports or partnering with a more established organization.

What are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid when Searching for General Operating Grants?

The most common mistake to avoid when searching for general operating grants is not being thorough with your research.

From simply not knowing what you don’t know to feeling frustrated when you hit a wall in your search, it is easy to overlook crucial information. Luckily, Instrumentl makes the research process simple and easy by providing you with all the facts you need in one place.

When Should I Start Finding General Operating Grants?

There’s no exact date for when you should start looking for general operating grants, as deadlines can vary.

That being said, just because a deadline is too tight, or just because you missed it, it doesn’t mean you cannot start getting prepared for next year’s application. Do not wait for an arbitrary season to start your research when you can begin doing so today.

Should I Still Apply for a General Operating Grant if I Don’t Meet All the Requirements?

As we mentioned before in this article, each grant is unique, and therefore, they each have their own ways of evaluating applicants.

That means that while to some, missing a requirement might be an immediate rejection, others might be a little more lenient. Still, we advise you to err on the side of caution and favor grants that are more suited for your nonprofit rather than spending so much time and resources on a longshot.

How Could a Consultant Help Me Through this Process?

A grant writing consultant is a professional whose expertise lies in the grant writing process. There are many services they can provide and many factors you should consider before hiring one. Though sometimes costly, they can save you time and headache by doing the process for you so that you can instead focus on what you do best.

Wrapping Up: How to Find General Operating Grants Fast in 2023


General operating grants are an incredible source of funding that can help nonprofits stay afloat. Highly sought after, their lack of restrictions makes them extremely flexible, giving nonprofits the freedom to use them as it best suits their needs. Finding the right grant for your organization, however, can be difficult.

This article provided you with tips on how to find the best general operating grants for your nonprofit so that you can have the support you need to continue furthering your mission.

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