In its recently released report, “Foundations Respond to Crisis: Lasting Change?,” the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) shared new research in which foundations reported working differently now than in early 2020 — and indicated plans to sustain most of these changes. The report reveals numerous areas of change in foundation practice and in leaders’ plans for the future, as well as some disconnects, barriers, and additional opportunities for further change. This is the second in a series of blog posts in which members of CEP’s research team share further data and insights, beyond what was included in the report, that the research revealed. Find the first post here.

Nonprofit leaders have long called for funders to provide more multiyear general operating support (multiyear GOS) grants. These grants provide nonprofit organizations with stability and position them to grow their impact by enabling nonprofits to plan, to flexibly use resources where they are most needed, and to do the long-term work of addressing systemic and complex social issues.

Yet, as research from CEP and others have found over the years, nonprofits rarely receive these grants. And even as foundation leaders report being more flexible with and responsive to grantees, a sobering disconnect between funder attitudes towards multiyear GOS and their limited provision of these grants persists: Only about 25 percent of foundation leaders say that, since early 2020, they are providing more multiyear unrestricted support. About two thirds of these funders say they will continue with these new, higher levels of multiyear GOS and about one third remain undecided about their future practice.

The unfortunate lack of movement on multiyear GOS is especially notable because CEP’s 2020 research on this topic found no clear barriers that get in the way of making these grants. We were left to conclude that a majority of foundation leaders simply have not felt it a fit with their approach or important enough to prioritize shifting their funding practices.

Yet, there’s much to learn from the subset of foundation leaders who provide more multiyear GOS. They do so intentionally, borne of their belief that these grants yield crucial benefits with virtually no downsides. Virtually all of these leaders said that multiyear GOS grants help to build trust between funders and grantees, strengthen relationships, and enable greater foundation and grantee impact. Some underscore that providing multiyear GOS grants is part of their focus on equity. Additionally, many of these leaders emphasize that providing multiyear GOS is easier and more efficient for both foundation and grantees.

For those of you readers reassessing your provision of multiyear GOS — whether you’re considering providing these grants for the first time or increasing your provision of multiyear GOS — here’s some advice from these foundation leaders:

  1. Just do it!
  2. Prioritize strengthening grantee organizations.
  3. Commit to building trust and developing strong funder-grantee relationships.
  4. Align foundation processes, systems, and culture to encourage more multiyear GOS grantmaking.
  5. Establish clear expectations for learning from and assessing multiyear GOS grants.

Read the full article about multiyear GOS by Naomi Orensten at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.