How to Write a General Operating Grant Proposal in 2023
As funding agencies determine how to spend their dollars, one option stands out: the general operating support grant application.
General operating proposals can provide a lifeline for nonprofits by providing the general support required to simply keep doors open.
General operating grants often provide unrestricted funding to nonprofits to address urgent and developing needs that are central to their survival.
There are many vital components to grant writing for general operating expenses. This post outlines how to write a general operating grant proposal and the best tips to follow to increase the likelihood of winning a nonprofit general operating grant.
What is General Operating Support?
General operating support is a funding mechanism that funding agencies provide to nonprofits to support day-to-day activities or ongoing expenses central to the business.
These activities or costs may include administrative salaries, office supplies, building utilities, technology maintenance, project costs, capital or technology purchases, and professional development for professional staff.
Funding agencies want to be assured that a nonprofit can deliver on the promises made within the grant narrative. This assurance may include evidence of a stable workforce, decent technology, and other infrastructure to support general business needs, and a sufficiently engaged consumer population.
General operating support grants typically have looser restrictions on how the grant funding may be used. This then provides a unique opportunity for nonprofits to get the financing they need to fill specific or special business needs.
However, as the funding restrictions loosen, grant writers should be prepared to respond to general operating grant funding requests with a solid proposal that meets all of the stated requirements.
The Best Tips to 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. This includes background on your organization, a statement of need, the stated goals or objectives (and expected outcomes if the proposal is funded), and a robust budget.
Beg, borrow and steal wording from previous projects. When applying for general operating support, use existing written materials from the marketing plan, previous grant submissions, or shareholder meetings to draft the general operating support application.
Tip #2: Broaden Your Focus
In a project-specific proposal, the grant application is focused on a single need that, once addressed, will bring about a specific outcome to meet that one need.
Contrastingly, in a general operating support proposal, the grant narrative is more broadly focused on the entire business, the local economy, current industry conditions, the existing problem(s), what is currently being done to address those problems, and how the grant funds will be used to make a substantial difference in the future success of the nonprofit.
Don’t ignore this key difference! Adopt a broader focus and viewpoint in grant writing for general operating expenses, and use language to demonstrate that grant awarded general operating funds will make a long-lasting impact on the business, the local economy, and the industry.
Tip #3: Contribute to the Funding Agency’s Mission
Remember that the grantmaker's goal is to fund the nonprofits that represent the strongest fit to their (the funding agency's) mission statement.
Ensure that you have a strong alignment between your general operating proposal and the grantmaker's goals and strategies. The stronger the relationship you can forge with a funding agency, the more productive your partnership will end up. Get valuable insights into funders by trying Instrumentl for 14-days free.
Now that you have some key tips in your toolbox, let's get into the nitty-gritty of applying for general operating support.
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How to Write a General Operating Grant Proposal: 9 Steps to Follow
Here is a brief rundown of what to include in your general operating grant proposal in 2023:
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 project to the funding agency's mission.
Remember that the grantmaker's goal is to fund the nonprofits that represent the strongest fit to their (the funding agency's) mission statement when crafting your summary.
Also, be sure to include all relevant administrative information in your grant narrative, including who to contact, how to contact you, and the number or name of the specific funding opportunity in your summary.
Step #2: Explain Your Organizational Background
In a nutshell, the organizational background section of a general operating grant proposal requires you to briefly state your nonprofit's history, including your mission and vision statements. You should also list your current programs or services offered and any other relevant details that contribute to your statement of need within this section as well.
To make for a stronger statement, be sure to also mention the local economy as it impacts your business, the current state of the industry, and business partners or ecosystems that boost your capabilities. Including descriptive details of your business that explain your ability to achieve your strategic goals and execute a successful business plan will also strengthen your organizational background.
If you have multiple organizations or businesses participating in a shared event, be sure to highlight the collaborations and the various strengths each partner brings to the table. If you have worked with that partner previously, be sure to highlight past successes.
The last tidbit you should add to an organizational background are your nonprofit’s specific goals. You can provide a brief history of your organization's strategic plan and how the current resources and goals support your future goals. Be sure to explain how these future goals relate to the goals of the specific application you’re completing.
