April 03, 2012

From GRC: Private Giving Not Bigger, but Perhaps Smarter?

Even at their muddiest, the federal budget and agencies’ distribution of discretionary grants are much easier to track than grantmaking in the private sector. Pundits, even foundation leaders themselves, are having a difficult time marking progress toward pre-recession endowment levels.

According to a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy survey, over 70 percent of foundations responding say they plan to give the same amount or less in 2012 than in 2011. The follow-up to 2011’s predictions is also fairly grim. A year ago, 40 of the nation’s largest foundations told the Chronicle they would increase their grantmaking in 2011, but only 25 of those organizations wound up following through. And of 34 grantmakers that predicted their giving would remain flat last year, 10 were forced to decrease.

But beneath the numbers live encouraging trends in creative spending. More foundations are willing to cover operating costs, commit to long-term investments, and reduce red tape to get their funds working faster. Along with the information gathered by the Chronicle, survey results from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations show that foundations are adapting to their leaner financial portfolios with the kind of creativity that makes them more attractive to applicants, not less. J. McCray, chief operating officer for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, writes in Philanthropy News Digest that foundations ought to “embrace feedback mechanisms to track progress and strengthen relationships with their grantees and community organizations.”

Foundations are much more nimble than federal agencies, allowing them, as in the case of the Durfee Foundation, to act quickly on grantee feedback, and allow applicants to play a powerful role in determining the future of giving. Grantseekers should use this particularly competitive time both to speak up, and to reinforce their use of best practices, such as these strategies offered by the Chronicle: ·

  • Don’t rely too heavily on traditional supporters. Solicit many grantmakers. ·
  • Articulate clearly why the nonprofit’s work matters and be prepared to give concrete examples of its impact. 
  • Stay focused on the charity’s mission. · 
  • Demonstrate how a foundation grant can help secure long-term fiscal health. · 
  • Consider collaborating so that expenses are shared and grant money can go further.

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