Now in its second year, the Dropbox Foundation has grown to support six nonprofit partners around the world that work to defend human rights—Allies Against Slavery (Allies), GOAL, Larkin Street Youth Services, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), War Child UK, and WITNESS. These organizations help victims of human trafficking, use technology to document human rights violations, support youth experiencing homelessness, work with children affected by conflict, and much more.
The Foundation’s core philosophy of effective partnership is rooted in both long-term unrestricted funding and skills-based volunteering. Partners have been able to harness the skills of Dropbox employees around the world, through events like Hack Week, to build and strengthen their organization’s infrastructure, processes, and technologies. The unrestricted model also places complete trust in the partners by giving them the freedom to allocate funds to any part of their organization, from operational expenses to specific projects, based on their judgement. Through talking with our partners, we’ve learned about their perspective on the value of unrestricted funding, the challenges with securing it, and ways to further the message about its importance.
In general, receiving grants depends on many factors: if the nonprofit’s work aligns with a donor’s focus areas, if there is a new or existing relationship with the donor, or if the timing aligns with the donor’s grant-making cycle, etc. So while securing a grant is already hard enough, getting access to unrestricted funding is even harder. Restricted funding means the money is allocated for a specific program or purpose, but unrestricted funding offers a nonprofit the flexibility of how and when to use the funds. According to Kathleen Kelly Janus, author of Social Startup Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference, only 20% of nonprofit funding in the US is unrestricted.
Here is an excerpt about Larkin Street:
For Larkin Street Youth Services, which provides a full continuum of services to young people experiencing homelessness, only 10 to 15% of their funding is completely unrestricted. But those dollars have allowed them to grasp opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.
In 2018 Larkin Street became aware of a single family home available for rent in San Francisco. They were able to act quickly on this by using unrestricted funding, along with getting additional public funding, to create a home serving transgender and gender non-conforming youth experiencing homelessness.
“It’s really the flexibility and mobility,” says Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street. “The ability to deploy unrestricted dollars where and when they are needed is really critical for our success.”