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COVID-19 Concerns in Grantmaking (Session 4)

What are funders changing and learning from the COVID-19 conditions? 

-In this episode of the Grantmaker Coffee Talks, the topics of discussion are:

  • What lessons can be learned from 2008 or other economic downturns?
  • How do you balance immediate community needs and long term organizational stability of grantees?
  • How do you support grantees when they can’t pay the bills and you can’t do enough

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Lessons from 2008 Recession

Jan Mihalo - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
We learned that it's important not to have such a large inventory during an economic downturn. It's best to get your payments out early. During this downturn we have turned to releasing all payments up front to help the grantee as well as our own.

Do you think you would have made the same decision to focus on strategic granting without the downturn?

Jan Mihalo - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
After the 2008 recession, we switched to a 12 quarter rolling average for our payout. It greatly smooths out the ups and downs from the market. 
James Patterson - Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
After the last economic downturn, we switched from doing payouts based on our end of year snapshot to a 12 quarter rolling average. This has greatly reduced our fluctuations in our payouts.
Emily Crabtree - Luverne Area Community Foundation
We have changed our payouts to be based on a 16 quarter rolling average.
Allison Hoy - City of Rockville
Something we did since 2008 was set up an emergency assistance program for rental and utility shut offs. What we’ve really taken away from 2008 is that you never know when a crisis will occur.

Balancing Immediate and Long-Term Needs

Cierra Stancil - American Savings Foundation
We have a framework in place that can help guide our budget and priorities. This also helps ease decision making.
James Patterson - Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
We’ve been working to provide immediate needs, just really helping people regain their footing. Now, we would like to try and balance the immediate and long-term needs, which has been challenging. It’s not something that is happening quite yet, but definitely in the works.
Marlene Young - Delaplaine Foundation
We’ve gone through two stages of granting so far. As we enter into the next phase, we will be moving away from emergency needs and trying to move back to our core areas of focus and impact that are unique to our organization.
Serena Selkin - Autism Speaks 
We’ve shifted the focus of our grants to providing funds for those in our immediate community affected by autism. 
Allison Hoy - City of Rockville
We heard from our grantees that they were concerned about lost revenue and canceled fundraisers, so we released the rest of our funds for this year to them. We have also given them reporting flexibility. We’ve still been focused on the immediate needs.

Supporting Grantees

Alexis Whitham - Latino Community Foundation of Colorado
We have really strong connections with our grantees, so the first thing we did was reach out to them. We gathered data concerning what their needs were and how we could help. From here, we created a three pronged strategy to help our grantees: financial support, capacity building webinars, and resources for executive directors. We’ve been trying to guide discussion topics that can help them get their needs and plans in order.
Lawrence Johnson - Del E. Webb Foundation
How do you deal with social grants paid out, then the program is indefinitely suspended? 
James Patterson - Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois has funds set aside for individuals through a Natural Disaster Assistance Fund.
Serena Selkin - Autism Speaks
This was part of the reasoning to postpone organizational grants; What if the organization goes out of business?
Jan Mihalow - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Can't you allow your grantees to repurpose the funds and use the remainder for operations support?
Ann Homstad - The Charles E. Kubly Foundation
That's what I was thinking too--now's the time if you have the flexibility!  Different times call for different measures. We'd pivot in a business situation. We have to trust our grantees to do what is critical to survive.
Jan Mihalow - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
We ran the idea of repurposing our funds by our Board of Directors and they were very supportive.
Steve Wick - Arrowhead Regional Arts Council
Most of the funds we have to distribute are from the state and have restrictions that cannot be altered. But for those that could be changed, we have removed the restrictions, including allowing project funds to be redirected to operating and allowing grantees to alter their proposals in the case of cancelled events.
Ann Homstad - The Charles E. Kubly Foundation 
We’ve been trying to make it a point to not completely fund new projects all the time. Instead, we should really be supporting the critical core parts of what our grantees are doing.
Janine Baschoff - The Presser Foundation
Our Board has met virtually to agree to allow the organization to hold the money until they are able to make a decision to see if the project may just be postponed.  Also to have them report back to us periodically as well on status.
Marlene Young - Delaplaine Foundation
Our Board has recognized that during an unprecedented pandemic, there needs to be a morph and change over the course of weeks. In cases where the nonprofit was awarded emergency relief funding, we gave consent to repurpose the use if it applied to meeting needs relating to COVID-19 impact. Also, the nonprofit will be required to submit a report afterward on use of grant funding.
Melissa Rosscup - Community Foundation of South Puget Sound
We got approval from our Board to shift the majority of our grants to unrestricted so that the organizations could still use the funds. The funds still had to be used to further the grantee's mission and met our non-discrimination policy. It certainly makes sense to hesitate in funding newer grantees and we had that conversation as well, deciding that ensuring organizations can utilize the funding during this pandemic was a higher priority.
James Patterson - Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
We are taking some requests for repurposing funds next month. I honestly don't know how the board will react.
Angie Briones - Castellano Family Foundation
Regarding repurposing funds, one way to frame this is to think about it in terms of supporting the grantee's overall mission, not just their specific project. You could ask the grantee to submit a plan as to how they would use the funds in light of the crisis and how this will impact the project that was funded.  It is important for funders to understand that there is a lot that their grantees can't control right now so we should stick with them by supporting their missions to keep them going for now.
Cierra Stancil - American Savings Foundation
Supporting the organizations that support the work you fund might be a great way to phrase this.
Renee Couser - The Community Foundation of Fayette County
We partnered with a local manufacturer that is producing three-ply face masks.  We purchased them at cost and are now donating them to first responders, those on the front line.
Sally Skees-Helly - Skees Family Foundation
We convened for a small video meeting with some grantee partners. It was meant to be a place for comfort and to discuss problems they’ve been having. It turned into a sort of organic collaboration.
James Patterson - Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
We held a nonprofit dialogue similar to what the current speaker is relating. They all appreciated it and felt supported.
Amy Hyfield - O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation Inc. 
We were able to partner with our local community foundation and utilize our GLM software to allow them to better manage their applications from individuals and nonprofit organizations. Our CSM was a great help in this. They can now use GLM for application management and simple evaluations.
Javier Sanchez - Healthcare Georgia Foundation
We actually gave some of our grantees money to purchase ZOOM or other teleconference technology. We are also looking into hiring an agency that will provide technical assistance with their applications from Federal, State and local organizations.
Angie Briones - Castellano Family Foundation
Our small family foundation, Castellano Family Foundation, signed this pledge. 
TIP: I highly recommend that participants go  here, which encourages funders to shift to general support!

About the Author

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