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COVID-19 Concerns in Grantmaking: Real Talk from Funders (March 18, 2020)

On March 18th, over 400 people from our philanthropic community joined the Coffee Talk: Covid-19 Concerns in Grantmaking to share resources, experiences, and creative solutions. We plan to continue this conversation through additional Coffee Talks through the coming weeks. For now, see what our community had to say:

(These comments were pulled directly from the session’s live audio and chat feeds. Find the full recording of this Coffee Talk here.)

How are people adjusting their funding to help Grantees? 

Are you setting up an emergency fund? Are you changing your funds to undesignated to support salaries? Stopping, rescheduling, or setting up online site visits? 

Shilpa Bavikatte Albert Pick, Jr. Fund - This came to us really fast. All of our funding is within the city of Chicago. In Chicago there has been a community response/emergency fund put together by United way and Chicago Community Trust. They are getting different foundations in the region to commit money into the fund and community members to make donations. 

Rebecca White Body, Eau Claire Community Foundation - Right now we plan to redirect unrestricted funds from our current competitive grant cycle to an emergency fund. 

Sarah Pariser, The Women's Fund of Central Ohio - We are exploring program funds to operating support, and reducing reporting. If anyone has best practices or guidelines with how to structure that for board approval please share!

Michele McGovern, Aldine Education Foundation - Changes we will consider: extending project periods and reporting deadlines; unrestricted/emergency funding; relief aid to individuals; transfer balance of current grants to emergency aid.

Jeanette Hall - We are examining our YTD budget for unspent dollars and places we can cut back on budget, so that we can do extra grants. We have notified our grantees and want to do these grants as simply and quickly as possible. We are allowing grantees to contact us via email with basic request info, what will be done with the money, who / how many will be served, so we can expedite. We are also aware that this could affect the nature of our upcoming grant cycle, as there will be long term issues for our grantees to field.

Joleen Widmark, The Gibney Family Foundation - Site visits are still great via Zoom!


Chris Christie, Community Foundation of Medicine Hat & Southeastern Alberta - We need a nimble, simple process for getting funding out in real time to charities in dire need of additional funds to cope with COVID-19. Does anyone have that? - application form, criteria, decision-making process?

Tamara Alvarado, Leo M. Shortino Family Foundation - I need support with two to three COVID-19 criteria that will help my board understand how important it is to convert our program grants into GOS grants. We are in one of the national hot spots and are currently in a three-week long shelter in place. I need flexibility. 

Julia Olson, Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County - What questions and requirements do you include for an emergency fund application? 

Craig Colistra, Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation - Is there any standardized language, messaging, or general talking points that can be sent to grantees? Any links? There is obvious concern about their inability to carry out their programs, reach their goals and outcomes, changes in our grantmaking priorities and future availability of funds. 

Grantee Surveys and Other Resources


Beth Harrison, Texas Health Resources Foundation - Our leadership council meetings for April have all been changed to virtual using Vidyard.

Lindie Gardner, Washington Women In Need - We had a Board meeting last Thursday via Zoom, and it actually went very smoothly.

Jason Hamman, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation - FYI on remote meetings. We're now using MS Teams almost exclusively for all meetings and staff communications. We have daily virtual meetings of all staff to check in and see what work is queued and to make sure as an organization we're working cohesively. All committee/board meetings are going virtual. Regular staff interactions are done by video call or chat in Teams. It's been a huge shift but we're all "close" yet far. 

Ashley Butler, East Tennessee Foundation -  We just launched our Neighbor to Neighbor fund. We're putting the fund on our website if folks want to donate and we launched an application if foundations want to apply. We don't have decision making criteria yet. We have a large field of interest fund specifically for arts in all 25 counties we launched on Friday but pulled that back and are going to restructure and change the funding priorities to help arts organizations who might be deeply affected by ramifications of having to cancel their large fundraisers or popular events. Still ironing out those ideas. Later in the year, we have smaller field of interest funds that we don't know if we will be able to restructure. I think across the board we as a staff are trying to figure out what we should or what we can restructure to support or partner organizations in the area.

Scholarship Deadlines

Jennifer Marino, Pittsburgh Foundation - We have decided to extend due dates (3/31). Really busy season for communications with students. We are going to push the due date, then we are going to make things that are required optional. I am wondering if there is anyone else out there that has put some thought into this and if they are changing anything in their scholarship processes? 

Allison Findley, Community Foundation of Mendocino County - We are north of San Francisco and tonight our county goes into shelter in place. Our scholarships are due this Friday and we will have applications to process. We are looking at doing all scholarship reviews digitally and all student interviews virtually. Does anyone have any suggestions around getting the scholarship process to be more digital while still serving the needs of our community’s students? 

Aliza Krevolin, Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley (NY) - We are pushing our April 1st deadline to May 1st. We are also considering removing the recommendation requirement. We have been in contact with guidance counselors in the area. 

