Recommendations to Grantmakers (and Grantseekers) on COVID-19 Response

In the course of my career, I’ve been on both sides of the funding relationship. I first served as a full-time Program Officer for a statewide public foundation, and now I support a variety of nonprofit organizations in their grant-seeking efforts. As a result, I have the benefit of experiencing first hand what both sides of the equation see and do. My biggest takeaway from serving as both grantmaker and grantseeker is the confirmed reality that both types of organizations - the grantee and the grantor - have an incredible passion to improve their communities using the resources they have. Grantmakers are trying to use their resources of dollars and grantseekers are trying to use their resources of staff knowledge, experience, and passion. This is no different in a time like that which we are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.

As grantmakers and grantseekers navigate the upcoming challenges together, there are things that both sides of the funding equation can do to foster stronger funding partnerships as a way to create an even greater impact for the communities both are so passionate about.

Grantmakers

The two most meaningful things that you can do to streamline your grant process for grantseekers during your COVID-19 response funding processes:

  1. Accept proposals/responses submitted to other grantmakers about their COVID-19 response.
  2. Accept budget forms submitted to other grantmakers about their COVID-19 response.

Ideally, your organization should consider relaxing the type, style, or length materials required for your non-COVID-19 focused funding as well in the short-term.

In addition, in your both your COVID-19 focused funds AND your non-COVID-19 focused funding rounds, three things you can do to support your potential grantees in your process are:

  1. Relax requirements for current grantees. You have already done your due diligence for their work and organization previously, so provide them with a shortened process or fewer narrative/attachment requirements if they are currently in good standing with your organization.
  2. Make decisions on a rolling basis (if possible). Check out the example below as a reason why making decisions in as short of an iteration as possible is so important to the nonprofits you support.
  3. Cut grant checks as quickly as possible and ideally as one payment instead of multiple. Cash is tight at virtually all nonprofits. Whether they were approved for the Payroll Protection Plan or are in the process of opening their FEMA portal for reimbursement requests, your support in the form of the grant check is a key part of their short term sustainability.

Grantseekers

While resources are tight, and the need for funding is huge, you can play a role in helping to make grant-seeking interactions as strong as possible for organizations on both sides of the process. The most meaningful things you can do to support a streamlined grant process are to:

  1. Follow your traditional best practices. Don’t forget to do your research due diligence of funders to ensure you are applying to grantmakers that have aligned missions with your work. Reach out and connect with grantmakers when possible to confirm your competitiveness and to ask questions before you spend your time writing the application and have them spend their time reviewing the application. And of course, be as succinct and specific in your proposal as possible. The grantmakers are overwhelmed with the number of applications they are receiving, so make it as easy as possible for them to understand your proposed work.
  2. Speak up. If you have questions or concerns about what a grantmaker is requiring - either the documents being required or the timeline in which things are being requested, you should (actually, you NEED to) say so. Some grantmakers are putting out incredibly tight timelines for applications for emergency funding as they want to help get money into the communities you serve quickly. And they are right, it is critically needed funding, but just as we are all asking for more grace and kindness to those in our daily and personal interactions, if your organization has additional pressures or deadlines preventing you from meeting these short timelines without heroic efforts by you and your team, you should say so and ask for an extra few days.

What better way to drive these points home than a real example. Recently, as I was preparing to present an online webinar to nonprofits in the Adirondack Region of New York State, I had the pleasure to speak with a staff member of the Adirondack Foundation. During the course of our conversation, I was thrilled to learn about how the Foundation had responded and adapted its grantmaking structure in the short-term to support its community. The Foundation established the SUN Fund and pulled together a group of stakeholders that would make the grantmaking decisions. That group meets *daily* to review the proposals coming in from community nonprofits and approving applications at the same cadence. They are then cutting grant checks *two times* a week. This is a pace of grantmaking that is unheard of in most grantmaking organizations regardless of staff or asset size. We would question if this is a sustainable pace long-term, just as we question if the pace at which grant professionals are writing proposals during COVID-19 is at a sustainable pace. The benefit of this unique response and processing speed was made evident when a local senior apartment complex had a case of COVID-19 occur in one of its residents. The local housing authority had some of its immediate financial needs to handle the crisis situation handled practically within hours as a result of the daily process.

These stories are not isolated incidents; there are numerous happening in communities across our country. There are well-intentioned grantseekers and grantmakers that can still do more to work together in the most meaningful way possible during our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m excited to continue watching the live COVID-19 Funding Data that is being tracked by Foundant Technologies to see how the generous funding of grantmakers is supporting the passionate nonprofits throughout the country providing support to their communities.

About the Author

Diane H Leonard

Diane H. Leonard, GPC is an experienced and respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. Clients she serves include health care providers, advocacy organizations, social services agencies, elementary and secondary schools, and municipal corporations.

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