« Expanding Our View of Pathways to Grow Impact | Main | Read of the Week: 'US Giving for Japan Disaster Exceeds $710 Million' »

'How Do I General Support Thee, Let Me Count the Ways!'

March 22, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he wrote about the globalization of the Giving Pledge.)

Headshot_brad-smith2With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could not resist paraphrasing her famous poem for an appeal to foundations to stop trying to be so unique. But I promise you, this will be the shortest blog post I've ever written because the data speak far louder than words.

America's more than 80,000 foundations have invented at least 251 different ways to utter the phrase grantseekers most long to hear -- "general operating support." They range from the terse ("for general use") to the turgid ("for unrestricted funds for operational development"), from the honorific ("for honorary grant for general support") to the positivistic ("for general operations advancement"), from the vague ("for general") to the didactic ("for general operating support, core support for agency").

So even answering a seemingly simple question like the one posed not too long ago by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy -- "What is the state of general operating support?" -- can be devilishly difficult. It takes people willing to penetrate the linguistic creativity of donors, develop standards, write code, and crunch data -- people like my colleagues at the Foundation Center. And it takes foundations like those which have already banded together to form the Reporting Commitment to be more transparent and consistent about the way they report their grants data.

End of post. Any and all thoughts welcome!

-- Brad Smith

« Previous post    Next post »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Posted by Elizabeth  |   April 01, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Thanks for this post. I just wish more foundations would offer general support, under any name!

Posted by Holly  |   April 03, 2013 at 04:39 PM

Hear, Hear, Elizabeth! I agree. Why are so many funders afraid of people? Yes, there are many top-heavy organizations, but there are many organizations that must have many people working in order to make programs happen. I know, because I work for one. We have 22 employees -- but our overall FTE is 5.47. We run programs in 24 different schools across our state. We have to have people onsite to manage our 660+ volunteers. We just couldn't manage program quality without these folks, so we consider those salaries a true and direct program cost -- but try to convince a "no salaries of any kind" funder of that . . .

The comments to this entry are closed.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

Subscribe to PhilanTopic


Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Filter posts