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Emergency Grantseeking: Three Ways to Engage the Help of Grantmakers in the COVID-19 Crisis

The nonprofit sector is struggling through the uncertainty and upheaval of the COVID-19 crisis. Social distancing and “shelter in place” decrees have forced the cancelation of fundraising events and programming. Many organizations are facing staff furloughs and even complete operational shut-downs.

These certainly do feel like dark times. But like a beacon in the night, foundations are stepping forward to help their nonprofit partners through.

Since the Seattle Foundation launched the first COVID-10 Response Fund, COVID-19: Resources from the Fieldhundreds of foundations have followed to convene partners, gather emergency resources, and move funds into their communities. Candid estimates that $2.9 billion in crisis funding has already been granted to nonprofits on the frontlines of addressing critical needs.

History shows us that foundations step up, not back, during a crisis. During the financial crash twelve years ago, the Dow Jones fell over 50%, but foundations’ funding levels barely dipped.

Foundations are stepping up now—but they are relying on nonprofits to let them know what’s needed. Following are three things nonprofits should do to accept the help foundations are ready to give:

  1. Take charge of your active grants: Funders recognize that some grantees will not be able to deliver on their grant-funded programs and outcomes. They are showing tremendous willingness to be flexible—many foundations are lifting restrictions, extending timelines, eliminating reporting requirements, and even converting restricted grants to general operating. Review your current grants. If you determine you can’t deliver on the terms or promises, proactively contact your funder to request a change.
  2. Communicate sooner than later. Contact each of your top foundation funders. Email is likely best, as foundation representatives are also juggling kids, dogs, and working from home, while fielding many requests. Be prepared to share how the crisis is impacting your organization’s operations, programs, and finances, in the immediate and near-term, and what you may need. But don’t wait until you have a “perfect plan” to reach out. Funders are trying to understand the needs in their communities as fast as they can. “We’re moving quickly,” says Maggie Martinelli, VP, Administration and Operations of Scranton Area Community Foundation. She warns, “If a nonprofit waits too long to contact us, it might be too late.”
  3. Seek crisis funding opportunities. Especially if your nonprofit is addressing emergency needs, including hunger, childcare, and health services, find out if there is a rapid response fund in your community. These funds are often coordinated by community foundations and United Ways and many represent a coalition of philanthropic, business, and government partners. The Grants Plus team has been tracking emergency grant opportunities on a daily basis. Visit our hub of COVID-19 grantseeking resources and listing of crisis grants to see what’s available in your community.

No one knows when things will be back to “normal” or what our new normal will be, but we do know we can count on foundations to help us get there. If you have questions or concerns about how this crisis impacts your organization or its grantseeking effort, do not hesitate to request a complimentary troubleshooting conversation with our team at Grants Plus.

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.


About the Author

Lauren is President and Founder of the professional grantseeking firm Grants Plus. Since 2007, the team at Grants Plus has partnered with nonprofit organizations across the country to secure more than $155 million in grant funding from public and private sources. Learn more at

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