How to Write a General Operating Grant Proposal in 2024

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August 18, 2021

Last Updated:

February 2, 2024

Operational grants for nonprofits can provide a lifeline for organizations by providing the general support required to simply keep their doors open.

If you’ve never written a proposal for general operating grants, we are here to show you how.

In this article, we are going to explain:

  • What general operating support is
  • Why it’s so important
  • And how to write a successful general operating grant proposal

We will also share best practice tips and real life examples of operational grant proposals for you to learn from.

Let’s get started!

Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits (+5 Tips Included)

What Is General Operating Support?

General operating support
General operating support refers to funding given to nonprofits to support day-to-day activities or ongoing expenses central to their operations.

For example, general operating costs could include:

  • Administrative salaires
  • Office supplies
  • Building utilities
  • Technology maintenance
  • Rent
  • Professional development
  • And so much more!

Unlike program or project-specific grants, general operating grants typically have looser restrictions on how the grant funding may be used. This often provides nonprofits with the support they need to keep their doors open and operate efficiently.

Why Is General Operating Support Important?

General operating grants are desperately sought after by nonprofits.

In the following section, we will explain why generation operating support is important both from a nonprofit’s perspective and from a funder’s.

The Nonprofit’s Perspective on General Operating Grants:

  • Operational Autonomy: With the flexibility that comes from general operating funds, nonprofits have more freedom to direct dollars to where they are needed most. Programmatic grants are often required to be spent in very specific ways. While this kind of funding is great for supporting specific projects, it can limit nonprofits in their approach to innovation and their ability to respond to crises or urgent issues that arise in their field.
  • Stability and Continuity: General operating grants also ensure that a nonprofit has the type of funding needed to sustain its operations over the long-term. General operational grants for nonprofits provide organizations with the freedom to pay for basic operational costs such as utilities, rent, equipment, supplies and other administrative costs.
  • Ensuring Mission Fulfillment: Mission drift can happen when a nonprofit begins to abandon its objectives and purpose outlined in its mission statement. This can sometimes happen because nonprofits are chasing funding and instead of identifying grant opportunities that align with their existing mission and goals, they begin to subtly alter their operations to fit the stipulations of funders. General operating grants are a way to avoid mission drift by investing in an existing framework and strategy, ensuring the organization can stay on track.

The Funder’s Perspective on General Operating Grants

More and more funders are awarding general operating grants with the goal of investing money back into communities and the organizations who work most closely with them.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, grantmakers began to take new approaches to awarding grants. Many foundations and corporate funders shifted their strategy to award general operating grants to organizations that needed flexible funding to nimbly respond to the pandemic.

However, one of the key reasons why many grantmakers are hesitant to award general operating grants is because it can be difficult to report on their impact.

As such, funders want to be certain that any general operating grant is awarded to a nonprofit organization that has processes and controls in place to ensure the grant is spent appropriately and contributes to the advancement of the organization’s mission.

Showing that your nonprofit’s programs were successful during the general operating grant period helps make a case to the funder that flexible funding strengthens the work of your organization and makes a positive impact on the community.

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Examples of General Operating Support Grant Proposals

Here are some great examples of completed general operating support grant proposals:

  1. Example of General Operating Grant for $40,000 for Chicago-area violence prevention and intervention nonprofit to the VNA Foundation
  2. Example of General Operating Grant for $50,000 for Children and Youth Guidance nonprofit to the VNA Foundation
  3. General Operating Grant sample budget narrative for $80,000 to the Rose Community Foundation, including matching funds for salary and evaluation funds
  4. General Operating Grant example budget narrative for 100,000 Strong in the Americas for salary, travel, consultants, rent and utilities for computer lab building, and supplies
  5. Sample grant proposal with example problem statement, objectives, and activities for youth alternative center

If you’re looking to find general operating grants, here are several examples of what grant applications look like:

  1. Oak Foundation Grant - general operating grants for environmental nonprofits.
  2. Clif Family Foundation Operational Support - general operation grants for nonprofits focused on food access.
  3. Leland Fikes Foundation Grants - general expense grants for nonprofits focusing on reproductive rights.

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How to Write a General Operating Grant Proposal: 9 Steps to Follow

General operating grants generally follow a very standard structure regardless of the funder or opportunity.

While some funders may ask for supplementary information or other questions specific to their funding objectives and goals, most general operating proposals will involve these key steps:

Step #1: Start With Your Summary Statement

The first step to writing a successful general operating grant proposal is to create a short summary or cover letter that is interest-grabbing and immediately establishes the relevance of your nonprofit to the funding agency's mission.

