There’s just something about September.

Even if you don’t set your clock to an academic year, this month traditionally marks the beginning of something “new” in some ways, more than the calendar new year. September may mean a new grade, maybe a new school, maybe a religious New Year. In September, campaigning for mid-term elections begins its crescendo. And for us in the development world, September unofficially marks the launch of year-end annual giving campaigns for raising unrestricted support for our non-profit’s mission.

Unrestricted operating support is a beautiful thing. I don’t know of a non-profit who doesn’t need it. However, beyond an annual giving program, not all organizations deliberately strategize for garnering this kind of philanthropic support.

The recently released Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017 points out that with respect to the overall 5.2% increase in giving in 2017, we’d be keen to keep an eye on a specific phenomenon — most of the largest gifts from individuals went into their foundations. This marks foundations as the largest philanthropic beneficiary from any category, with a significant increase of 15% over prior year. It certainly bodes well for the future as increased assets become available. This is accompanied by a growing awareness among grantmakers, including family foundations, to consider operational support. Rebecca Thomas, founder and managing director of Rebecca Thomas & Associates, strongly recommends in her blog on behalf of Associated Grant Makers that grantmakers “support healthy capitalization and provide reliable, full-cost funding”. To paraphrase her advice, she encourages honest dialogue between foundations and grantees about the true costs of doing business, and figuring out how to “stay the course” on their journey.

Take a peek in your “backpack.” Do you have the tools you need to address raising funds for operating support?

  • While always honoring donor intent, how are you engaging your donors in combined gifts that include both restricted and unrestricted support for your organization’s mission?
  • What policies do you have for including a “gift tax” for all major gifts and grants over a certain level? Do they need dusting off or updating?
  • How are you ensuring that there is clear language used and consistent messaging from your gift officers/organization/board about operating support?
  • To what extent is your current or planned campaign including specific funds for operating support set-asides?
  • When was the last time you approached foundations that typically fund your organization or mission to have a candid conversation about the realities of program costs?

I don’t know about you, but I remember carting my four kids (now adults) to the local office supply store each August with a lengthy list of “must have” supplies for the new school year – I guess you could call it “operating support.” Many tens of dollars later, each kid was armed with the needed folders, binders, notebooks, crayons, markers, and must-have cartoon character pencil bag or lunch box. I wanted my kids to have the tools they needed for a new start that September. We’d always get extra to add to the local charity’s campaign to provide school supplies for needy families, too – operating support for others.

As we shift attention in September to a focus on “new,” take a look at what’s in your non-profit “backpack.” Do you have the tools you need to ensure your organization includes unrestricted support for its non-profit mission?