With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could not resist paraphrasing her famous poem for an appeal to foundations to stop trying to be so unique. But, I promise you, this will be the shortest blog post I’ve ever written because the data speak far louder than words.
America’s more than 80,000 foundations have invented at least 251 different ways to utter the phrase grantseekers most long to hear: ‘general operating support’. They range from the terse (‘for general use’) to the turgid (‘for unrestricted funds for operational development’), from the honorific (‘for honorary grant for general support’) to the positivistic (‘for general operations advancement’), from the vague (‘for general’) to the didactic (‘for general operating support, core support for agency’).
So even answering a seemingly simple question like the one posed not too long ago by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy – ‘What is the state of general operating support?’ – can be devilishly difficult. It takes people willing to penetrate the linguistic creativity of donors, develop standards, write code and crunch data – people like my colleagues at the Foundation Center. And it takes foundations like those which have already banded together to form the Reporting Commitment to be more transparent and consistent about the way they report their grants data.
End of post. Any and all thoughts welcome!
Bradford Smith is the president of the Foundation Center