Transparency Talk

Category: "Coronavirus" (5 posts)

Does your philanthropy have the clarity to be the change we need?
July 15, 2020

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy expert, advisor, and award-winning author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving.

During COVID-19, we’ve seen how systemic racism and injustice magnifies personal hardship and undermines recovery. We’re also witnessing what happens when too many nonprofit organizations balance on a financial knife’s edge. So, just when we need robust social safety nets, civil society is at its weakest. Hard on the heels of that massive need, we’re experiencing an even more deafening call to action to condemn business as usual and dismantle racism in this country.

It’s a lot. And it amplifies a question that philanthropists have been grappling with for decades. How do you sensitively and effectively use your power, privilege, and means most effectively—especially in the face of so much need? The answer to that question is complex and multi-faceted. But one thing is for sure: as a funder, you won’t achieve the dramatic changes you seek if you continue clinging to beliefs and practices that are misguided and “delusional.” That’s why I wrote a book about it. It’s called Delusional Altruism.

PutnamWalkerlyKris-DelusionalAltruismbook-July2020Now, by “delusional” I don’t mean we’re stupid or crazy! I mean we’re hindering our impact unnecessarily, because of a handful of deceptive and illogical thoughts we choose to hold onto. These illogical thoughts make us get in our own way and often we even don’t realize it. For some, it’s a scarcity mindset. For others it's fear. Many of us have too many steps that slow us down. Or we ask the wrong questions, which send us down the wrong paths.

“We’re hindering our impact unnecessarily, because of a handful of deceptive and illogical thoughts we choose to hold onto.”

The path to truly transformational change can be found by clarifying your purpose and transforming the way you work. If you aren’t doing this already, here are three ways to get started:

  1. Think like a mechanic. This means you need to regularly lift up the hood of your philanthropy to notice what’s slowing you down. Look for the friction and leaks. Ask yourself, “What’s wasteful, duplicative, or redundant? What are self-created barriers that keep us and our partners from moving forward?” What’s costing time and money and slowing everyone down?

Maybe you’re attempting to increase fairness and transparency in your work, but you have too many steps, like requiring potential grantees to fill out lengthy application forms, submit three years of audited financial statements, obtain letters of recommendation from community leaders, explain how the project will be evaluated, and host a half-day site visit to showcase the organization.  By eliminating self-imposed rules and unnecessary gates and gatekeepers that strain already taxed systems and relationships, everything will run more smoothly.

  1. Ask the right questions. Ever feel like any potential pathway could be the right one? You’ve got all these talented people on your team proposing new frameworks and solutions. As you move forward with yet another new initiative, you feel like a squirrel, chasing the next shiny new object. The anecdote to this tail-chasing behavior is to clarify your destination. Sometimes the same question can be the right one in certain circumstances and the wrong one in others. For example, “How should we improve remote education in our school district?” is a really important question. But first, you need to know, “What’s our goal for remote education?” or “Why is remote learning failing some students and not others?”

You can also step back and do this organizationally by asking questions like, “What is the change we want to see in our community in the next 12 months?” Or, “Who do we want to be in a year?” To answer these shorter-term strategic questions effectively, you need to have a clear sightline to your particular philanthropy’s North Star. This means having the answer to questions like, “Why do we exist?” “What do we value?” and “What long-term vision or future state are we trying to achieve?”

  1. Build trusting relationships. With little accountability in philanthropy aside from what you create yourself, think about how you can be more accountable to your grantees, those working on the frontlines for change. Start by really listening. Call your grantees and ask them two questions: How are you doing? What can I do to help? Be aware of power dynamics and what grantees may not be saying. You want them to come to you with challenges so you can help in meaningful ways. But they want to maintain your support. There is a lot of power merely being the person with access to wealth. The giver gives, and the recipient receives. Be patient and take the time required to break down barriers and truly get to the heart of things.

“By changing how you work, you can elevate voices, improve experiences, and improve outcomes for all stakeholders, including you.”