Jeremy Emmi, Rochester Area Foundation (MN) - We have actually received more scholarship applications than normal in the past week, as our state’s schools are all closed. We’ve decided to stay on our current timeline. 

Eric Hessel, Hendricks County Community Foundation - I would be afraid of having some LOR and some not, that students with them might be more heavily favored. I'd consider dropping the criteria if it's just recommended. 

Michelle Collins, Oakville Community Foundation - We are currently working with our scholarship partners about extending deadlines. We have the added challenge of a teacher strike in our province. We considered having the students get reference letters from other sources besides their school (job supervisors, coaches, volunteer organizations).

Natalie Wood, Greater Salina Community Foundation - To Jennifer's question, our scholarship deadline already passed. We extended our evaluation deadline since we have a lot of teachers on committees and schools are closed. We are encouraging selection committees to meet via Zoom or telephone or follow CDC guidelines. The scholarship decisions are now due late April instead of early April and our scholarship banquet may be canceled or postponed. 

Stacy Newman, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation - Our scholarship deadline was 3/1. We have already pushed out the evaluations to our selection committee. But we will be sending a followup to ask that the selection committee does not downgrade any student who doesn't have all letters of recommendation. We, fortunately, have all transcripts. We typically have around 100 applicants. 

Heather Hokunson, The American Savings Foundation - We kept our online scholarship deadlines the same (3/31) we figured most students are home and have access to their computers and then extended the due date for transcripts or letters of recommendations. 

Site Visits 

Are you still doing site visits? No longer require site visits or reporting as a way to reduce overhead on grants? 

Daniel Komansky, The Slomo and Cindy Silvian Foundation, Inc. - We are not doing site visits for the time being. We have found that many of our grantees are closed temporarily. We will dispense with the need for site visits before making grant decisions. 

Helping Grantees

Kimberly Costanzo, Howard Gilman Foundation -  Hi there, I would like to speak to some of the immediate shifts we have made at the foundation including sending checks to alternate locations, purchasing Zoom licenses for grantees, shortening our application process, switching already granted project support grants to general operating support and not penalizing organizations or requesting refunds for any canceled programs, and working on emergency funds. And more! COVID-19: Resources from the Field

Craig Colistra, Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation - Are there other tools/software/technology that foundations have found were useful for requested from grantees?

Anonymous - In Portland, OR, we are seeing a lot of surveys already out in the community.  There is potential to partner with others to lessen the burden of organizations completing multiple surveys.

Raquel Aronhime, United Way of Northwest Vermont - We are also preparing with local partners, local govt., etc. to start a COVID-19 Response Fund for local communities. This will significantly impact how and what we regularly fund; we are focused right now on immediate/upcoming needs and how we bring funders together to address those--especially in areas where federal (eventual) packages won't be helpful. We are in Year 2 of a 3-year cycle with current programs, so we don't know how fundraising for Year 3 for those regular ongoing programs will go when we will also be fundraising for this COVID-19 fund.


Laurie Abildso, Your Community Foundation of North Central West Virginia - We are looking at a way to systematically assess what our nonprofits' needs are surrounding this crisis and would like to send a brief survey. Have any other foundations developed a survey and would be willing to share?

Subsidizing Workers

Eva Robertson, Protective Life Corporation - Some critical community services are struggling because volunteers are typically older.  Has anyone considered providing subsidy to pay out of work hourly workers to help institutions like Meals on Wheels? 

Stephanie Whitledge, Community Foundation of Greater Flint - I just want to share that similar to when the Flint Water Crisis hit, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint in partnership with 6 other entities will be launching an emergency fund: "The Greater Flint Urgent Relief Fund has been established by a coalition of philanthropic, government and business partners to quickly coordinate and deploy resources to nonprofit organizations in the Greater Flint area that are working with communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak." 

Rebecca Cacayuran, Evanston Community Foundation - We're hosting twice weekly calls to convene non-profit leaders to discuss evolving needs and brainstorm solutions together. We report to the mayor’s task force. 

Raquel Aronhime, United Way of Northwest Vermont - In communities with United Ways, they are often a hub for commuting both volunteer needs and volunteer opportunities. That may already be a source of volunteer info for people. At our UW, we are also going to be adding a page to our website that's labeled specifically for COVID-19-related needs and information around volunteering. 

Cate Sitton, The Anderson Foundation - The last couple of days I have been calling all of my grant partners who work in the Meals on Wheel field. One of them I really thought was a fantastic response, their older volunteers still want to help so what they are doing is making phone calls to the meal recipients, they have their younger volunteers delivering the meals and the older volunteers are making phone calls so they have some socialization. And another one runs an Alzheimer's program and they have had to shut down all of their sites so they are providing a lot of support online but for the employees who are no longer working at the facilities are delivering meals and receiving half their salaries so I thought those were some innovative responses. 

