General Operating Support is Leadership Support

A couple weeks ago, the CEOs of five of the largest foundations pledged to allocate more funds to non-profits for overhead costs such as wages, rent, and electricity.

As someone who has sat on both sides of the granting table, I applaud this decision. I know the constant stress the hustle for overhead funds causes non-profit professionals. While many can raise money for their programs, finding donors to cover infrastructure is far more difficult. Funding programs is sexier than covering the electricity bill, but a non-profit can’t, for example, train girls to code if it can’t turn on the lights.

While the industry reconsiders funding priorities, there is one additional shift that we at Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York believe is central to greater success: offering more direct support to nurture outstanding non-profit leaders.

A research study JWFNY conducted demonstrated that each of its grants – $80,000 over two years – were neither making a dent in the mission of larger organizations nor helping to sustain programs of the smaller ones. Receiving organizations often cut programs after the funding cycle.

The study also showed that the best determinant of the success of the funded organizations was the leader’s strength. Organizations run by women who had vision and strong management skills succeeded no matter what challenges they faced. What they actually needed and asked for was freedom to use resources as they saw fit and greater access to prospective supporters.

As a result, JWFNY shifted focus last year. Rather than funding programs, JWFNY now invests directly in extraordinary Jewish women social entrepreneurs heading organizations that are moving the needle on issues facing women and girls throughout the world. The first 10 women in what JWFNY calls The Collective received general operating support, professional development funds, and, maybe most importantly, the opportunity to meet experts and prospective supporters to whom they might otherwise not have access.

To facilitate such access, on September 17 JWFNY will hold its first Convening, an opportunity for the 10 members of The Collective to share their visions and parade their skills to philanthropists, businesspeople, and journalists, including Thomas Friedman. By providing an opportunity for extraordinary leaders to meet with the people who have the resources, JWFNY is creating an environment for some of the best and brightest to flourish.

Rather than serve as an overlord, telling organizations what to do, dictating how to spend money, and requiring them to fill out picayune reports, JWFNY bakes trust into its decision-making. Great leaders are no doubt capable of appropriately shepherding resources to achieve their missions.

Granting organizations need to be good allies – not overseers. They can do this by providing the resources organizational leaders want and need, no strings attached – except perhaps a summary report or two.

Jamie Allen Black is the CEO of Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, a grant-making organization that supports Jewish women leading social change organizations in the U.S., Israel, and around the world.

About the Author
Jamie is the CEO of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York – a catalyst for gender justice and social innovation. She previously worked to create inclusive Jewish communities throughout North America as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Big Tent Judaism. Jamie also served as the Director of Strategic Planning, Communications and Training at Hadassah, where she mentored and trained professionals and created and implemented a multi-year fundraising plan. Jamie has had a lifelong commitment to supporting women and girls through relationship building and leadership development.