To take it a step further, look at your own systems, policies, procedures, and practices that diminish trust and increase power dynamics. By changing how you work, you can elevate voices, improve experiences, and improve outcomes for all stakeholders, including you. This might include ceding power and decision-making to the people most impacted by the issues you fund. Nobody expects you to have all the answers. By operating with a “we’re all in this together” mentality, you get a whole ecosystem of people working collaboratively toward solutions. In addition to alleviating tension and pressure, it’s an approach that yields amazing results.

COVID-19 and the outpouring of response to police violence, ongoing racism, and divisive leadership have all combined to daylight just how tied together we all are, and just how urgently change is needed. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, it’s an opportunity for philanthropists to up your game. By intentionally thinking like a mechanic, asking the right questions, and building trusting relationships, you’ll be doing the important internal work required for collective transformation.

Action & Accountability: Why Demographic Data Matters Now
May 28, 2020

Every day we wake up anxiously to frightening new data. The number of cases. The number of deaths. Which country has surpassed another? Who’s flattening the “curve.”  And... that the pandemic’s impact is shockingly disproportionate across race, age, gender, and geography. Due to the living legacies of oppression baked deeply into our social, economic, and political systems, we are seeing that the folks most negatively affected by the crisis are more likely to be Black, Brown, and Native.  In the US especially, we are also seeing a backlash of xenophobia towards Asian and Pacific Islander communities due to efforts to racialize the virus. Add in other intersecting identities like gender identity, age, sexual orientation, immigrant status, justice-system impacted, disability status, and socio-economic class and it becomes clear that those most affected will likely face greater challenges to accessing aid or meeting eligibility requirements for existing support and recovery packages.

Although the scale here is unprecedented, the narrative is a familiar one to us. Prior to the pandemic, CHANGE Philanthropy, PEAK Grantmaking, D5 Compass, and Candid were partnering to raise awareness about the importance of collecting and sharing demographic data. As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect our most vulnerable communities and philanthropy mounts a large scale response to growing needs, we encourage foundations and nonprofits to consider these recommendations in an effort to accurately account for the reach and impact of philanthropic dollars and use this data to address funding gaps to communities most impacted by the crisis.

Our challenge for you: 

  • Review your response strategy with an equity lens. 
  • Move the money simply and equitably.
  • Track your grants' intended impact and community reach.
  • Be transparent by sharing your giving and program data.

Reviewing Your Response Strategy with an Equity Lens 

Billions of dollars are being mobilized to support what will become a lengthy and multi-stage response to both the pandemic and a devastating economic downturn. How they will be invested, and to which organizations and communities, will shape the legacy of philanthropy’s response during this historic crisis. A survey in 2018 by PEAK Grantmaking and Frontline Solutions found that 56% of funders had a formal equity statement. Yet, when PEAK conducted a flash survey of its members it found that so far only around 10% of funders are reporting that they are collecting any demographic data for the leaders or nonprofits or the beneficiaries they serve as part of this rapid response.

This represents an opportunity for foundations to not only to walk the talk around embedding equity into practice, but also to show it. As funders continue to distribute aid addressing COVID-19, it will be imperative for them to document the intended beneficiary community, demographics about the leadership of grantee organizations, and how the organizations are addressing community needs. This kind of focus on demographic data is essential if philanthropy truly wants to assess and improve its track record on equity and inclusion.

Move the Money Simply and Equitably

As the calls for more responsive and streamlined philanthropy grow around the current crisis, grants management professionals—the people inside grantmaking organizations who are managing technology systems, application, and reporting processes, grant agreements, and payments—are leading organizational efforts to adapt grantmaking processes, procedures, technology, and communications. At PEAK Grantmaking, many members have reported that they are already adding fields to their grants management systems to collect data around how money is being spent during this crisis. 

As decision makers are called on to make quick determinations in new settings (many have hosted or attended their very first virtual grant review committee meetings in just the last two months!), it becomes even more important for them to have data to inform their deliberations, ensure that philanthropy’s response is equitable, and take into account communities that have been marginalized or left out of traditional grantmaking practices. It is in these moments of crisis response and recovery that we must make some changes in practice, otherwise, we will default to the philanthropic practices that have only exacerbated inequity.