Remember that a grantmaker's goal is to fund nonprofits that are most strongly aligned with their strategic goals and objectives.

Connecting your own nonprofit’s work to the overall mission of the funding agency and explaining how your organization aligns with their overall goals will help draw the funder in and immediately highlight why your organization is most worthy of the award.

Also, you need to be sure to include all relevant administrative information in your summary statement, including who to contact from your organization and how.

Step #2: Explain Your Organizational Background

In a nutshell, the organizational background section of a general operating grant proposal requires you to briefly summarize your organization’s purpose, history, and mission.

Other items that should be addressed in your organizational background are:

  • List of current programs and services
  • Key achievements in recent years
  • Short-term goals and objectives
  • Long-term goals and objectives
  • Strategic plan, if relevant.

To strengthen the organizational background section you can mention any societal or economic trends that impact your nonprofit organization and its work, the current state of the industry, as well as business partners or ecosystems that boost your capabilities.

Including descriptive details of your nonprofit that illustrate your organization’s ability to achieve objectives and execute a successful strategic plan will help bolster this section of the grant proposal.

Step #3: Describe Your Organizational Capacity

When developing a general operating proposal, keep in mind that funders will want you to provide evidence that your organization is capable of carrying out its mission and effectively managing a general operating grant.

You can illustrate this by describing your organization’s capacity, including:

  • Staff structure
  • Evidence of similar past successes
  • Key partnerships that help you achieve success.

Clearly demonstrate operational effectiveness by describing a consistent history of delivering quality services cost-effectively. Then, include a description of your internal infrastructure, which includes the total number of employees and volunteers.

Most nonprofits have an organizational chart that you can reference when accurately outlining your organization’s structure and highlighting key personnel who will carry out the work. Including a list of past achievements will also highlight your nonprofit’s impact on your community and the population you serve.

Step #4: State Your Financial History

When it comes to general operating grant proposals, funders want to support nonprofits with a strong history of fiscal management.

Some of information you should consider including in your proposal include:

You can visit Instrumentl’s blog for more guidance and insight on common financial requirements for grant proposals and what kind of financial information grantmakers look for when reviewing general operating proposals.

Step #5: Write Your Statement of Need

A statement of need communicates to the reader what challenges and problems your organization is seeking to address and highlights how an award from the funder will help you overcome these issues.

Establish a need by describing the current situation of your nonprofit’s operations to help the members of the review panel get up to speed on the history of your organization and the driving need behind your general operating grant proposal.

You can highlight need by:

  • Referring to recent studies, articles, or data that illustrates why the need exists
  • Explaining why your organization is primed to respond

Consider including a narrative about how the grant will impact your day-to-day operations and link it to your stated objective. For general operating grants, you need to clearly communicate to the funder how a contribution to your overall mission will address the stated need or problem you mentioned previously.

Step #6: Create Goals and Objectives

As previously mentioned, a general operating grant’s goals will be broader than a project grant’s.

Project grants will provide specific outcomes and outputs that reflect the discrete objectives of the project. General operating grants on the other hand will focus on, well, general goals.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include these more general goals and objectives in your proposal!

Think about your organization’s mission and how you aim to achieve it.

Include these goals in your proposal and clearly explain how the grant will help you achieve them.

Pro Tip: If you need help writing SMART objective statements for your grants, check out our free workshop covering this topic with Dr. Bev Browning.

Step #7: Include the Expected Outcomes

Most outcomes associated with general operating grants will be more general and speak to the overall work of your nonprofit organization.

Consider how your nonprofit’s individual program areas ladder up to broader outputs and outcomes for your organization’s work. You should also summarize the impact of these expected outcomes that, collectively, will advance your mission.

Another great way to further highlight your impact and inspire funders is by including a participant story in your proposal. While data is impactful, stories that complement that data from the lives of those you serve can help inspire funders even more.

YMCA of the North

Take, for example, this participant story from the YMCA of the North.

They utilize a quote from a former camp counselor highlighting their experience and how that positive impact led to them becoming a supporter later in life. Quotes and stories like this can help make your proposal more competitive by sharing a memorable anecdote that the review boards will remember.

Step #8: Add Evaluation and Sustainability Procedures

In addition to providing goals and outcomes, you will also want to describe how they will be tracked, analyzed, and evaluated.

Make sure to describe the methods and tools that will be used to measure the impact of the grant funding and the difference it made.

Additionally, be sure to provide a few sentences that show the sustainability of your nonprofit. Make it clear that the grant funds, if provided, are not going to a sinking ship but instead are filling a few leaking holes that will strengthen operations to maximum capacity for many years to come.

