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The Seybert Foundation adapts grantmaking process to provide general operating funding

Thursday, March 21, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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By Alex Vuocolo | Posted on Tuesday, March 19, 2013


In response to decreasing grant amounts, The Seybert Foundation is adapting its grantmaking process to provide general operating funding rather than project-specific funding. This shift in focus is intended to maximize the value of the grants by giving nonprofits the autonomy to use them as they see fit.

"While well-managed nonprofits have learned to do more with less for years now, a grant can only go as far as the strings attached will allow,” wrote Seybert manager Diana Loukedis Doherty in an address about the change.

Generally, cash-strapped foundations are doing the opposite. Instead of loosening the qualifications for grants, they are using stricter criteria for applicants and even cutting the overall number of grantees.

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund, for example, made news recently for denying a grant to a West Philadelphia nonprofit. This came in the wake of budget shortfalls and the adoption of a stricter criteria for applicants. For the first time —as of 2011 —the organization is rejecting a significant number of applicants.

But as many nonprofit and philanthropic leaders have noted, funding for general operations can have greater mileage and value, especially if guaranteed over multiple years.

Paul Brest, president and director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s philanthropy program, wrote in a 2008 essay that narrowly defined funding can burden nonprofits with a difficult application process and limit the flexibility of their operations.

The Seybert Foundation, which caters to nonprofits focused on youth outreach, has adopted this philosophy and is even considering it as their main answer to decreased grant amounts. Now, as of the 2013 grant cycle, they have streamlined their application process and leveled off their average grant amount at $3,000.

"It gives you just a little more flexibility with what you can do with the grant,” said Whitney King, development associate at Steppingstone Scholars, which received a general operations grant from Seybert. She added that the funds do happen to support specific programs, but that the general operating grant allows the organization to move around funding as needed and adapt to changes.