General Operating Grants: How to Find Them Fast


Ryan Carruthers


Content Marketer at Instrumentl

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November 4, 2022

Last Updated:

November 9, 2023

General operating grants are the coveted opportunities that all nonprofits want. Instead of restricted funding that’s tied to specific projects, programs, or activities, general support gives you the flexibility to use the funds as you see fit.

In this article, we’ll outline the steps to finding a treasure trove of general support grants.

The Ultimate Find New Funders in Your Backyard Playbook

What Are General Operating Grants?

General operating grants are unrestricted funding that nonprofits can use for any purpose. You can use these grants to cover basic operating costs, like:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Salaries
  • Infrastructure
  • Daily expenses
  • Funding new programs and initiatives
“General operating grants are unrestricted funds that support the overall operations and sustainability of your nonprofit. They allow you to use the money for any purpose that advances your organizational goals, provides flexibility and stability, enhances your credibility and reputation, and builds trust and loyalty with your funders.”

General operating grants differ from other types of grants because they are not limited to specific programs or projects.

For instance, let's say a foundation wants to give money to support a brand-new after-school program for students from low-income families. This grant is restricted, meaning the funds can only be used for that specific purpose.

“If you're part of a non-profit organization, you know how important it is to secure funding for your overall operations rather than just specific projects. General operating grants provide the stability and flexibility necessary to allocate funds where needed.”

General operating grants are more flexible and can be used to meet the organization's most pressing needs.

Note - There are over 13,000 operating grants for nonprofits in the United States. Check them out on Instrumentl's free grant database.

Why Are General Operating Grants Important for Nonprofits?

Many funders prefer to provide grants for specific programs or projects rather than offering unrestricted funding to nonprofits.


When funders prefer restricted funding, it’s to:

  • more easily measure impact,
  • ensure accountability, and
  • target their resources toward projects that align with their mission and strategic goals.

Doing so provides a clear, direct connection between their contributions and the outcomes achieved.

“Show [funders] your value! Tell them what's unique about you and why they should INVEST in your organization. If you can include quotes and testimonials from service recipients, even better!”

In contrast, funders can see general operating funding as less accountable, raising concerns about mismanagement.

It’s important to recognize these challenges and tailor your general operating proposals to meet the preferences and priorities of potential funders.

If not, how can you continue your mission if you only have funding for your projects and programs but not enough to keep the lights on?

The Main Benefits of General Operating Grants

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How to Find General Operating Grants in 3 Steps

Below, we’ll unpack the steps you need to take to find general operating grants that are relevant to your nonprofit.

Pro Tip: Create a free Instrumentl account and get access to Instrumentl grant search features for 14 days. Instrumentl will match you with the best general operating grants for your nonprofit.

Let’s unpack the most effective way to find grants for operating expenses.

Step 1: Narrow Your Grant Search To Only General Support Grants

Once you’re in Instrumentl, start your grant search by first creating a “Project.”

Projects are like a saved search. You enter details about your nonprofit and the types of grants you’re looking for. Instrumentl uses this to match you with relevant grants.

After you’re in Instrumentl, you can start your grant search by first creating a “Project.” Projects are like a saved search. You enter details about your nonprofit and the types of grants you’re looking for, and then Instrumentl will match you with relevant grants.

Make Sure You Only Get Matched With Relevant Grants

Here’s how you can set up your project so you only find grants that may be a good fit.

  1. Share details on where you’re located
  2. Create a project name
  3. Set up your grant search
Matched With Relevant Grants

First, select the geography in which your nonprofit operates. This will help match you with grants that are relevant to your area.

Once done, click “Save and Continue”.

Save and Continue

Next, in the “Overview” tab, create a project name. If you make multiple projects, creating a project name related to your program or client will make it easy to identify them.

In this example, we’ll create a “Project Name,” called, “General Operating Support Grants for Food Security.”

create a “Project Name,”

Make sure to select, “Matches & Tracking” so that Instrumentl will match you with relevant grants that fit your criteria. Tracking only projects won’t match you with relevant grants.

Matches & Tracking

Once done, click “Save and Continue”.

Save and Continue
  • Click on the "Next" button. This button will take you to a welcome page where you can select a date to join an onboarding session.
  • Click on the "Create Your First Project" button. It’ll direct you to a page where you can enter basic information about your nonprofit and your project.
  • Enter a name for your project. The name can be anything that describes your nonprofit's (or the nonprofit you write for) mission, vision, or goals. For example, "Save the Whales," "Feed the Hungry," “Prolific Client," or "Empower Women."
Enter a name for your project
  • Click on the "Save and continue" button. You'll be taken to your project dashboard, where you can start finding general operating support grants.

Fill In Details On Your Nonprofit

The second step to finding grants for nonprofit operating expenses with Instrumentl is to fill in details about your nonprofit and your project.

Fill In Details On Your Nonprofit

This is where you'll provide more information about your location, desired grant size, fields of work, and other details that will help Instrumentl match you with the best grant opportunities.