Reassure reviewers of your history of solid financials and give confidence in your overall strategy and sustainability.

Step #9: Provide a Budget

Finally, you will need to include a general operating grant proposal budget.

Unlike a project grant, general operating grants speak to the entire organization’s body of work
. You will submit your organizational budget which includes a consolidated overview of the entire entity’s finances including all programs, projects, and initiatives.

Most organizational budgets will include consolidated expenses for:

  • Personnel
  • Utilities
  • Administrative Costs
  • Maintenance
  • Equipment
  • Insurance
  • Loans
  • And any other costs associated with the cumulative operations of the organization.

Revenue will total all income across the organization, instead of breaking it down by specific funding or grant. Revenue reported in an organizational budget typically includes:

  • Grants and contracts
  • Individual contributions
  • Interest
  • Program fees
  • And any other income associated with the cumulative operations of the organization.

Like project grants, a general operating grant budget will look different from organization to organization. Check out Instrumentl’s blog for more information and resources on developing a general operating budget.

5 Tips for Writing a General Operating Grant Proposal

Tip #1: Don’t Start from Scratch

Grant writing for general operating expenses is similar to applying for project-specific funding, with a few differences.

An operating proposal often includes the same sections of information required in a project-specific proposal. Like we mentioned earlier, this includes:

  • Background on your organization
  • A statement of need
  • The stated goals or objectives
  • And a robust budget

Beg, borrow, and steal wording from previous projects. When applying for general operating support, use existing written materials from your nonprofit’s marketing plan, previous grant submissions, or shareholder meetings to draft your proposal.

However, be sure to also tailor each proposal to the specific funder you are working with. Consider the specific funder’s own mission and write to speak to those values and priorities.

Tip #2: Focus on Sustainability

General operating grants are key to the longevity and long-term success of nonprofit organizations.

To illustrate the impact of a general operating grant, you should provide evidence on how the grant will help your organization achieve financial stability. Explain the impact flexible funds will have on your organization’s ability to address the emerging needs of participants or how general operating funds allow you to nimbly adapt to crises or emergencies.

You should also focus on your plans to sustain the organization’s operations outside of the grant.

Do you have other key funders who provide general operating support? Highlight this to draw attention to the fact that the funder will be joining others in their investment. Do you have a fundraising plan in place? Explain what your fundraising plan or strategy is and how you employ that to support your nonprofit’s operations.

Tip #3: Highlight Urgency

General operating grants are hugely competitive. Every nonprofit organization wants flexible funding to achieve their mission, so it is important to set your nonprofit apart when applying for operational grants.

A great strategy for setting yourself apart from other organizations that are vying for general operating dollars is to underline the urgent need for funding for your organization.

Be sure to communicate clearly to the funder that the grant is critical to address urgent issues impacting your community that require a rapid response.

Tip #4: Tell a Compelling Story

A great grant proposal is only as good as its narrative.

To win general operating dollars you need to inspire funders with the story of your nonprofit organization.

While general operating dollars may not go directly to a specific program area or project, they still allow your nonprofit to more effectively carry out its mission—ultimately impacting the lives of those you serve.

Crafting a compelling story will help draw reviewers in and connect them to the work and mission of your nonprofit.

Tip #5: Contribute to the Funding Agency’s Mission

Remember that the grantmaker's goal is to fund nonprofits that strongly align with their own mission.

Do not apply for any and every general operating grant you come across. Remember, diligent research is your friend. Be sure to review the funder’s mission, values, priorities and geographic focus and ensure that your nonprofit is a good fit.

Once you have done the work to identify an appropriate opportunity, be sure to incorporate evidence on the alignment between your mission and work and how it will contribute to the funder’s objectives.

Pro Tip: Instrumentl can provide you with valuable funder insights to find the best grant opportunities that meet your nonprofit’s needs. Sign up today!


Template for General Operating Grant Proposal

Drafting successful operational grants for nonprofits may seem like a daunting task. General operating grants are competitive and require a skilled grant writer to win these sought–after awards.

Luckily, you do not have to pursue these general operating grants on your own!

Instrumentl is there to guide you through the process and provide you with key insights, sector expertise, and help with any general operating grant you might apply for.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Write General Operating Grant Proposals

By now, you should understand why general operating grants are so sought after by nonprofits. They provide flexibility, financial stability, and allow your organization to allocate funds where they are most needed.

A successful general operating grant application will allow your nonprofit to have the support it needs to make a difference in the community you serve.

If you’d like to give your grant writer the best tools for bringing grant prospecting, tracking, and management to one place, try Instrumentl for 14-days free.

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