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New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support

Nonprofit leaders have long called for multiyear general operating support grants, and advocates in philanthropy have increasingly argued that providing this kind of support constitutes good grantmaking practice.

Ellie Buteau, PhD

Director of Research Projects and Special Advisor on Research Methodology and Analysis, CEP

Satia Marotta, Ph.D.

Former Manager, Research, CEP

Hannah Martin

Former Manager, Research, CEP

Naomi Orensten

Senior Director of Programs and Strategy, Dorot Foundation

Kate Gehling

Former Senior Analyst, Research, CEP

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Multiyear general operating support (GOS) provides nonprofits with the flexibility to use funds to fulfill their missions and the ability to plan for the long-term sustainability of their organizations, programs, and services. Nonprofit leaders have long called for multiyear GOS grants, and advocates in philanthropy have increasingly argued that providing multiyear GOS constitutes good grantmaking practice.

So why is it, then, that so few foundations provide this type of support?

New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support examines the state of practice in philanthropy regarding multiyear GOS. Findings of this study reveal a sobering disconnect between attitudes of foundation leaders and the experience of nonprofits, as well as a similar disconnect between the attitudes of foundation CEOs themselves and their foundations’ practices.

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. The data for this study was collected prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report is accompanied by Making the Case: Foundation Leaders on the Importance of Multiyear General Operating Support and Making It Happen: A Conversation Guide. Making the Case includes profiles of five foundations that participated in interviews for this study: the California Wellness Foundation, the Claneil Foundation, Foundation for a Just Society, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Making It Happen provides resources for foundation leaders and boards seeking to start providing, or provide more, multiyear GOS grants.

The Ford Foundation provided funding to support this research. The survey instrument used to gather information for this report is available here.

October 2020

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