Advice to Funders during COVID-19

Grant cycles put on hold.

Funding being re-directed to organizations on the front lines of COVID-19.

Re-evaluating giving priorities.

These are just a few of the messages nonprofits have seen or heard from grant makers since the start of this pandemic. In a world of uncertainty with change as the only constant, we’re all learning how to fly our new planes while building them.

In that spirit, the PiP team has gathered feedback from several nonprofit leaders and organized it into key themes, in hopes this will inform decisions moving forward. We’ve heard from a number of funders and nonprofits these last few weeks– each of you navigating unique circumstances and facing incredibly tough decisions. The one commonality in all of these conversations is your deep-rooted desire to do good, to choose paths that help the most people and hurt the fewest.

Not surprisingly, the needs of nonprofits are deep and far reaching. In addition to funding needs, several shared personal safety concerns, the desire for volunteers, and the need for in-kind donations of food, clothing, and hygiene items for those they serve. Another large need shared by many is marketing and social media expertise, so they can continue to communicate effectively during and after the pandemic. And probably a challenge all of us are facing to some degree is loneliness. As one professional shared, Working from home is incredibly isolating; I miss my team.” We feel you. ♥

And while the needs may be greater than ever, so are the innovative ideas. Below is a snapshot of what we heard.

Top two nonprofit concerns about the local funding climate

  • Priorities – Many are concerned about shifting funding priorities and reallocation of resources that were originally intended to support certain missions. It’s not that simple, though. Nonprofits acknowledge the need to balance funding immediate needs with staying true to funding priorities. As Kim Boschee, Executive Director of Girls on the Run Las Vegas, thoughtfully shared,

“My greatest concern is that the focus of funding will shift dramatically to community safety net organizations, while other nonprofits, such as ones that address education, health, and wellbeing, will be left without the chance to apply for that money. Both types of services are critical; both create a better community for us. While there may be a higher need to fund food insecurity/housing instability right now, it will not always be that way. The swinging of the pendulum to all one side or the other is not helpful and could cause important organizations to be forced to close their doors. I hope funders are thoughtful and forward-thinking when it comes to distribution.”

  • Duration – Everyone has a different prediction on how long the pandemic will last, and nonprofits are wondering how this will impact funding in both the short and long term, especially since sizable allocations are going toward COVID-19 response.

Five specific actions funders can take

Time to flip the tables and share a balanced perspective! Funders are often providing advice to nonprofits, so what guidance can nonprofits give to funders who are grappling with huge needs and diminished resources? Consider these nonprofit pros your very own “Dear Abby”:

  • Communicate and respond – While seemingly obvious, some respondents made a simple request– that funders answer their phones and emails. Pretty basic, right? Along those same lines, nonprofits are asking for funders to communicate their plans—even if not solidified yet—and changes to their funding priorities if there are any. The sooner nonprofits know what changes will be made, the sooner they can pivot. Stalling bad news for some won’t help anyone.
  • Simplify and expedite – There was unanimous consensus that nonprofits are looking for funders to simplify their application process, speed up their decision making process, and do business differently right now—perhaps accepting applications on a rolling basis rather than set timelines, open RFPs/grant cycles earlier this year, and reduce or eliminate grant reporting requirements this year.
  • Release restrictionsNonprofits understand that some funders don’t have the ability to release funding restrictions, but for those who do, they are imploring you to do so. Some recommend broadening your focus to include needs that are urgent now, and others are hoping for 100% unrestricted funding. As one professional shared,

“It is not feasible or possible that money cover *only* program-based initiatives. For many of us who had to cancel programming, there are still so many aspects of day-to-day operations that need to happen to keep the lights on.”

  • Collaborate – Collaboration has been a term thrown around for years in the sector, and now nonprofits are asking funders to walk the talk.

In the words of Pat Callihan, Executive Director of Tech Impact, “Funding decisions should be made in stages. First and foremost, organizations that are providing direct response – food, housing, medical. But, decisions need to be made in a collective manner; one off decisions by any funding source may not solve a problem.”

  • Keep it localProbably now more than ever, the slogan “give where you live” rings true. In the words of Daniele Staple, Executive Director of The Rape Crisis Center,

“Keeping giving local is always appreciated, but especially at this time. Our community is and will go through this uniquely, so keeping support local will mean more than ever as we slowly recover from this.”

And we also can’t forget these other great ideas our fearless nonprofit leaders shared:

  • Providing sponsorship challenge matches
  • Using your online networks to encourage giving
  • Promoting local organizations through social media (in addition to, or instead of, financial support)
  • Encouraging employees and others to apply for volunteer opportunities right now
  • Placing an emphasis on mental health needs, particularly amid children.

“We have no idea the overall toll this pandemic will cause of our youngest generation; it will only be known as time goes on. It would be great if funders kept this in mind as we all work through this crisis.”

Well, you’ve made it to the end, and clearly, there is no shortage of ideas! To our nonprofit leaders, thank you for your contributions to this article and more importantly, to our communities. Each and every day you make our communities stronger through your tireless work. We are endlessly grateful. And to our community funders, you bring this important work to life through your care and generosity. We are endlessly grateful.

The coronavirus is contagious but so is compassion and action. Thank you for all you do.