Track Your Grants’ Intended Impact and Community Reach

Instead of building systems that satisfy the information needs of the few while overshadowing the needs of the system as a whole, we recommend improving transparency and data collection efforts by sharing data that can be accessed by everyone to help inform both crisis response and recovery efforts.

Nonprofits can easily share key details about who they are, whom they serve, and any specific COVID-19 response through the GuideStar Profile Update Program.  Consider asking all applicants to complete the Demographics section. There, organizations can share leadership, board, and staff demographic information as well as equity strategies. The demographic survey was updated last year in partnership with CHANGE philanthropy and Equity at the Center to revise the language and approach to collecting and sharing demographic information. This data can help to inform grantmaking and be integrated later in reporting grant details.  

It sounds counter-intuitive but tracking data about grantees need not be at odds with streamlined, rapid response processes. Common standards, taxonomies, and practices are the bedrock for comparability, analysis, and insight.  The fierce independence of our sector often works against our goals to effect large-scale change with disparate actors who frequently are reticent to share information using common standards. By adopting existing taxonomies and standards foundations can bypass the time it takes to create custom systems, and ensure comparability with peers.

Be Transparent by Sharing Your Giving and Program Data

Now is the time for foundations to go beyond the details they disclose on annual IRS reporting forms (990-PF) and share current, complete, and accurate giving data, especially on COVID-19 response work and specific populations that are intended to benefit from that work.

Candid is actively tracking philanthropy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The public-facing website includes funding opportunities, an interactive map listing awarded grants and grant descriptions, a directory of rapid response funds, and related news items all updated daily at candid.org/coronavirus. Though this effort is currently tracking more than $10 billion in grants, it is incomplete without your data.

Here are some tips to maximize the impact of this reporting: 

  1. If your organization has already funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking with Candid. Knowing where the money is going and how, and having the latest information from organizations, facilitates thoughtful collaboration and decision making in times of crisis. 
  2. If your organization has established a coronavirus response fund, please let Candid know so we can include it on the list of funds we’re curating. 
  3. If you have never shared grants data before, we recommend using the simplified eReporting template.
  4. Provide detailed grant descriptions. This is the best way to ensure your data will be accurately coded to capture the subject, population, geographic area served, and support strategy you intended and, ultimately, mapped correctly. 
  5. For additional information or assistance with eReporting, email: egrants@candid.org.

 

In closing…

We already know that the impact of this pandemic is tragically inequitable. Let’s take this moment to embed intentionality around demographic data collection and reporting and bake it into our recovery funding practices. These tools and strategies will allow us to be more transparent and accountable about the reach of our pandemic response grantmaking.  If practiced, they will strengthen the field, our ability to analyze the impact, and help future philanthropists understand how to invest in community-based solutions. By combining equitable action response with timely and accurate data collection, philanthropy can avoid past patterns of excluding historically under-served communities from much needed support.

About the Authors

Melissa Sines leads PEAK Grantmaking’s work to identify effective, efficient, and equitable philanthropic practices and advocate for their adoption by grantmakers. She currently serves as Programs and Knowledge Director at PEAK Grantmaking

C. Davis Parchment has long worked to support a social sector driven by better data, research, and analysis. Currently serves as Director of Partnerships-West where she is responsible for elevating and expanding the reach of Candid across the western region by building partnerships and strategies that help to strengthen the social sector.

Kelly Brown is principal consultant at Viewpoint Consulting, which provides program design, research, and analysis to organizations and individuals investing resources to strengthen underserved communities. Previously she led the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance philanthropy through diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Carly Hare (Pawnee/Yankton) strives to live a commitment to advancing equity and community engagement through her professional and personal life. Carly serves as the Coalition Catalyst/National Director of CHANGE Philanthropy.

