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New Study Finds Misalignment in Foundation Leaders’ Attitudes and Practices on Multiyear General Operating Support

Date: October 21, 2020

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Media contact: Grace Nicolette – Vice President, Programming and External Relations: (617) 674-0763


Cambridge, MA — Despite nonprofit and foundation leaders’ shared belief that multiyear general operating support (GOS) grants are important to nonprofits’ ability to fulfill their missions and have impact, many foundations provide no multiyear general operating support grants, and those that do only provide them to a small percentage of grantees, new research out today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) finds.

The report, titled New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support, finds that even though foundation leaders’ attitudes about general operating support have shifted over the years, practices have not. The research identified no significant common barriers to foundations’ provision of this type of support; rather, foundation leaders’ explanations seem to be that providing multiyear GOS doesn’t fit with their foundation’s approach; simply hasn’t been prioritized; or, for a subset of community foundations, isn’t seen as possible.

“It is clear that multiyear GOS grants have proven benefits for nonprofit organizations, and we’ve been hearing this from nonprofit leaders and advocates in philanthropy for years,” says Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president, research, and co-author of the report. “Given this, along with the fact that the data shows no clear barriers to foundation leaders providing this type of support, the lack of change in practice in the field over time is concerning for nonprofits that could greatly benefit from such funding.”

Findings in the report are based on survey responses from 168 foundation CEOs and 105 program officers of private and community foundations giving at least $5 million annually; survey responses from 212 nonprofit leaders; and 24 in-depth interviews with leaders at foundations that provide more multiyear GOS than typical, have significantly increased the proportion of grantees receiving multiyear GOS over time, or both.

At foundations that do provide multiyear GOS, leaders report making the intentional choice to do so given the belief that this support builds trust with grantees, strengthens funder-grantee relationships, and increases impact. A companion to this report, Making the Case: Foundation Leaders on the Importance of Multiyear General Operating Support, includes profiles of five foundations that participated in interviews with CEP: the California Wellness Foundation, the Claneil Foundation, Foundation for a Just Society, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

An additional companion publication titled Making It Happen: A Discussion Guide provides resources for foundation leaders and boards seeking to start providing, or provide more, multiyear GOS grants.

The most frequently mentioned benefits of multiyear GOS grants, according to nonprofit leaders surveyed for the study, are strengthening a nonprofit’s ability to plan for the future, creating more opportunity to focus on the work, and building capacity to invest in staff. Foundation CEOs are on the same page, the study finds, and generally view GOS and multiyear grants as more effective than or equally effective as program/project support and single-year grants, respectively. However, while most foundation CEOs surveyed (58 percent) report that their foundations provide some multiyear GOS, they generally do so for few grantees — only 11 percent of those providing multiyear GOS report providing it to more than half of their grantees.

The data for this study was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis set in. CEP is now studying whether and to what extent practices are changing because of the challenges of 2020 and will be releasing findings about these questions in the coming weeks. But this data provides an important baseline about foundation grantmaking practices.

“With the enormous challenges nonprofits are now facing, the need for multiyear GOS is clearly greater than ever before,” says CEP President Phil Buchanan. “As the data in this report shows, foundations can do a much better job of providing their grantees with the type of support they seek most.”

The Ford Foundation provided funding to support this research, as well as support for CEP’s ongoing efforts to examine the foundation response to the current crises.

The report and its companion publications are available for free download on CEP’s website.

About the Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, publications, programming, and assessments and advisory services, visit

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