Current Funding Cycles

Ethan Finkelstein, Comic Relief - We are looking at our active grants and seeing how we can unrestrict portions of those funds so I would be interested to know how organizations are balancing unrestricting all funds or a percentage of those restricted funds? 

Biggest Question we have is: we have an active grant cycle based off of the income we raise from red nose day, those grants are not deployed until the fall. We are unsure if we should pivot those grants to focus on the fallout or the recovery from this crisis or if we should continue funding the programs that they originally applied for because those programs are going to still be necessary in the fall so those are some of the things we are balancing right now. So interested if there are other public fundraising foundations out there trying to make these similar difficult decisions?

Kimberleigh Costanzo, Howard Gilman Foundation - In response to Ethan’s question, we are giving ALL organizations the opportunity to shift any portion (or the entirety) of their project grant to a general operating support grant. We are leaving that choice to the grantee to decide based on what is best for them!

Sara Bukowiec - We have one of our grantmaking bodies reaching out to grantees who have submitted, asking how their application may change due to the current circumstances.

Kaarin Varon, RBF - We are shifting to GOS for upcoming applications. 

Cadence Miller,  Laird Norton Family Foundation - We have been trying to figure out how to pivot and help our grantees. We are reassessing our grantmaking for the year. Proactively canceling in-person meetings and using the funds for those meetings into rapid release funds. 

Some ideas we are aiming to implement: Reassessing the grantmaking process for the year (could we make decisions with less information to get money out the door in the next month or two, rather than some processes that wouldn't normally be granted for several months); canceling our in-person committee meetings, moving to virtual meetings, and using the funds we would have spent on those meetings to invest in rapid-response funds in those communities; investing in some of our key vendor partners now by pre-paying for future expenses; moving to all general operating support grants; collaborating with the family's company in pooling funds; using this opportunity to ramp up education of our committee members; prioritizing organizations that are showing strong leadership in supporting their staff even when programming has been put on hold/canceled. 

Guenevere Crum, The Able Trust - We are trying to organize how we respond statewide and coordinate our grantees connecting with more community foundations in their region, even ones they may have never interacted with. Florida's regions have many Disaster Response funding teams which are traditionally hurricane weather related and now translating those pre-created forms and materials to include pandemic items. Funds are being made available in regions based on funding needs seen by these regional funding teams.

Raquel Aronhime, United Way of Northwest Vermont - This is a great idea -- coordinating with folks who usually do crisis response and using their practices as a model for how we address this current crisis, even though it's a different type. 

Suzie Loungeway, John Edward Fowler Memorial Foundation - We focus on programs for low-income and elderly individuals in the DC/Metro region and our program areas will be hard hit. We are making $1,000,000 available for immediate COVID related grants to our grantees and removing many of the time and eligibility restrictions. Happy to discuss. 

Renee Steffen, Sisters Health Foundation - We have set up weekly calls with 5 other local funders so that we can collectively have a coordinated response in our grantmaking. A coordinated response from philanthropy is important. We have proactively reached out to applicants who recently submitted their applications to check in and see how COVID-19 is (or will) impact their operations and originally planned grant request. 

Julia Moore, Arts Council of Indianapolis - We sent out surveys for artists and arts organizations to answer trying to get an idea of the financial impact the virus is having, so we can create a targeted relief fund with local funders contributing. We are also in adjudication mode with our annual operating grants and will do that process virtually instead of in person. 

Marianne Lyer, P&G Alumni Foundation - Leveraging our resources and trying to get those shared broadly to other organizations and also to our alum who are probably looking for guidance to help their organization. Millennials know how to engage people online so mobilize them. A couple of things we are doing include:  1) leveraging resources . . . Chronicle of Philanthropy has made free COVID-19 information and strategies. 2)  Zoom - I believe they lifted the limit on the personal account (used to be limited to 40 minutes).  3) We are considering promoting these materials among our constituencies. 4) Fundraising strategies are being reevaluated . . . including emphasizing participation and trying to reach those with Donor Advised Funds... Is there a way that donors who have already given to the DAF to allocate those dollars there might be a strategy to loosen up these dollars?  5) We are working on our messaging - being authentic, transparent, and appropriate given who we are talking to. 6) We fundraise so we are also working on the right "equipment / messaging" to make sure our fundraisers / committee / board are comfortable making requests / doing fundraising in a volatile economic market. 7) For those with younger volunteers - mobilize them, virtual events, online engagement.

Foundant Feature Release

Foundant has released our new COVID-19 Funding Field for clients. This new field will allow the tracking of client efforts in funding that can then be aggregated and reported. The COVID-19 funding field appears on the approval in GLM/SLM and must be turned on in system data in CommunitySuite. For clients with both GLM/SLM and CommunitySuite this field will integrate- it is important that clients have the field in both sites.

Reach out to or your Client Success Manager with questions.  

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