How to Win Grants for Operating Expenses in 2024?

Reviewed by:


October 11, 2023

Last Updated:

February 5, 2024

Securing grants for operating expenses enables you to carry out your missions effectively.

However, securing these grants isn’t easy. The path is filled with intricacies and potential pitfalls.

This comprehensive guide will unravel the complexities of obtaining operational funding, offering insights into writing compelling grant proposals and fostering lasting relationships with funders.

With the right knowledge and resources, your nonprofit can secure the operational funding it needs to thrive and make an impact.

Introduction to Grants for Operating Expenses

Introduction to Grants for Operating Expenses

Operating operating grants
for expenses are specifically designed to cover the day-to-day costs of running a nonprofit. These grants can be used to cover:

  • Salaries
  • Rent
  • Utilities and,
  • office supplies.
Unlike project-specific grants, which are tied to particular programs or initiatives, operating expense grants offer greater flexibility. These funds can support any aspect of an organization's operations, providing a level of financial support that can be crucial for long-term sustainability.

A common misconception about nonprofit organizations is that all their funding should go directly toward their specific programs and services. This perspective, however well-intentioned, overlooks the reality that nonprofits are entities with operational costs similar to any other organization.

To be effective in delivering their missions, nonprofits must have a strong operational base, which includes a well-trained staff, a safe and equipped workspace, and a robust infrastructure.

Take a look at this example from No Kid Hungry’s Financial Report. It shows how a portion of their money is spent on management and general expenses.

No Kid Hungry’s Financial Report

Overall, operating expense grants play a critical role in helping nonprofits meet their operational needs so that they can focus on advancing their missions and programs.

Debunking Myths About Operating Expense Grants

Debunking Myths About Operating Expense Grants

While grants for operating expenses can be transformative for nonprofits, it's important to debunk some common misconceptions about this type of funding. These myths can pose potential hurdles for organizations seeking operational funding.

Few Funders Support Grants for Operating Expenses

A common misconception is that few funders are willing to support grants for operating expenses. However, this is not entirely accurate.

While it's true that many funders prefer to fund specific projects, there's an increasing recognition within the philanthropic community of the importance of operational funding.

According to the 2023 Foundation Operations and Management Report, 70% of respondents provide general operation support to grantees.

Nonprofits can increase their chances of securing such funding by demonstrating the impact and efficiency of their operations.

Operating Grants Are Only for Established Organizations

Another pervasive myth is that operating grants are only available to established organizations. This is not the case.

Many grantmakers understand that newly formed nonprofits have operational expenses too, and some specifically aim to support these fledgling organizations.

The Solutions Project

For example, organizations like the Solutions Project provide grants to start-ups, early-stage organizations, and those that have been around for several years.

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Key Elements of Successful Operating Expense Grant Proposals

Key Elements of Successful Operating Expense Grant Proposals

A well-crafted general operating proposal can be the key to unlocking this crucial type of funding.

So, what key elements catch a funder's eye and convince them that your nonprofit is worth investing in? Below we'll uncover these components to equip you with the tools for writing a standout operating expense grant proposal.

Clear Articulation of Organizational Needs

A crucial element of your operating expense grant proposal is clearly articulating your organizational needs. This includes outlining why your nonprofit requires operating expense grants and detailing the specific aspects of your operations that the grant will support.

Providing context about your organization's work, your target population, and why operating funds are crucial for achieving your mission is essential for grantmakers to understand the significance of their potential contribution.

Coupling this information with evidence-based insights or data can strengthen your case, making your proposal more compelling to funders.

Demonstrating Fiscal Responsibility and Past Success

To successfully secure an operating expense grant, your organization must demonstrate fiscal responsibility and a history of successfully managing funds. This reassures grantmakers that their investment will be used wisely and effectively.

Highlight your nonprofit's past experience in managing similar grants or funds, showing how you've leveraged these resources to make a real impact.

Including a detailed budget in your proposal and a robust financial management plan showcases your organization's transparency and commitment to fiscal responsibility.

Outlining Your Organization's Long-Term Vision

Lastly, outlining your organization's long-term vision is paramount. This gives potential funders a clear picture of your nonprofit's direction and how the operating expense grant will support this journey.

Your long-term vision should align with the mission of your nonprofit and the interests of the potential funder.

By showing how the operational funding will contribute to realizing this vision, you showcase the grant's importance and its potential impact, making your proposal more persuasive to funders.

Identifying Potential Funders for Grants for Operating Expenses

Identifying Potential Funders for Grants for Operating Expenses

Now that we've explored the key elements of a successful operating expense grant proposal let's delve into the process of identifying potential funders for these grants.

This process is strategic and often complex, involving careful research, a deep understanding of funder priorities, and cultivating genuine relationships with potential funders.

Researching Grant Databases and Platforms

Actively researching grants is a crucial first step toward finding potential funders.

Online grants databases can provide a wealth of information about different grantmakers and the types of funding they provide.

For example, Instrumentl allows you to filter your search based on various parameters such as funding area, grant type (including operating expense grants), and location.

Regularly exploring these resources and staying up to date on new funding opportunities increases your chances of finding grantmakers open to funding operating expenses.