COVID-19 Response: Which Changes in Grantmaking Practice Should Be Here to Stay?
May 19, 2020

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Janet Camarena
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Melissa Sines

Melissa Sines is Programs and Knowledge Director at PEAK Grantmaking, and Janet Camarena is Director of Candid Learning.

Recently PEAK Grantmaking and Candid teamed up on a Community Conversation as part of an ongoing PEAK series designed to provide a forum for peer learning and knowledge exchange on COVID-19 response practices. Melissa Sines, Programs and Knowledge Director for PEAK Grantmaking and Janet Camarena, Director of Candid Learning, hosted the session at the end of April, to invite grants management professionals to reflect on what they are learning from changes made to streamline grants processes that may inform how they hope to improve overall practices post-pandemic. Here we share highlights of the take aways from the session. A complete re-cap of the full program appears on the PEAK blog here.

In the weeks since the crisis began, we all have been learning what it’s like to bring our humanity to our work. Barriers to communication and collaboration that seemed insurmountable just a month ago have been erased. More funders are embracing practices that are allowing them to narrow the power gap and build strong and trusting relationships with their grantees.

More Transparency and Communication

Program participants report that they are adopting streamlined and flexible workflows, which are freeing them up to be more available to connect with grantees. During phone calls to check in on needs and progress, stronger relationships are being forged, leading to greater empathy and understanding about which adjustments might be most helpful. For example, many funders have started to repurpose existing project grants to unrestricted support, as well as to allocate a larger portion of their overall budgets to general support. An earlier GlassPockets blog delves into this further.

Streamlined and Flexible Workflows

As the world continues to adjust to the ongoing strains of sheltering in place and the stress of the extended public health and economic crisis, philanthropy is beginning to understand how its own practices can help or hurt the situation. And the burden you lift may be your own, as several participants reminded us that streamlined application and reporting processes and workflow shortcuts are reducing burden not only for nonprofit partners but also for grantmaking staff.

“Barriers to communication and collaboration that seemed insurmountable just a month ago have been erased.”

In Applications: There is increased attention to the labor standard foundation applications require, greater scrutiny on which information is really needed in order for funders to make decisions, and questioning whether the work of collecting that information should fall to the grantee or to the funder. Some funders have started taking on more of the due diligence burden, using a variety of sources readily available to them, such as organization information already available in their own databases; grantee websites; and websites like Candid’s GuideStar profiles to find the information they need. They’re also taking applications via phone—asking questions of the grantee verbally and recording answers in their grants management system. Some are also taking applications created for another funder or banding together in funder collaboratives to agree on one application and one report format and submission for emergency response grants. As one funder put it, they are “short on what we ask from the nonprofit—long on us documenting what we know about the nonprofit.”

In Decision-making: Grantmakers are convening decision-making bodies (staff, boards, grant review committees) in creative ways. Online meeting software is being utilized to convene decision makers, work through decisions, and rapidly deploy funds. Detailed grant summaries and packages are being reduced to quick emails and spreadsheet overviews that actively prompt in-depth questions and discussions that engage decision makers in meaningful work and promote good decisions. These quick meetings in virtual environments could be a great way to democratize the grantmaking process by utilizing a more participatory grantmaking structure.

In Agreements and Payments: As one of our participants declared: “We moved to electronic checks and electronic award letters and we are NEVER going back!” For many grantmakers, this crisis has led them to embrace electronic processing in place of printing and mailing agreements and checks. One funder reported that they had been advocating for wire payments for a year and a half, and now as a result of the crisis they had it up and running within a few weeks. Award letters, grant agreements, and grant modifications are all being accepted in simplified formats such as a short email, electronic signature software, or a phone call. Another funder reported that using electronic signature software had resulted in over half of signed grant agreements being returned within thirty minutes.

“Philanthropy is beginning to understand how its own practices can help or hurt the situation.”

In Reporting: On the reporting side, funders are accepting quick updates via email or phone, extending reporting deadlines for interim and final reports, even suspending reporting altogether. Some are adjusting evaluation plans and reducing report requirements. Education funders are realizing they will need to entirely rethink evaluation for their grantees given the disruption in that part of the sector.

Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Call participants admitted to feeling a lot of stress around quickly implementing and iterating these rapidly changing practices and processes, but also say that overall, they’re actually amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish in just a few weeks. Specific takeaways from participants making such changes include:

  • Streamline applications and reporting processes and use conversation to build stronger relationships with your grantees.
  • Closely examine all pieces of information that you ask of applicants to make sure you are using this information.
  • Take on more of the burden for doing the homework and due diligence about your grantees.
  • Consider eliminating the use of customized narrative and budget templates and encouraging applicants to submit applications used for other funders.
  • Move to mobile-friendly, accessible, online applications if you haven’t previously, and make accommodations for people with disabilities.
  • Take the leap and go electronic for grant agreements, payments, and reports.
  • Change mindset on general operating support by increasing its frequency of use.
  • Consider the role of participatory grantmaking in how philanthropy might shift the power now to traditionally under-served and under-represented groups.
  • Reconsider evaluation and data requirements and remove requirements for advertising or brand opportunities that require a certain threshold of participation.
  • Consider which metrics and decision-making frameworks should be used to guide decision making now, and whether you can use an equity or values-based framework to make better decisions.
  • Remember, operationalizing and standardizing all of the changes is a lot of work, so write down how you’re making decisions and why you’re making specific decisions. It’s not easy, but it will help you document changes for your board and for the auditors.
  • Change can be intimidating and you may likely encounter resistance. So make the case that this is a pilot or part of iterative change, and it can always be changed back or changed again in the future if it’s not working. Framing in this way can help get the experiment going.

Which changes are you implementing? Which of them would you like to see carried forward to make your future grantmaking more efficient and effective?

A Call for COVID-19 Grants Data
April 15, 2020

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Kati Neiheisel

Kati Neiheisel is the eReporting liaison at Candid. eReporting allows funders to quickly and easily tell their stories and improve philanthropy by sharing grants data.

Our mission to get people the information they need to do good is taking on greater urgency during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Given how many nonprofits are struggling with increased demand at a time of financial freefall, we are doubling our efforts to make sure the information and services we provide are fast, accessible, reliable, and useful as we monitor philanthropy’s response to the pandemic—but we need your help.

“Transparency and information sharing are more critical now than ever.”

Transparency and information sharing are more critical now than ever to ensure we are not responding to today’s issues with data from years ago. If your organization has funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking so we can include your COVID-19 grants on our free, public map, part of our coronavirus webpage. The map documents where the money is going and visualizes funder, recipient, and grants data through a variety of filters with list and map views. To facilitate thoughtful collaboration and decision-making, we need your help to make this the most useful resource possible.

Depending on the data fields you collect, you can either use the "Simplified Template" or the "Complete Template," both of which are available here. Please be sure to include either the term "coronavirus" or "COVID-19" in your grant description.

If you use grants management software, you can find instructions for downloading grants data into an Excel spreadsheet on our software partners page. Grants data can then be uploaded through Updater or simply emailed to egrants@candid.org.

To learn more about how this data can serve to inform dialogue and advance the sector as a whole, review this previous Candid blog on the importance of sharing grants data. And remember, timely and accurate grants data help those who want to change the world connect to the resources they need to do it.

Coronavirus Heightens Importance of Being a Transparent and Flexible Foundation
March 24, 2020

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Janet Camarena

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives for Candid, and serves as a member of the board of directors for PEAK Grantmaking.

In a week's time, life has changed in unimaginable ways as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Predictable routines of work and school have been upended as we "shelter in place" and shift work to home offices shared in many cases with spouses and newly homeschooled children. Meanwhile local services and businesses have limited hours or are completely shuttered.

Nonprofits on the front lines of serving vulnerable communities and addressing new needs stemming from the magnitude of this public health and economic crisis will be tested in unexpected ways. All while adjusting budgets to a reality in which fundraising galas, revenue-generating programs, and conferences have come to a grinding halt. In such a perfect storm of calamity, philanthropic institutions must also depart from business as usual to continue to be effective community partners.

