Exploring the Pillars: Multiyear, Unrestricted Support

“We are not asked to renounce wealth but rather our sense of possessionWhatever we give will have no value if we part with our wealth reluctantly.” — The Bhagavad Gita

As a funder, have found that it is easy for me to forget that it is not actually my own money that I am giving away. It is easy for me to slip into thinking that I control this money because I am smarter, more strategic, a better guardian of wealth than others. And if I am, indeed, a more deserving guardian–then people who want my money need to prove their worth, and I can and should attach conditions and guardrails to it to make sure they do their jobs right.

In truth, I lucked into a job where I give away money earned generations ago, by the lawyer to the guy who invented the Singer sewing machine. There is no particular wisdom that comes from my many-degrees-of-separation relationship to Robert Sterling Clark’s grandfather, and certainly no more wisdom about leadership development than is held by our grantee partners.

It is only by listening to our possible and current grantee partners that I understand the promise and challenges within their work. And it is only by trusting that they know the best way to deploy their resources that I can hand over funding enthusiastically, with joy and support, rather than reluctantly. Nonprofits have told funders over and over again that the best way to show our trust is to make that funding unrestricted, and to ensure that it will last for several years. The general operating support allows them to spend the money in the best way for the organization, and the multi-year grant gives them a bit of breathing room to do their work without as much worry about securing the next round of funding.

As funders, we must recognize that we are not experts at running the organizations we fund. We are playing a part in advancing an organization’s mission, often one very aligned with our vision for the world. When i give a grant, I gratefully part with the foundations’ dollars, to make sure that those funds go to someone who knows more than I do. 

Lisa Cowan is Vice President at the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. This post originally appeared on the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation blog and has been reposted with permission.