How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis

Posted by on Apr 9, 2020 in Articles, Blog | 0 comments

How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis
Making a pivot due to changes.

The past several weeks have seen impressive and quick pivots by many funders adapting to the new environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Case in point – there are now more than 300 community response and relief funds organized by foundations, United Ways and other organizations. Learn More

Many funders have streamlined application and reporting requirements, and are making funding available now to their nonprofit partners through flexible payment schedules.  Still others are giving grantees the OK to convert previously-approved project grants to general operating funding.

Here are a few recent examples of pivots by funders that have caught my eye.  PS:  If you are a funder who hasn’t yet taken at least some of these steps to support your grantees during these extraordinary times, call me – we need to talk!

One of the more humane and grounded messages to grantees comes from a former boss of mine, Dave Abbott, Executive Director at the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland (Learn More):

If you have a special purpose or project grant from us and it would be more helpful to use those funds for operations, feel free to do so.  We ask only that you let us know.
We are extending grant report due dates until September 30 for those who have an earlier deadline.  And if greater flexibility is needed, we will work with you.  Please ignore any automated notices you may receive from our grants management system.

The Lumina Foundation, a national funder, conveyed a similar spirit when President and CEO Jamie Merisotis reached out to their partners:

We can talk about adjusting, delaying, or waiving terms and timelines of any grant or contract (including interim and final reports) so that you can put your focus where it needs to be right now. We will do what’s best for you and the work to ensure the continued strength of our partners—and the best outcomes.

Jamie’s message also offered to accelerate payments for existing grants to help Lumina’s partners maintain sufficient cash flow.

Small- and medium-sized foundations and donors are stepping up to the plate as well in quickly adapting to circumstances and help the nonprofit community:

  • One private foundation I work with doubled the amount of discretionary grants which its board members can make to grantees in need. 
  • A family foundation I assist has converted all of its 2020 project grants to general operating grants. 
  • Resource Generation is urging young people with means to contribute their stimulus checks to social causes via the Share My Check movement. 

Several executives from small- and mid-sized foundations share how their respective organizations are responding to the “now” and preparing for the near-future:

  • “We’ve moved budget allocations around our different programs to provide more flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, and we’ve allocated several hundred thousand dollars for our own rapid-response fund.  Learning from other regional funding models that have been created around the country, we are partnering with our State Department of Education, our regional association of funders, and individual foundations to target support for needs involving remote learning.”   Executive Director, Private Foundation
  • “At this point, we are staying the course, taking a ‘be patient’ approach and maintaining our grant-making budget for the time being.  We’ll be checking in at regular intervals with our investment advisors, of course, and making adjustments as needed going forward.  We are providing flexibility to our grant partners with some modest funding cushions as we can in helping them adapt to the changes they face.  We certainly expect they will be having more challenges as economic conditions worsen – and that we’ll be seeing this reflected in future requests we receive.”  Executive Director, Private Foundation.