As a result, there is a growing recognition that foundations must be accessible and flexible to mount an effective response. For example, some funders are participating in a new effort to act with urgency and agility in support of nonprofit partners and communities as part of a new Council on Foundations Pledge. And even prior to the crisis, PEAK Grantmaking had issued new "Principles for Peak Grantmaking" calling on philanthropy to align practices with values, and make grantmaking practices efficient and equitable. Efforts like these are trying to identify ways to ease the burden on grantees, which is more important than ever, at this critical time.

"Foundations have a lot of power at their disposal to ease restrictions, timelines, and reporting burdens on their grantees."

To better understand how foundations are departing from business as usual, and to surface some good options, here at Candid we conducted a scan of Coronavirus-related announcements on the websites of the 102 GlassPockets foundations—grantmakers that have committed to operating their philanthropy in open and transparent ways. Our scan revealed some promising practices in how some foundations are publicly declaring changes to their grantmaking policies to meet this moment.

How are foundations communicating a departure from business as usual during this crisis? What are some of the more proactive approaches to being flexible that foundations are offering, and how are funders trying to mitigate the stresses on grantees and communities?

So far, 46 of these 102 participating foundations have already issued some kind of publicly shared statement related to the foundation's response to the coronavirus, demonstrating that a crisis likes this heightens the importance of transparency and accessibility. You can access the full list at the end of this post. To add your response announcement to this list, send it here.

The following approaches illustrate the different ways in which some foundation leaders have announced that they are adapting to this new reality:

  • Grant flexibility on adjusting grant goals, payments, and reporting deadlines
  • Willingness to repurpose funds intended for conferences and convenings
  • Assurances around foundation finances and ability to meet existing grant commitments and sustain budgeted grantmaking levels
  • Establishment of new response funds to address the crisis
  • Keeping equity and vulnerable populations in mind
  • Pointing to relevant information and knowledge the foundation has collected
  • Open invitations for ideas and suggestions about how the foundation can be most helpful

These are very challenging and unexpected times with no playbook or instruction manual for any of us to follow. So, here are examples of how some foundations are implementing these strategies that may serve as a model for others.

Grant Flexibility

Foundations have a lot of power at their disposal to ease restrictions, timelines, and reporting burdens on their grantees. Here are a few specific ideas that could be scaled across the field for greater impact:

  • Re-think grant agreements, payment schedules, and reports: In a reassuring message from its CEO, Jim Canales, the Barr Foundation provides grantees the opportunity to revisit grant objectives, timelines, and terms, which is fairly consistent with what other foundations that have announced flexible options have described. The Barr Foundation also has similar flexibility about the possibility of accelerating payments or adjusting reporting deadlines and deliverables. Most notably, Canales' message shares that the foundation is also "open to alternative formats for such reports, such as taking them verbally, by phone or video conference." Because grant reports are often time-consuming and lengthy, having the opportunity to satisfy reporting requirements via a conversation is a helpful solution that could have great impact if it were a scaled practice across the field.
  • McKnight FDNImplement automatic grant reporting extensions: In addition to general flexibility on grant terms, the McKnight Foundation announced that due to the impact of the coronavirus, all existing grantees will automatically receive a three-month extension on all grant reports. No phone calls or emails needed! Automatic report extensions are a great way to honor the time of both grantee partners and foundation staff by saving all concerned the time to reach out, discuss, and grant an extension. After all, if the IRS can do it, so can foundations! 
  • Ford-foundationConvert project grants to general operating support: The Ford Foundation's executive vice president of programs, Hilary Pennington, announced a number of flexible approaches the foundation is taking. In addition to adjusting grant objectives, deliverables, and timelines, Pennington also offers: "For grantee partners receiving project support, we are open to converting your current project grants to general support, so that you have maximum flexibility to respond to COVID-19." This kind of flexibility is a real way to acknowledge that we are all facing a very different reality than the one in place at the time the project was designed.

