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Wind in the Sails: Grantmaking for General Operating Support at The Atlantic Philanthropies (1982-2016)

Resource type: Case Study

Ben Kerman |

This case study delves into why and how Atlantic made nearly half of its grants with considerable general operating support contributions. It examines the foundation’s decisions at key junctures and responses to challenges. The report also offers mini case studies and lessons that may be useful to funders carrying out this type of grantmaking.

Overarching Questions for Whether and How to Make Operating Support Grants

 Overarching Questions for Whether and How to Make Operating Support Grants:

Takeaways from the report include:

  • While lack of financial reserves and weak organizational resilience might often be reasons to rule out a project grant, those same vulnerabilities might be reasons for providing operating support to help build that capacity.
  • Atlantic typically made core operating grants in order to achieve a larger goal that would enhance the lives of vulnerable people rather than simply to enable a worthy organization to continue operating.
  • After making a core operating grant, Atlantic staff typically stayed in regular touch with grantees, providing suggestions based on their expertise, but striving to do that with modesty and avoid getting in the way.
  • Atlantic often provided funding to build, improve, or purchase a building, in keeping with the foundation’s belief that good buildings can serve as centers for people to come together and create change. This funding typically complemented core operating grants or, at times, helped bolster an organization as the foundation concluded its core support.

Atlantic commissioned this report.