The CEP report New Attitudes, Old Practices: The Provision of Multiyear General Operating Support highlights one of the most vexing paradoxes in the modern nonprofit sector: despite an understanding of the benefits of unrestricted, long-term funding, many foundations continue to provide only project grants.

For me, this puzzle is not just an abstraction; it’s a challenge I live every single day. For eight years, I was director of the Global Development and Population Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the few large foundations that provides multiyear general operating support to many nonprofits. Now I am sitting on the other side of the funding table as the CEO of a global nonprofit organization, IDinsight. From my current perch, I can see that my organization’s work to amplify the impact of the African and Asian governments and NGOs with which we work would be impossible without a combination of project-level and general operating support.

From my vantage point as an ex-funder and a current nonprofit leader, I believe we can close the chasm between the funding available for nonprofits and the funding nonprofits need. But I also believe it’s not entirely the responsibility of the philanthropic community to do so. In my view, nonprofit leaders ourselves (and our boards) must take on the challenge of persuading funders that our organizations are not just holding companies for individual projects. And we have to ensure that that’s the truth.

To my fellow nonprofit leaders, there are three ways we can do this:

  1. Have a clear mission that animates your work — and stick to it.
  2. Conceptualize, work toward, and measure organizational impact.
  3. Understand your budget.

Like the authors of CEP’s report, I don’t know precisely why foundations are reluctant to provide general operating support given all its manifold benefits. But I do know that nonprofit leaders should strive for clear direction, demonstrated impact, and smart budgeting for their organizations. In doing so, we can put ourselves in the best possible position to receive many types of philanthropic support that will help us achieve our vital missions.

Read the full article about the role of nonprofit leadership in normalizing multiyear general operating support by Ruth Levine at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.