Conferences, Gatherings, & Convenings

Allow repurposing of conference dollars: Several foundations that have announced a willingness to loosen grant restrictions are specifically pointing to flexibility around funds intended for conferences and convenings. The Barr Foundation and Ford Foundation's messages both include allowances for such circumstances. Additionally, The Walter and Elise Haas Fund is among those announcing that: "To those of our nonprofit partners who planned events and conferences that now need to be canceled, to minimize the negative financial impact, our general policy, with some exceptions, will be to allow the organizing organization to retain the Fund's registration fees as a donation, and to not request a refund."

Opening Up About Foundation Finances

Underscoring that often transparency is an act of empathy, some foundations understand that their grantee partners may be understandably worried about a foundation's finances in light of daily headlines about the toll the pandemic is having on stock values. Such funders are including reassuring information in their messages about the foundation's intent to sustain its budgeted grantmaking levels, ability to meet future grant commitments, and commitment to fund multi-year, general operating support.

For example, the Ford Foundation's announcement includes helpful details about how the foundation's approach is designed to "weather crisis." Pennington begins by explaining how the foundation has shifted its grantmaking from mostly program to now mostly general operating support, then shifts to sharing helpful investment information: "We take a balanced approach to investing and protecting our endowment, reducing risk and providing a potential cushion for economic downturns. In 2015, we changed our budgetary policies to apply a three-year rolling average of the endowment value to determine our spending each year. In doing so, we insulate our grantees because the foundation's spending does not fall off a financial cliff."

Weingart-foundationThe Weingart Foundation also asserts its continuing commitment to making unrestricted support available. "We currently plan to maintain this commitment to providing Unrestricted Operating Support in the upcoming fiscal year. Nonprofit partners have long shared that unrestricted, multi-year grants are the most effective form of funding. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, we saw first-hand how groups used our unrestricted dollars to maintain essential infrastructure and sustain support to communities. The COVID-19 crisis requires the same approach, and we have urged our foundation colleagues to adopt or increase operating support grantmaking."

New Crisis Response Funds

Heising-simons-foundationGive grantees extra support: Foundations also have flexibility to respond to this moment by creating new funding opportunities. Given sudden unexpected financial hits, such as canceled conferences or the expense of new infrastructure to support remote work, the Heising-Simons Foundation has already created a Rapid Relief Fund for its grantees that's designed to "offset unexpected costs incurred for disruptions to operations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak." The fund will give grantees up to $25,000 to mitigate such losses. It's clear these unprecedented times of forced physical distancing will take a great financial toll on nonprofits that rely on event-based revenue generation, so there is lots of room for other foundations to follow the Heising-Simons Foundation's lead by making such emergency-related support available.

The-cleveland-foundationCommunity foundations are also mobilizing their resources to establish regional response funds. These funds are largely designed to address the needs of vulnerable communities in the regions served by the foundation. The Cleveland Foundation frames its crisis response in a historical context. Since the foundation dates back more than a century to 1914, the foundation's message reminds us it has addressed similar challenges, including the flu pandemic of 1918. The Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund "will begin by deploying resources to address the urgent health, basic human services and economic needs of disproportionately impacted communities and individuals." Though the fund was very recently mobilized, the foundation transparently provides a detailed plan of action, including short- and long-term goals, target beneficiaries, fund structure, and strategy.

These are just a couple of examples of hundreds of funds that have been established nationally to help regions around the country respond to the crisis. Candid is tracking these funds and making information about response grantmaking publicly accessible on our Funding for coronavirus (COVID-19)pop-up webpage.

Response Funds & Racial Equity

The-san-francisco-foundationAn important aspect of some of the new crisis funds is to ensure racial equity and inclusion for communities most affected by the crisis. For example, the San Francisco Foundation's COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund addresses worker support, preventing homelessness and providing renter protection/housing security, ensuring food security, and addressing racial bias. Racial equity as a priority is deeply embedded throughout the San Francisco Foundation’s work, so this is a good example of how a foundation extends a racial equity lens into all aspects of its work, including crisis response, to ensure that historically disadvantaged populations are not left behind.

