A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Lean Funders Are Adjusting Their Grantmaking and Operations to Respond to COVID-19: Week of March 30

On Friday, March 27, Exponent Philanthropy hosted a second live discussion among lean funders to discuss how they are responding to COVID-19. We will continue to host these discussions every Friday at 2 PM ET to give all lean funders the opportunity to connect around their response. We are also compiling COVID-19 information and resources relevant to lean funders.

Lean funders are responding to COVID-19 with a number of strategies. They are also mindful that the virus, response, testing and treatment options, medical supplies, and community needs are constantly changing.

Here are the strategies we heard from funders on March 27:

See also the responses we heard from funders on March 20

Surveying grantees

Lean funders are collaborating with other funders—and often taking the lead—to survey nonprofits on their needs. Funders are especially aware of not wanting to overburden nonprofits with too many time-consuming surveys from too many funders. Funders are focused on listening to nonprofits and identifying urgent and longer-term needs so they can plan accordingly. Funders mention partnering with other private foundations in their region, a local or regional community foundation, or a local or regional United Way.

Heidi Dusek at the J.J. Keller Foundation shared the five open-ended questions she included in a grantee survey:

  1. What is the best way to contact you?
  2. What are your concerns regarding your clients?
  3. What are your concerns regarding your staff?
  4. What are your concerns regarding your operations?
  5. What are your greatest needs in immediate future, short term, and long term?

Streamlining grant applications

Lean funders are working to streamline their applications as much as possible. Some funders are streaming their existing applications while others are creating specific streamlined COVID-19 Response Fund applications. These funds are helping nonprofits to maintain or expand their services, or to support the their infrastructure and technology needs. One funder shared its basic application requirements:

  • Basic organizational and financial information
  • One paragraph describing services being provided
  • One paragraph describing the immediate financial need and how funding will support their services

For more on streamlining, consider these resources:

Planning for the unforeseen

As COVID-19 spreads, many lean funders are faced with the reality that it could personally affect the foundation’s staff and board. As a result, lean funders are recognizing that now is the time to develop plans for the unforeseen to ensure the foundation can keep operating. Some have responded by developing temporary succession plans in case the foundation’s only staff member becomes ill and cannot work. Others are developing plans for how to respond in the case of one or several board members becoming ill. See Exponent Philanthropy’s Sample Document Library for examples of emergency succession plans.

In addition to succession planning, some foundation boards are granting their staff wider authority to act quickly. Rather than waiting for the next board meeting to approve grants, some foundations have set up procedures to allow their staff to make grants up to a certain amount without board approval.

Going virtual

Lean funders are continuing to move their work to a virtual setting. As states across the country have introduced or expanded measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, lean funders are adjusting their work accordingly. Many lean funders have closed their offices, but they haven’t closed their doors. Some mention conducting virtual site visits, and many others are conducting virtual board meetings.

For more on using the remote conferencing service Zoom, see this document one member sent to the foundation’s board: Letter/Instructions for Board Meetings.

Moving to electronic payments

With many foundations closing their offices and working remotely, they are shifting how they pay their grantees. Whereas some funders shared stories of hand delivering checks (while keeping a safe social distance), many others are shifting their grant payments to electronic fund transfers (EFTs) in place of checks. Check with your bank about using this method for transferring funds. If it is a viable option, ensure you create a policy similar to your policy for writing checks. Several funders shared that they were advised by security firms not to collect grantee bank info via email and instead to get a voided check in the mail, or to collect that information over the phone.

Join your fellow lean funders on Fridays at 2 PM ET for a live discussion to connect around response to COVID-19.

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