You'll see a form where you can enter more details about your nonprofit and your project. The form has a couple of sections:

Under the “Applicant Type,” choose non-profit.

Fill In Details On Your Nonprofit

Under “Would you like to see grants specifically for faith-based organizations or programs,” click on what is applicable.

Next up is “Which areas does your project serve?". In this example, we’ll select “Inside the United States and that it’s national in scope.”

Which areas does your project serve?

Select The Field Of Work Your Nonprofit Operates In

When clicking, “+ Select Field of Work,” search for the cause you support. In this example, we’ll look for general operating grants that support nonprofits in the substance abuse space.

Select The Field Of Work Your Nonprofit Operates In

We’ll also pursue grants that start at a minimum of $1,000 so we only get matched with relevant opportunities.

Select The Field Of Work Your Nonprofit Operates In

Get Matched With Only General Operating Expense Grants

When asked, “What will you use the funds for?” make sure to click “General Operating Expense.”

What will you use the funds for?

This will make sure you’re matched with grants that are more flexible. General support is a subset of unrestricted grants and will filter out restrictive grants that only support specific projects or programs.

When you’re done, click the “Save and Exit.”

Step 2: Find Good Fit Funders Who Provide Operating Support

Instrumentl has now narrowed down all the potential grants you could pursue to those in your area, that support your cause, and are offering general operating support.

Let’s dig into these grants to see if we’re competitive.

Review Your General Operating Grants

Instrumentl’s grant matches resemble an email inbox. The matches are on the left, and when you click on one, the details will show on the right.

The left side shows all your matches:

  • Funding Opportunity Matches” are individual active grants.
  • Funder Matches” are funders who match your search criteria.

In our case, we’ve been matched with 29 general expense opportunities. Let’s dig into them further.

Review Your General Operating Grants

Reviewing the results, not all matches will be 100% relevant. For example, now all grants are directly related to “Substance Abuse,” but I’ve been matched with them because they’re part of the wider “Humand Services” field of work.

Reviewing the results

Filter Down The Grants Worth Pursuing

To narrow down the list to general operating grants specifically for my field of work, I can use filters.

Filter Down The Grants Worth Pursuing

Now I’ll only see grants related to my field of work.

Scanning the list, I’ll prioritize the opportunities that I feel I’ll be most competitive for.

Once, I find a grant I’m interested in, I can explore the opportunity and the funder in more detail.

explore the opportunity and the funder in more detail

The right side of the screen expands the details of the grants you clicked on the left. Under, “FUNDING OPPORTUNITY,” you will see the details of the grant, such as the amount, the funder’s website, their application period, and much more.

details of the grant

I can see that their grants are usually around $30,000. This will work. I can also learn more about the funder by clicking "View 990 Report." This will reveal information about the funder, such as:

  • Key people (board members, directors)
  • Their financial and giving history
  • Links to 990 reports
  • the number of grants
  • Past grant recipients
  • Priorities
  • Openness to new grantees
  • The causes they support
Grant Amounts

I can see a more granular view on how much they usually award in grants.

Grant Sizes

You can also use the search function to look for specific grants, such as those that mention "unrestricted" in the title or description.

Once you've reviewed your matches and selected a few that look promising, take some time to learn more about the funders and their grant programs. Visit their websites, read their annual reports, and reach out to them with any questions you have.

Step 3: Save Your Grants

Remember, the goal is to find grants that are a good fit for your organization, not just the grants that are the easiest to apply for. You can improve your chances of success by carefully reviewing your matches.

Finalize Grants

Here are a few tips for reviewing your grant matches:

  • Look for grants that align with your organization's mission and goals.
  • Consider your organization's capacity to implement the project or program that the grant would support.
  • Read the eligibility criteria carefully to ensure your organization can apply.
  • Review the funder's website and annual reports to learn more about their giving priorities and openness to new grantees.
  • Reach out to the funder with any questions you have about the grant or their grant program.
  • Once you've reviewed your matches and selected a few grants that are a good fit for your organization, you're ready to start writing grant proposals!

You can save your grants directly within Instrumentl so you can refer back to them later.

Opportunity Notes

Instrumentl will not only help you find your grants, but as you save several, you can manage your grants more effectively within your tracker, updating their status as you move from research to application, and awarded.

Save Opportunity

Store Saved Grants in Your Tracker for Future Reference

Your tracker will keep all of your saved grants in one place so you can easily access them for future reference. You can also use the tracker to track the status of your grant applications.

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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 long shot.

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 headaches 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

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. But with the tips we have covered in this article, you and your nonprofit have the support you need to keep working toward your mission.

Sign up for a 14-day free trial today and see the difference Instrumentl can make for your nonprofit.

Ryan Carruthers

Ryan Carruthers

Ryan Carruthers, a Content Marketer at Instrumentl, specializes in unraveling the world of grants and nonprofit success.

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