Taking the long view

Funders need to give charities operating support.

By Todd Cohen

[03.17.04] — Funders can miss the big picture.

By funding programs, not operations, funders can handcuff charities, forcing them to invest in chasing dollars and filing reports on their impact.

Funders need to recognize the stress they put on charities, and should take a new study as a wake-up call.

After tracking more than $252 million in grants by 79 conservative foundations to public-policy nonprofits, the study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found their funding strategy highly effective.

While mainstream and liberal foundations make grants for programs, conservative foundations provide operating funds and long-term support.

That frees the groups those foundations support to focus on shaping policy.

Instead of spending valuable time raising money to make ends meet, those groups can take the lead in marketing their ideas, and respond quickly to marketplace events and developments.

As a result, the study says, conservative foundations have defined the policy debate in the U.S.

Current policies hurt our most vulnerable citizens, as well as charities that serve them.

Yet charities will have a tough time surviving, let alone shaping policy, until funders give them the critical operating support they need.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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