Within my role as senior adviser for Organisational Development and Capacity Building at Oak Foundation, I support the organizational strengthening of our grantee partners. At Oak, we give grants in a variety of ways that generally can be categorized as either 1) project support or 2) core support (we use this terminology to describe what others may call “general” or “unrestricted” support). A recent mapping of our 2019 grants shows that 36 percent of the total number of our grants, representing the equivalent of 45 percent of total funding for the year, has been used in core support.

One can make a strong case for both project and core support. Project support is certainly useful to fund clearly defined programs (e.g., pilots and research) or infrastructure, helping to build organizational assets. But too often, funders fall into the temptation of using tied funding interventions based on, at least, two flawed assumptions.

Firstly, funders assume that organizations can predict the future and design strategies that they believe will ensure outcomes in a volatile world. Secondly, funders believe that they can forecast grantees’ developmental needs. The assumption that organizations behave with certainty and follow a predictable path, however, does not reflect the reality of the world around us.

Given this, from an organizational development perspective, core support is clearly the more effective tool. This form of support helps organizations 1) be more resilient, 2) navigate an uncertain world (which feels truer now than ever before), and 3) recognize and focus on people as the most important asset of an organization, rather than rigid project execution. Indeed, most foundation leaders CEP interviewed for its 2020 report, New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support, said that grantee — and thus funder — impact depends on building strong organizations.

Core support can also enable organizations to be creative, courageous, and innovative. Many funders expect these behaviors from the organizations they support. Perhaps now it is time that we funders give our partners the type of support they need to be able to do so — and let’s ourselves exhibit some of these qualities, too.

Read the full article about hedging against unpredictability by Adriana Craciun at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.