Then, state the long-term goal of your business for the next five to ten to twenty years. It should reflect a niche area that you intend to develop as your own systematically.
Step #3: Describe Your Organizational Capacity
Summarize your current organizational structure and workforce. Clearly demonstrate operational effectiveness by describing a consistent history of delivering quality services cost-effectively.
Then, include a description of the internal infrastructure, the total number of employees and volunteers, and the organizational chart of your nonprofit.
Step #4: State Your Financial History
In a general operating grant proposal, funding agencies are looking to fund nonprofits with a strong history of fiscal management. Demonstrate a history of lack of debts, adequate working capital, and robust financial reporting.
Including a statement on innovative strategies that have been used for income generation and problem-solving in the past will only help your case.
Finally, provide details on your nonprofit's current financial health and describe the roadmap for future success.
Step #5: Write Your Statement of Need
Establish a need by describing the current situation of your business to help the members of the review panel get up to speed on the history of your business and the driving need behind your funding application.
Then, progress to the gap in resources or the unmet need that will drive your grant narrative. Introduce reviewers to what is missing and, therefore, holding your business back from achieving your strategic goals. Include a strong statement of need and objective evidence for its existence.
Remember to describe the objective of your funding application and what it seeks to accomplish. This objective must either fill the gap or meet that need you described in the first introductory paragraph.
You can do this by adding a sentence about how this project will change your business and link it to your stated objective, and then explain how this specific project was formulated—how you focused on this as a strategic starting point.
Close with your rationale to convey why you want to undertake the proposed project.
Step #6: Create Goals and Objectives (Specific Aims)
Strengthen your description of the objective of your funding application by adding additional details surrounding your specific aims, or the tasks that must be completed, in the order that they must be undertaken, to obtain the overall objective.
You should limit your specific aims to no more than three or four clearly identified goals. Describe each specific aim in detail, and include all the steps required to achieve that goal.
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 (Payoff)
Include the expected outcomes and what you hope to achieve in the next year. These are the payoff items the funding agency can expect if they fund your application. Include at least one important expected outcome for each specific aim. There must be a clear linkage back to the specific aim that produced them.
Write a few general closing lines about the positive impact of your grant application. Summarize the impact of the expected outcomes that, collectively, will advance your business and your industry, and contribute to the mission of the funding agency and the funding opportunity you are targeting.
Step #8: Add Evaluation and Sustainability Procedures
Describe the methods and tools that will be used to consistently track, measure, and report the achievement of your specific aims. Earn extra credit by having these methods and tools already prepared and in place!
Each expected outcome should be quantifiable and measurable (i.e. percentage of project completion, number of workshops provided, number of customers reached, etc.).
Also 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.
The budget should be as accurate as possible. Request direct quotes for each item and get quotes from two to three different suppliers to ensure good stewardship.
List your primary team members or employees who will be directly involved, as well. Try to associate a person within each role rather than a "to be determined" placeholder, as this makes your proposal stronger.
Examples of General Operating Support Grant Proposals:
Here are some great examples of completed general operating support grant proposals:
- Example of General Operating Grant for $40,000 for Chicago-area violence prevention and intervention nonprofit to the VNA Foundation
- Example of General Operating Grant for $50,000 for Children and Youth Guidance nonprofit to the VNA Foundation
- General Operating Grant sample budget narrative for $80,000 to the Rose Community Foundation, including matching funds for salary and evaluation funds
- 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
- Sample grant proposal with example problem statement, objectives, and activities for youth alternative center
Wrapping Things Up: How to Write General Operating Grant Proposals
The key takeaway of this article is to be honest about the current state of your nonprofit in an optimistic tone.
When you ask for general support, it can be easy to slip into a negative writing voice. Even though your nonprofit needs general support, you are not a bad investment. Make it clear that the grant funds, if provided, are filling a few holes and that the funds will strengthen your operations to maximum capacity for many years to come.
Reassure reviewers that you are doing important work that supports the funding agency's mission. 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.
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