The Value of General Operating Support
By Abby Rolland
In recent years, many are reconsidering ways to approach charitable giving. From trust-based philanthropy to greater transparency, to focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, to giving “beyond the check,” foundations and other funders are thinking about how they can best support their nonprofit partners.
One of those methods is by providing general operating support. Instead of grants that solely fund projects or programs, general operating support offers an organization funding for its mission. General operating support gives an organization flexibility, as it determines how to best spend dollars. Giving unrestricted funds is one of the ways that foundations can express their trust in the decisions of nonprofit leaders.
Many foundation-focused articles and reports (see this report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, an article from The Stanford Social Innovation Review, or resources (one or two) from Exponent Philanthropy) dive deeper into the benefits of providing general operating support.
Several of harp-weaver’s clients provide general operating support. The Presser Foundation, which supports music philanthropy in the Greater Philadelphia Area, gives general operating support to 109 music organizations through its Advancement of Music grantmaking area. In recent years, as the Foundation’s endowment has grown, a greater percentage of its budget, thus a larger number of dollars, has been dedicated to Advancement of Music. In 2017-2018, general operating support grants totaled $828,000. By 2021-2022, that amount had risen to $1,350,500. The Foundation is committed to giving a large percentage of its dollars through Advancement of Music.*
The Ideker Family Foundation (IFF) also gives general operating support to the organizations whose missions align with IFF’s. Many of the organizations are small and start-up like; this form of funding is needed at the beginning of an organization’s life as it gets its programs, operations, and fundraising off the ground and running.
Contributing general operating support is one way for individuals and foundations to build trust with their partners and reduce the power dynamic between funders and nonprofits. Nonprofits are experts in their area and can better serve their clients and communities when they receive unrestricted funds.
*Most of The Presser Foundation’s partners are funded through Advancement of Music; these organizations are eligible for and can apply for grants in the Foundation’s other local grantmaking areas (Capital Support and Special Projects) as well.