Can this Be the Beginning of the End of the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle?

Last week, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article with the following headline: “5 CEOs of Big Foundations Pledge to Do More to Help Charities Pay Overhead.”

I found it to be really encouraging news for the history and museum field.

Early in my museum and grant-writing career, I learned the sheer futility of project grants. It was basically an endless cycle of chasing after small amounts of money to pay for additional work with no additional funds to help pay to get the work done.

It was/is the modus operandi of the smaller, local foundations I sought funds from, which I’m assuming was a mindset that came from their peers nationwide.

It became an endless cycle of:

1. Creating a program/project whole cloth

2. Finding funding to pay for the project

3. Completing the project with the same resources/staffing we had going into it… (wearing down staff in the process)

4. Lather/rinse/repeat.

Eventually I told my boss, “I’m done with project grants,” and learned instead how to craft proposals that paid for the programs we were already doing — in a way that still met funder goals/restrictions.

My knowledge of the futility of that process was limited to my own personal example, but when I began to work for AASLH in the national arena, I discovered that the problem was much more widespread.

The bottom line, as Vu Le at Nonprofit AF has written about extensively, is that foundations should again begin offering operating support, which allows nonprofits (not *only* museums or history orgs) to more effectively and efficiently allocate their funds.

This isn’t a new refrain for me, I’ve written about this here a couple of times before:

(And it’s no surprise to me that Darren Walker and the Ford Foundation are leading the charge and conversation.)

I applaud the boards & CEOs of these foundations for their renewed funding policies. I hope their peers will do likewise, for it uplifts nonprofits, which, in turn, uplifts American communities writ large.

A twenty-year veteran of the nonprofit world, Bob Beatty is founder of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit consulting firm providing community-focused engagement strategies for institutional planning, organizational assessments, and interpretive direction.

President of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit firm providing community-focused strategies for planning, assessment, and interpretation.

President of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit firm providing community-focused strategies for planning, assessment, and interpretation.