As you navigate the world of grants, Instrumentl can provide active, comprehensive, and relevant grant opportunities at your fingertips.

Understanding the Priorities of Different Grantmakers

It's not enough to simply find grantmakers who provide operating expense grants—you need to understand their priorities to tailor your proposal effectively.

The mission statement, vision, or focus areas detailed on a funder's website can offer valuable insights into their funding philosophy and priorities. Additionally, studying their past grantees and funded projects can provide clues about the kinds of organizations they are inclined to support.

This understanding can help you align your proposal with the funder's interests and improve your chances of securing the grant.


Instrumentl's Funder Profiles offer an in-depth look into various funders, including information about their funding history, focus areas, and preferences. They not only list the types of grants a funder typically awards but also detail their average grant size, application process, and decision-making timeframe.


Building Relationships With Potential Funders

ultivating genuine relationships with potential funders can be a game-changer in the grant-seeking process. This goes beyond sending a proposal and waiting for a response.

Engage with funders at conferences, reach out for informational interviews, or request feedback on your proposal. This allows you to better understand their funding priorities and it demonstrates your organization's commitment to partnering with them.

Remember, funders are not just sources of financial support—they can become advocates and partners in your journey to make a difference.


An often overlooked but significant feature of Instrumentl's Funder Profiles is the inclusion of a "Key People" section. This section lists important individuals associated with the funding organization, such as board members or decision-makers.

Having knowledge of these individuals can be crucial for networking and building relationships, which are often key to securing grants.

Crafting a Compelling Operating Grant Proposal

Crafting a Compelling Operating Grant Proposal

This section will provide actionable advice on constructing a persuasive proposal for operational funding.

Your proposal should tell your nonprofit's unique story, provide solid evidence of impact, and showcase collaborations or partnerships to highlight your organization's broader reach and efficacy.

Emphasizing the Sustainability and Growth Potential

When crafting your proposal, it's crucial to emphasize your organization's sustainability and growth potential. Funders want to see that their investment will contribute to long-term change.

Show them how the operating expense grant will provide the needed stability for your nonprofit to continue its work and expand and improve. Use data and specific examples to show how previous funding has helped your organization grow, adapt, and increase its impact over time.

Using Stories and Testimonials for a More Personal Touch

Adding a personal touch to your proposal by incorporating stories or testimonials can create a stronger emotional connection with potential funders. These narratives can bring your mission to life and make the impact of your work more tangible.

Whether it's a story of a person who benefitted from your organization's services or a testimonial from a volunteer or staff member about the difference your nonprofit makes, these narratives can make your proposal more compelling and memorable.

Highlighting Partnerships and Collaborations

Showcase any partnerships or collaborations your nonprofit has fostered. This demonstrates your organization's ability to work effectively with other entities and highlights the broader reach of your work.

Whether it's a joint project with another nonprofit, a partnership with local government, or a collaboration with a corporate sponsor, these relationships are testaments to your organization's influence, credibility, and capacity to leverage resources for greater impact.

Post-Approval: Maintaining Trust and Stewardship With Funders

Maintaining Trust and Stewardship With Funders

After successfully securing an operating expense grant, the focus should shift to maintaining trust and fostering a long-term relationship with your funder. This critical phase can set the stage for continued support and collaboration in the future.

Here, we will discuss key strategies for maintaining a healthy post-approval relationship with funders, emphasizing the importance of regular communication, demonstrating impact, and prompt reporting and acknowledgment.

Regular Communication and Updates

Communication is the cornerstone of a strong relationship with your funders. Regular updates about your organization's work, changes, and challenges demonstrate transparency and show your funders that you value their support. This could be facilitated through newsletters, email updates, or detailed reports.

Demonstrating Impact Through Data and Narratives

Showing your funder the tangible impact of their investment is essential. Use data to illustrate the progress and outcomes of your work.

Additionally, complement these metrics with narrative stories that bring the data to life, showing the human side of the impact your organization is making.

For instance, take the case of a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment through education. This organization may regularly share updates with their funders through quarterly newsletters, detailing their current projects, the number of students they've impacted, and any challenges they've encountered. They also can include stories from the students themselves, describing how the programs have changed their lives.

Ensuring Prompt Reporting and Acknowledgment

Prompt reporting demonstrates your organization's accountability and transparency. Meet all reporting deadlines and ensure your reports are accurate, detailed, and professionally presented.

Also, always acknowledge your funder's support in any public communication or material related to the funded project. Recognizing your funder's contribution helps foster a sense of partnership and mutual respect.

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Wrapping Up: The Next Steps

How to Win Grants for Operating Expenses

Securing grants for operating expenses is a vital part of sustaining your nonprofit's work.

In this post, we explored the importance of understanding funders' preferences, cultivating relationships with potential funders, and crafting a compelling operating grant proposal. We also delved into strategies for maintaining trust with funders post-approval, including regular communication, demonstrating impact, and prompt reporting.

As your next step, we encourage you to explore Instrumentl’s robust grant-seeking software. Our platform can streamline your grant search, matching your nonprofit with the right funders and providing you with tools to track deadlines, manage applications, and measure success. Empower your nonprofit with Instrumentl, and turn your vision into reality.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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