Hello, General Atlantic. You Look Really Nice Today.

General Atlantic, the global, growth-stage private equity firm, has been getting a lot of attention lately — not from entrepreneurs looking for funding, but from VCs looking for funding.

“I wouldn’t even say the calls have been coming over the last six months, but the last three months,” says Marc McMorris, a managing partner in General Atlantic’s Palo Alto office, who I reached by phone yesterday.

Given General Atlantic’s place in the investing ecosystem–it writes checks of between $50 million and $500 million–it’s not surprising that VCs are checking in a bit more these days. Most late-stage and crossover funds are probably looking better than ever as strategic partners, given their ability to keep alive strong companies with nowhere to go.

Still, while McMorris didn’t say so, my suspicion is the majority of venture firms that dial up General Atlantic are probably out of luck. For starters, it tilts heavily toward partnering with buyout funds when it co-invests. A few representative pairings include an investment with TPG and Newbridge Capital to invest in Chinese PC maker in Lenovo; General Atlantic’s acquisition of Edmeon, a Nashville-based company that makes payment software for the healthcare industry, with Hellman & Friedman; and the acquisition of retail software company Torex Retail, which General Atlantic did with Cerberus.

More, the majority of General Atlantic’s deals tend to be position it as the sole institutional investor, and a minority investor at that. (It likes owning around 25 percent of its portfolio companies.) I asked McMorris why, and he suggested that it’s one of General Atlantic’s biggest differentiators. While there are plenty of mid-size companies looking to be acquired, there are plenty of founder CEOs who aren’t interested in selling all of a company but who do want to squeeze out some cash — to buy out a partner or do some estate planning or a hundred other reasons. “It’s a very different dynamic than calling Goldman to do sell side,” said McMorris.

Occasionally, General Atlantic does step into a venture deal. It invested $66 million in a recapitalization of San Francisco-based analytics company ServiceSource in January 2007, for example. ServiceSource’s only backer until then was the venture firm Benchmark Capital, which invested $10 million in 2005. (The deal was meant to help ServiceSource create a bigger footprint outside the U.S., where General Atlantic has long tentacles and has for years. In addition to Palo Alto, it has offices in Mumbai, Hong Kong, London, Dusseldorf, Sao Paulo, New York, and Greenwich, Conn.)

If as a VC, you’ve got a portfolio company in the firm’s sweet spot, you’ve got cause to celebrate. Not only does General Atlantic have vast resources — it commits $2 billion a year — but its 28 partners can never tell you, “sorry, we’re in the middle of raising a fund” because their fund is evergreen. Its roughly 35 LPs are mostly families, and every year, several of them renew their commitment to General Atlantic, which keeps the fund rolling along.

I asked McMorris why it’s just now that the calls are starting to really come in from VCs and other players that General Atlantic hasn’t historically partnered with much. The writing has been on the wall for some time, I offered. “You know, it takes a few months for people to really believe their inability to get out,” he said. “Even though the market has been challenging since the end of last year, people first moderate their expectations. Then you get to June, and expectations are pretty much gone.”