Capacity Building and General Operating Support

About this collection: What is your role as a funder in building the organizational capacity of your grantees? And how can you best ensure that the support you offer is effective? This Content Collection provides tips, tools, perspectives and case studies from family foundations and other funders that have embraced capacity building as a key strategy.

What is your role as a funder in building the organizational capacity of your grantees? And how can you best ensure that the support you offer is effective? This Content Collection provides tips, tools, perspectives and case studies from family foundations and other funders that have embraced capacity building as a key strategy.

Featured Reads: Start Here!

Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Must-Read Research Series from CEP

Blog Post
This article was originally published by The Center for Effective Philanthropy and is re-posted here with permission. In early spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, foundations in the U.S. began to shift resources and practices. Some funders, nonprofits, and others in the field called for fundamental changes in how …

Why We Must Stand Up for Overhead

Article
It is critical that donors invest in the long-term health and sustainability of the institutions we are asking to tackle the world’s most entrenched social problems. Starving organizations of strong strategic plans or essential technology—often viewed as overhead and therefore superfluous—actually prevents their ability to use the …

Can General Operating Support Become the New Normal?

Article
If every funder only pays for a specific program or a specific line item, an organization becomes fragmented and unstable. Without general operating support, an organization doesn’t have the money for staffing, rent, technology, training, or even the phone bill. And, without a strong infrastructure, programs that improve our …

Resiliency Guide

Tool
This Guide is designed to help deepen thinking about where, when, and how to invest in capacity building, while also helping funders to explore the dimensions of resiliency and help their grantee organizations prepare for eventual independence from grant funding.

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

Report
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 …

Making it Happen: A Conversation Guide

Tool
This companion piece to New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support  provides resources for foundation leaders and boards seeking to start providing, or provide more, multiyear general operating support (GOS) grants. It shares insights and suggestions from leaders whose foundations provide more multiyear GOS than typical, …

Foundation Profiles

Making the Case: Foundation Leaders on the Importance of Multiyear General Operating Support

Tool
This companion piece to New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support features profiles of five of the 43 foundations that participated in interviews with CEP for that research: the California Wellness Foundation, the Claneil Foundation, Foundation for a Just Society, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and the …

Walking the Talk: Striving for Authentic Partnership with Our Grantees

Article
In November, PFF Program Officer Laura McCargar joined Michael Moody of the Johnson Center for Family Philanthropy and NCFP Fellow and Board Member Katherine Lorenz of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference in Houston, Texas to talk about collaboration in the context of …

The Brinson Foundation’s Commitment to Living Its Values

Article
Since its creation in 2001, The Brinson Foundation has focused in the areas of education and scientific research in order to create a world where all people are valued and committed to improving the world in which we live.

Sample Policies and Practices

Sample capacity building grant application

Sample
This specialized grant application is used by the Washington-based Wilburforce Foundation to help analyze requests for ‘capacity-building’ grants. The foundation describes ‘capacity-building’ as investments in an organization that increase its sustainability and effectiveness, such as: strategic planning and evaluation, revenue diversification, membership development, technology improvements, and Board and staff development. 

Endowment-related grants policy (Eckerd Family Foundation)

Sample
When there is a deep connection between the work of a nonprofit and the mission of a foundation, an endowment-related grant is sometimes made. This sample policy from the Eckerd Family Foundation covers the criteria for considering an endowment-related grant and examines the amount and evaluation of the grant.

Capital Grants Discussion Paper (Eckerd Family Foundation)

Tool
This paper describes the Eckerd Family Foundation’s conception of an ideal capital grant. It goes on to list criteria for such grants, categories in which they are awarded, and funding guidelines, including a consideration of whether a capital grant should challenge an organization to raise matching funds.

Dyson foundation: Description of general operating support grants program

Sample
General operating support grants are awarded by the Dyson Foundation to 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organizations as core support or unrestricted grants. Organizations may use these grants to cover day-to-day activities or ongoing expenses such as administrative salaries, utilities, office supplies, technology maintenance, etc., as well as for project costs, capital, technology …

Peer Skill Share program (Pierce Family Foundation)

Sample
The Peer Skill Share program is designed to invest in the professional skills of nonprofit employees, building their individual capacity and by extension, the capacity of their organizations. The Pierce Family Foundation arranges for nonprofit employees to help each other via “skill share” sessions, where grantees can get one-on-one advice …

Articles and Reports

What is Overhead, Anyway?

Article
Overhead is one of the first concepts any philanthropist learns. It includes all of those administrative and fundraising costs that we secretly wish our nonprofit colleagues didn’t have to worry about. But what exactly is overhead, anyway?

The Power of Investing in Volunteer Engagement

Article
As funders, we pay great attention to how potential grantees steward their financial resources, but do we pay equal attention to how they lead and manage their human resources? Volunteers are a vastly underutilized, yet virtually unlimited renewable resource. The need is urgent, the timing is critical, and the support …

Flexibility, accountability, and the grantmaker-nonprofit relationship

Article
The Minnesota Council on Foundations engaged four of its member foundations and a representative of the nonprofit community in a roundtable discussion about general operating support. The age-old questions surfaced: How much is enough? What about measuring results? Why don't foundations "get it"? Why don't nonprofits "get it"?

NCFP Webinars

July 10, 2014

Community Driven Capacity Building: Creative Approaches from the Field

Increasingly, foundations are investing in deep community listening before they design strategies and approaches for capacity building with nonprofit grantees. Hear the stories of family and regional foundations who came up with creative capacity building programs guided by local community partners. Hear about the ways they are leveraging their community …
April 11, 2013

Community Connections: Place-Based Family Philanthropy

While some families pay particular attention to the family’s legacy of giving, and some focus on a particular issue or cause, many choose to limit their grantmaking to a specific city, state or region. Hometown serves as both the family’s sense of place and commitment. Gratitude to a …