Making the Case for General Operating Support

In “Making the Case for General Operating Support,” Mary Mountcastle, a trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations, encourages funders to reconsider general operating support for nonprofits.  “Nonprofits consistently report that general support most effectively helps them accomplish their missions.  Yet funders still aren’t listening hard enough,” says Mary.  Jane Kendall, president of the Center, suggests that we call it “core mission investment.”  How can funders help nonprofits succeed by changing how they support these organizations?  In Mary’s words, “Perhaps it’s time to give general operating support a MAKEOVER to reveal its true beauty.”  This idea is generating a lot of interest.

What do you think?  Read the complete article and share your thoughts.


Does anyone have any advice or tips about how to turn a project funder into a general support funder? We are seeing a very clear trend in our foundation funding away from general support and towards project support. In most cases, it is the particular project (rather than the mission) that fits within the foundation's funding priorities.

Be honest with your funders regarding your needs. If you have a history with certain foundations show your successes over the years with their support and demonstrate how general operating will grow your organization.

Don't fudge your numbers. Don't fudge your outcomes. Lay your needs out in complete detail but all the while letting them know what they've done historically so that their transformation from a program supporter will be less intense as they begin to support your general operating needs. Funders want to know the other things you are doing to meet operating expenses. Are there other resources available to you? How will you sustain the organization once the GOS money is depleted? Plan, plan, plan.

Get to know your funders. Their should be someone there you can call on directly to have a conversation with. Get their input. Meet with them personally.

It takes work and time and a strong belief in the work you are doing.

Thanks for your comment, Patrick. It is very odd. I would compare it to a situation like this: a local financial institution supporting a small, social service nonprofit on a very small scale project. There have been talks to expand that support on a much larger level, but it is still small scale at this point. That financial institution then encourages the other organizations in the community that they support to call a specific contact at the nonprofit (name and contact info provided by financial institution) to ask for sponsorship donations. It creates a very sticky situation the nonprofit is then positioned to say no to organizations it is looking to collaborate with in other ways, and word will get back to the financial institution that the nonprofit is not providing support. Is there a way to call out this sponsor and put it all on the table without damaging the relationship?

sponsor? That may create too much pressure on the sponsor in a meeting, but at least the conversation is all up front.Would the org be ok with the sponsor giving them more $ but directing it to another org through them for this program? The org has to decide which is a bigger risk. It sounds like the partnerships may be the best thing to hold on to, given it would help with mission. Not that money is easy to lose, but I think they have to choose mission.All that being said with the disclaimer that I don't know any of the politics or how much money we are talking about. Answer may be different if it was $1mill vs. $10k.

Is your project part of your highest priorities at this time for accomplishing your mission? If not, you are probably better off dropping the project when the current funding ends because it is diverting time and resources (including your time in building relationships with funders) away from what is most important. If it is related to your highest priorities at this time for achieving your mission, then you are on the right track to try to turn this "project only" relationship into a core mission investment. It takes time and patience, and a willingness to engage more about what you are really trying to do, how you are assessing whether you are achieving those goals, and what you really need in order to do so.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <p> <br> <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5> <div> <blockquote> <address>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.