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Navigating Uncertain Times: How Funders Can Support their Grantees

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I hope this finds you and your family and community safe and well in this time of fear and hardship. I know we all are inundated at the moment with news and emails about COVID-19, and within philanthropy, funders are wondering how to best respond. Some of those conversations are happening right now, in real time, as our nation and world’s situation is fast in flux.

I’ve been working closely with my foundation and family office clients to create an interim plan for how they can reach out and support their grantees at this moment of crisis. For example, for one family foundation in a rural area, the board has approved making one-time emergency grants of $5,000 upon request to assist grantees with their operational needs related to the outbreak. We do this knowing that some organizations will need more—and the foundation stands ready to provide more. Any emergency funding the foundation provides will be in addition to—not in lieu of—our current or planned grants to our partners.

We see these emergency grants as a way to get the conversation going with grantees to learn what they need, and what they are anticipating. As the foundation’s director, I will make personal calls to each of the grantees, and we will take a customized approach in responding to what they need—for their operations, for their employees, for their direct service clients.

If you are a funder wondering how you can best support your grantees and community at this time, start by asking grantees:

  • What’s your greatest need at this time?
  • How do you anticipate the impacts of COVID-19 on your employees, your program delivery, your direct service clients, your fundraising?
  • In the coming months, what types of support might you need beyond funding?

As a funder, it makes good sense to coordinate efforts with others in your community, as well as the philanthropy field. Look to your local community foundation or regional association of grantmakers to learn how to join a collaborative fund or leverage your donation. In addition, these are the best resources I’ve found so far on philanthropy’s response to COVID-19:

8 Principles of Good Disaster Grantmaking

What’s the most effective way to give after a disaster? The Center of Disaster Philanthropy, a resource that helps donors make thoughtful disaster-related giving decisions, lists these eight principles of good disaster giving:

  1. Do no harm. The wrong type of assistance can overwhelm transportation, storage, and delivery capabilities, preventing critical aid from arriving. Hint: CONTACT the organization, ask what they need, and DELIVER what they’ve asked for—not what you think they need.
  2. Stop, look, and listen before taking action. Information is key to making effective decisions, and each disaster will have unique characteristics. Hint: ASK questions.
  3. Don’t act in isolation. Duplicating efforts isn’t helpful—especially in times of disaster. Hint: Coordinate with other funders or organizations to find out what the priority needs are.
  4. Think beyond the immediate crisis to the long term. Support is also needed for disaster prevention, preparedness and post-disaster redevelopment.
  5. Bear in mind the expertise of local organizations. They can provide big insight into needs.
  6. Find out how prospective grantees operate. Organizations may take different approaches to solving problems. Hint: Look at their track record and history of impact.
  7. Be accountable to those you are trying to help. If making a grant, go beyond looking at how your money was spent to what the social impact was.
  8. Communicate your work widely and use it as an educational tool. Tell other funders that you give to disaster recovery efforts. Hint: Share lessons learned, including what you would do differently next time.

What are you doing to support your grantees? Let’s keep the conversation going and continue to share ideas as the COVID-19 response unfolds. If you have any questions or need a sounding board, Hammer & Associates is here for you. Until then, stay safe and well.

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

Suzanne Hammer of Hammer & Associates gives families and their family offices the tools they need to engage in and connect with their philanthropy—helping philanthropic individuals and families pair their passion with proven strategies.

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