FUNDER’S CORNER: How 3 local funders are responding and learning in the age of COVID 19.
It can be easy to fall into the habit of projecting how foundations operate. They have the money (and power, financial security, etc.), nonprofit organizations don’t, and in moments of crisis many struggling nonprofits find themselves speculating over what their funders are thinking. Will they immediately ramp up giving to keep local organizations solvent? Or maybe they’ll hold a steady course, or even focus inward and give less.
Last week I spoke with three funders — a family foundation, a community foundation, and a corporate foundation — to discuss how this evolving pandemic is impacting their processes:
What do you wish nonprofits knew about your internal COVID-19 response process?
- Family Foundation: We’re taking a month or two to survey the landscape of all our grantees, as it will take time to know what sort of financial hit organizations will be. There’s also our own internal waiting game to see how much the market affects us. Funders everywhere are experiencing a drop of at least 20 percent in overall resources.
- Community Foundation: We are a new organization and realized that while the community might not have expected us to respond (we’ve never made grants before) we needed to take action. Our team was 100% aligned about moving forward with grant making to support nonprofits.
- Corporate Foundation: Our response has been staggered. We created a corporate response team, comprised of different levels of management, that is outlining short, medium and long term needs. We know there will be ripple effects in this crisis.
What are you discovering as you work to meet the needs of New Mexico communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Family Foundation: Initially we discussed the full gamut of responses, including spending down our funds and shifting our focus entirely. Several funders we’ve talked to who like us haven’t historically made grants to direct service providers are discussing that option. We’re not currently set up to support service providing organizations, so a last-minute shift in focus would not be in our area of expertise.
- Community Foundation: We got creative about seeding a COVID-19 response fund by reallocating items from our budget. Then we started talking to other funders about collaboration. In a matter of days our response took shape. Our aim is to meet some of the immediate needs. We sent out a press release and launched the new fund even as we’re still developing the rubric for evaluation.
- Corporate Foundation: Our first step was to check in with our current partners and assess their pressing needs. Then we looked at our funding values and the population we want to support, and we found an established nonprofit that we hadn’t partnered with previously that matched. We are also encouraging our employees to make masks and working with local nonprofits to distribute them.
What did you learn about your organization in the process?
- Family Foundation: A priority is helping organizations we support weather the storm. We’re following recommendations put out by Rockefellers Brothers Philanthropy: 1) Turn project support into general operating support; 2) Assure grantees we are not going to cut funding. Some organizational partners we will fully bail out from the expected 35-40 percent revenue loss. What we’re not going to do, however, is award grants to organizations we don’t have relationships with. We’re also not going outside our area of expertise.
- Community Foundation: When this is all over we will have a new identity. The community will think of us in a different way. This is a pivot point, a response point. It remains to be seen what our new identity will be, but for the short term the board is extremely engaged. They love the community and want to support it. It’s all hands-on deck.
- Corporate Foundation: We are intentional. From early in the process there was a lot of focus on who we currently support and how we support them. We’re not just going to start throwing out money. We want to make sure we’re effective.
More than ever, funders are focusing on their areas of expertise, weighing options carefully and maintaining their internal values and cultures of decision-making. Funders are taking powerful steps such as loosening bureaucratic requirements for proposals, shifting support to general operating needs, and checking and continuing to ensure alignment with their funding values.
Thanks to all our frontline funders, fundraisers and nonprofit organizations!