Four Key Take-Aways from the Dodge Foundation's Extensive Grant Allocation

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the major philanthropic player in New Jersey, recently awarded 77 grants to non-profit organizations across the state. The breadth of the gift is pretty impressive — some would even say overwhelming — so we delved a bit deeper into the fine print to extract some key findings that may prove useful to non-profit organizations both in and outside New Jersey:

Arts and arts education make an impressive showing. Of the $3.5 million allotted, $2.2 million — about two-thirds of the total funding — went to arts and arts education organizations. To look at it another way, arts groups received 45 of the 77 grants. This emphasis on the arts seems to conform with trends in other states in the wake of previous cuts to arts education in public schools.

The distribution between general operating support and programming was equal. There was an approximate 50/50 split between grants devoted to general operating support versus specific programming. Dance, in particular, made out well: We counted at least $100,000 in grants to organizations such as the American Repertory Ballet at the Princeton Ballet School and Jersey Moves!, a dance festival produced by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which received $70,000 in programming support.

Grantees look beyond funding toward long-term sustainability. As we recently noted, general operating support can prove to be a critical lifeline for struggling nonprofits. That said, nonprofits should take advantage of available non-financial offerings provided by philanthropic groups. For example, Peters Valley School of Craft — a recipient of general operating support — attributes its "financial turnaround" to the foundation's capacity-building workshops.

Rounds of funding can include a recipient outlier. Obviously, every nonprofit needs to make a calculated risk when applying for a grant. It needs to ensure that its program offerings, mission statement, and financial stewardship align with the foundation's goals. That said, foundations can fund organizations that don't fit the typical mold. For example, the Dodge Foundation awarded a grant to CoLAB, an organization devoted to training aspiring theater professionals. And it seemed to come as a surprise to CoLAB. "We're not a typical organization that the Dodge Foundation supports," CoLAB leader John Keller said. And why did the foundation allocate the funds? To quote Keller, "This project has been going on for three-plus years and the board felt we were serious enough."