On Friday, March 20, Exponent Philanthropy hosted a 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 20:
More flexible funding and reporting
Many lean funders’ first response to COVID-19 has been to move toward more flexible funding for their grantees. Recognizing that the situation is fluid and nonprofits’ future needs are unknown, many are providing additional general operating support to their grantees, converting existing grants to unrestricted grants, and/or suspending or postponing reporting requirements. The Robert Sterling Clark Foundation’s approach is one many lean funders can emulate.
Getting funds directly to those who need it
Some funders are starting to work out programs to make grants to individuals, and others are seeking out partner organizations to help administer those funds. The most common partners are local community foundations and United Ways, but other funders are giving to local public school foundations or to national organizations focused on supporting workers.
Many funders are also working with local nonprofits to provide direct financial support to individuals in need. They recognize that their grantees, many of whom are social services providers, have deep relationships with their clients and may already have cash assistance funds set up for client needs.
Some funders are working to support local businesses by coordinating with their local Chamber of Commerce Foundation [a 501(c)(3)] to provide small business support. Others are engaged in advocacy efforts to increase the availability of low- or no-interest loans for their local businesses and nonprofits. And yet others are working to offer loans to their nonprofit partners in the form of PRIs to help them cover costs while they wait for additional funds to arrive.
Contributing to relief funds and collaborating with other funders
Lean funders are also contributing to various response and relief funds, including funds focused on:
- Local nonprofits
- Small businesses and their employees
- Individuals and families
- First responders
Some lean funders expressed hesitation navigating the myriad of response funds. They are contemplating whether it makes more sense to make one large gift to a fund, or smaller contributions to various response funds. Giving Compass has aggregated a list of state and city response funds to help funders navigate the situation.
Other funders are partnering directly with other foundations in their area. One funder shared,
We have been in collaboration with the six major funders in our county to work on a pooled co-funding opportunity, in which organizations can submit one application to all participating funders for review. We’re also holding at least weekly funder collaborative calls (that continue to grow) and are looking at hosting standing weekly calls for grant partners to share resources and keep abreast of changes as they arise.
Giving more than expected
One funder asked peers, “How are folks able to provide extra funds or advance funds without sacrificing the ability to fund later in the year when funds will still be needed?”
Many funders shared that they are planning to give beyond their typical annual grants budget. Several suggested giving beyond the annual 5% minimum distribution requirement. They believe, especially in times of crisis, that 5% should be a minimum, not a maximum.
One funder shared a long-term view toward responding to the crisis: “We are making emergency grants for immediate needs (food, medical care) and will make some broad gifts to emergency campaigns. We plan to go deeper with our long-term nonprofit partners as they figure out what their needs are going to be.”
Join your fellow lean funders on Fridays at 2 PM ET for a live discussion to connect around response to COVID-19.