The Transformative Power of General Operating Support

At CEP, we are always eager to learn how the recommendations we provide through our assessments and advisory services affect not just the funders we partner with, but also — and most importantly — the work of their grantees toward improving lives and tackling complex social and environmental problems.

We previously worked with the Citi Foundation to provide guidance on the grantmaking patterns that our research has found to be most helpful to grantee organizations: large, multiyear grants of general operating support. The flexible nature of this support allows organizations to strengthen important aspects of their work that they see fit to best serving their mission. Large, multiyear, no-strings-attached funding can also provide nonprofits the financial security that allows their leaders and staff to focus on their mission — and not devote too much of their time to raising money to keep the lights on or agonizing over project budgets to fit narrow programmatic grant parameters.

In 2015, the Citi Foundation launched its Community Progress Makers Fund, which has provided 40 community organizations with two-year, $500,000 general operating support grants, as well as access to many forms of technical assistance. Elevate Energy, a Chicago-based organization focused on smarter energy use, was part of this first cohort of grantees.

Below, we’ve shared some excerpts (with our bolding for emphasis) from a recent blog post in which Elevate Energy CEO Anne Evens describes the impact that unrestricted, multiyear funding has had on her organization. This is just one example, but stories like this can serve as powerful illustrations of the ways in which this type of grant support can allow organizations the freedom and ability to change in ways that are both transformative for their own work, and influential for their fields.

The importance of general operating support in achieving an organization’s mission:

For the first time since our founding in 2000, Elevate Energy — a Chicago-based community development agency that helps people do more with less energy — participated in a funding opportunity that enabled us to think transformationally about how we achieve our mission. By providing multi-year, unrestricted grant support, the Citi Foundation’s Community Progress Makers Fund helped our organization develop the evidence and business case to dramatically increase clean energy investments in low-income communities. But it’s more than that. The Fund is an innovative approach to grantmaking that pushes organizations to transform the world by first transforming themselves. Elevate Energy seized this unique opportunity to grow from an organization that focuses on program implementation to an organization that uses its on-the-ground, practical experience to help influence and inform energy policy in partnership with other leaders. In other words, the Community Progress Makers Fund helped us move from being a “doer” to being an “influencer.” We know that many of our nonprofit peers could likewise benefit from this kind of funding model and urge other foundations to consider similar approaches.

The value of assistance beyond the grant:

Beyond the enormous value of providing a significant amount of general operating support, the Citi Foundation also provided a critical opportunity and clear platform for Community Progress Makers to learn from one another. Through the Fund, we were connected with cross-market experts and resources that provided technical assistance in the areas of communications, marketing, performance measurement and capacity-building.

Funding that helps organizations make large-scale changes — and on their terms:

Becoming a Community Progress Maker ultimately drove this transformation. The provision of general operating support has enabled Elevate Energy to transform itself into a key influencer in our industry and to more effectively drive clean energy investments in the low-income communities we serve both in our hometown of Chicago and eight other cities nationwide.

Read the original post in its entirety here, and learn more about the Community Progress Makers Fund here.

Mena Boyadzhiev is manager, assessment and advisory services, at CEP. You can reach her at menab@cep.org.

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