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Gen Ops Plus: Three Years in and Building Steam

Posted on March 29, 2017 by Ellen Placey Wadey

In 2014, GDDF launched Gen Ops Plus, and I started my job at the Foundation. It was fresh territory for both of us. This March, we had a three-year check-in with the board to look back at where we started and to see where we have come.

The natural first step for GO+ was to recommit to general operating support. Grantmakers in the Arts, a thought leader in the field, consistently recommends that foundations give general operating support so that nonprofits have the flexibility to direct funds where needed most. We could not agree more and continue to offer general operating grants to the 160+ GDDF arts grantees.

Next, we began on the Plus components. The first one out of the box was the Technical Assistance Grant (TAG), $500 of reimbursement funds to GDDF grantees to help build organizational development skills. Since 2014, groups have enrolled in 122 different trainings, and we are working to increase that number. We convene a TAG focus group annually to get feedback from the field about what works and what needs improvement.

Next, we established the Cash Reserve Challenge (CRC) matching grants to help groups create important safety nets for the future. Eligible groups—those with a record of stable finances and strong leadership—can use this program to seed or expand their cash reserves, a resource that can bridge periods of cash flow stress or support new artistic experimentation without putting other programs at risk. In partnership with several of our foundation colleagues, we convened two capitalization workshops that sold-out at more than 200 participants, which proved that reserves are a topic of interest for many organizations.

With three of our foundation colleagues, we founded the AD3 Innovation Bootcamp, which offers guidance to groups as they apply their deft thinking to chronic organizational challenges. We also launched the Curatorial Fellowship exhibition in partnership with Chicago Artists Coalition that each year installs two exhibitions in the foundation offices featuring the stunning work of artists supported by GDDF visual arts grantees.

Looking back, I am thrilled to say that Gen Ops Plus is on track and making a difference to Chicago’s small art organizations. This year for the first time, the Foundation will offer two-year grants to all organizations. We continue to be out seeing work, averaging more than 100 shows and concerts a year. We will continue to listen and learn and respond to small arts organizations—to bring them resources that help them grow stronger—so they can continue to create the art that makes us think and laugh and leaves us breathless.

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