Lifeblood for Nonprofits: Why Donors Should Choose General Operating Support

Program officers share their insight on effective individual giving: how gifts for general operating support provide the working capital #nonprofit orgs need to keep the lights on, serve the community + innovate for the future Tweet This

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As the year draws to an end, many donors are deciding how to make their final charitable gifts for 2018. No matter what cause they’re passionate about, when they turn to our staff for guidance there’s one recommendation we like to give: Consider making your gifts for general operating support.

A general operating gift, in contrast to funding earmarked for a specific program, can be used by the organization without restriction to best advance their mission. That flexibility enables nonprofits to respond with the greatest efficiency to the evolving needs of our shared community.

“I think of it as the lifeblood for organizations.” Hear from a few of The Chicago Community Trust’s program officers in their own words about the critical importance of gifts for general operating support.


The Chicago Community Trust’s program officers have a ground-level perspective and insight into how unrestricted funding from individual donors makes a crucial difference for the Chicago region’s nonprofits. Here’s what they’ve learned:


General operating support keeps nonprofits healthy, stable and effective.

“I’m always looking for programs and initiatives that are responsive to the community,” says Anna Lee, program officer for basic human needs and social services. “But I’m also interested in making sure that organizations are healthy—and general operating grants are a great way to ensure the health and vibrancy of the nonprofit sector.”

Senior program officer for economic and community development Joanna Trotter adds, “General operating support is a critical foundation. It’s a critical tool for allowing organizations to do work around planning and policy, for supporting the administrative staff and the executive director who’s taking leadership on a day-to-day basis to make this work happen.”

“Those components are often very hard to fundraise for, and the opportunity that general operating support allows organizations is to relieve them of that burden, allowing them to be nimble and responsive in the field,” Trotter says.


General operating support enables nonprofits to innovate.

“Nonprofit organizations are often tied to programmatic dollars. They have to execute on this project, they have to execute on that idea… It doesn’t leave a lot of room for research and development,” explains Michael Davidson, senior program officer for sustainable development.

“The private sector has big R&D budgets that allow them to anticipate what the needs are going to be in five, ten, twenty years. Nonprofits are creating products and services, and putting those products and services out in the marketplace, just like we see in the private sector. And for them to do that well they need to invest time and research into innovation,” Davidson says. “So nonprofit organizations use some general operating support as innovation dollars. It’s money that they’re using to anticipate how to better serve the community tomorrow, or five years from now.”

“I’m always looking for programs and initiatives that are responsive to the community. But I’m also interested in making sure that organizations are healthy—and general operating grants are a great way to ensure the health and vibrancy of the nonprofit sector.”


General operating support strengthens relationships between nonprofits and the donors who believe in them.

“It’s important for individual donors to give operating support because it enables them to really understand what organizations do, on a day-to-day basis—to engage in a really thoughtful and intentional way,” says Anna Lee. “It’s a touch point that builds trust and relationship between a donor and a grant recipient,” adds Trotter.

Lee Hart, program officer for education, sees donations for general operating support to a nonprofit as “a vote of confidence in their ability to lead through change. General operating support shows faith in the mission, as well as the organization.”

“I’ve had the great pleasure of working with a couple of individual donors involved with the Trust, and their level of commitment, and their interest in thinking about how their giving can catalyze growth for a nonprofit—it’s really inspiring to see that connection between the donors and the nonprofits,” Hart says.


If you have a donor advised fund at The Chicago Community Trust, you can recommend grants for general operating support by logging into Instant Impact. Or contact Kristin Carlson Vogen at (312) 616-8000 to learn more about how you can support nonprofit organizations through a gift for general operations.