Building the case for general operating support in nonprofit grants

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By Lita Pardi, director, resource deployment

For more than 30 years, the Community Foundation has worked to strengthen the region’s nonprofits by providing a variety of resources to support effective operations and high-performing programs. To that end, the Foundation is a strong believer in general operating support grants. Operating grants allow tremendous flexibility for the nonprofits, as funds are not tied to a specific program or to another direct use such as a fundraising campaign for a new building. While restricted grants are important, operating grants can be an essential piece of the funding puzzle for nonprofits. There are many reasons we award our competitive grants for operating support and encourage our donors to do the same.

General operating support advances innovation: 

When grants are too restricted, they can stand in the way of nonprofits thinking creatively and adapting to changing needs. Flexible grants can support innovation in programming, audience engagement and technology. One nonprofit improv theater group used an operating grant to launch its first-ever summer camp for kids, something they had always wanted to do. Another nonprofit used the funding to boost its social media presence, including experimenting with live feeds as a channel to get their message out to broader audiences.

General operating support fosters efficiency:

Operating grants allow for infrastructure investments that improve efficiency. Due to limited resources, nonprofits are unable to regularly invest in new computers, software and database overhauls, but buying into these assets can help staff save time so they can focus more on programs and allow them to tell better stories about their organization’s impact. For example, an organization that serves low-income families used funding for IT consulting services that ultimately led to the purchase of new software and hardware. This allowed them to move their intake process from a paper system to an efficient electronic system, saving staff and volunteers thousands of hours and improving data accuracy. More importantly, the organization estimated they would serve approximately 20 percent more clients because of time saved.

General operating support expands capacity: 

Investing in the operations of a nonprofit is critical, as a strong organizational infrastructure allows the staff to advance the organization’s mission and deliver meaningful results. One recent grantee used its operating grant to cover team building activities for its staff, which improved internal communications, ultimately leading to better services for their constituents. Another used its funding to transition several staff members from seasonal to year-round positions. The added capacity has allowed them to pursue new revenue sources, which in the long term will help expand programming and services.

These are just three ways general operating support helps strengthen nonprofits. You can learn more about eligibility and application deadlines for the Community Foundation’s grant programs here. In our next blog we’ll cover three other ways nonprofits are able to soar when they are empowered through general operating support.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the Saporta Report.