"An important aspect of some of the new crisis funds is to ensure racial equity and inclusion for communities most affected by the crisis."

The California Endowment's new $5 Million COVID-19 Response Plan also prioritizes an equitable approach to serving the needs of the most vulnerable communities. Shawn Ginwright, a professor of African American Studies at San Francisco State University and chair of The California Endowment board of directors, explains "We look forward to engaging California's public and private sectors as partners standing strong together to protect the public health and safety of our families, neighbors, communities of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and identities." The fund supports "public health efforts and the immediate social and health services needs of highly vulnerable Californians, including farm workers/day laborers, the homeless and undocumented individuals."

United-philanthropyTo learn about other examples focusing on equity, United Philanthropy Forum has recently started an effort to encourage foundations to "keep equity at the forefront in philanthropy's response to the Coronavirus." Its open letter to philanthropy encourages donor-serving organizations to sign on and pledge to mitigate the ways in which the virus may worsen existing inequities.

Information & Knowledge Sharing

Foundations that have expertise in public health, education, or working with specific regions or populations may have helpful resources and information to share. These types of foundations are often including space in their coronavirus response messages to point to such tools.

Creative-capital-foundationBecause of Creative Capital's expertise in supporting individual artists, its website has a very helpful and comprehensive resource list of emerging funds to help artists respond to the crisis. As individual artists lose work from canceled performances, gigs, and exhibits, the need for such dedicated funds is high. Jamie Allison of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund underscores this point in a recent blog: "And it is troubling to recognize how disproportionately and direly the arts community is being affected—as that community is dependent on people coming together. If we cannot infuse artists with support, we risk many arts organizations closing their doors for good."

Another knowledge sharing example comes to us from the Bill-melinda-gates-foundationBill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is one of the few foundations with a deep bench of experience supporting the fight against infectious diseases globally. As a result, its Coronavirus coverage focuses on sharing hard won knowledge gained from investing in this global threat. One of the resources shared includes an informative New England Journal of Medicine article by Bill Gates about how donors and governments can work together to more effectively respond to this pandemic. Other knowledge shared includes expert perspectives on topics such as what it will take to accelerate COVID-19 self-testing, investing in therapeutics, and the role of technology. Transparency related to knowledge sharing is too often a missing piece in how foundations open up their playbooks, yet as Gates’ insights demonstrate, we have a lot to learn from one another.

Welcome Suggestions

In recognition that foundations don't have all the answers, some are also making space in their messages to announce a means for stakeholders to provide ideas for consideration. In a quickly evolving crisis such as this one, encouraging participation from community voices is an important means to creating inclusive and effective responses.

Walter-and-elise-haas-fundThe Walter and Elise Haas Fund very quickly developed and issued a short survey to its grantees to help guide the development of its coronavirus response. In a blog from executive director Jamie Allison, she shares the survey's results, explaining that the needs fell into the following five categories: funding; togetherness; flexibility; technical assistance; and policy. Since the survey findings can be helpful to other funders, both the quantitative results and foundation analysis are available via the blog.

The-reach-healthcare-foundationIn the case of the REACH Healthcare Foundation, a request for ideas comes directly from foundation president & CEO Brenda Sharpe, who lists her own email address for such suggestions. She urges grantees to contact her to discuss concerns and clients' specific needs as they relate to COVID-19 response. Typically requests for such suggestions and open-ended comments are relegated to generic email addresses in which one is unsure who is on the receiving end, or how frequently it's monitored, so including this call for ideas in a personal request from the CEO heightens both the urgency and sincerity of the request.

Inviting community input also emphasizes that we are in this together, which seems a particularly important message for a social sector in the age of social distance. Compiling this list is one-way Candid is trying to do our part to bridge the distance and help us learn from one another. Toward that end, as your foundation surfaces new ideas and ways of working that would benefit others, please let us know so we can highlight it. You can reach us in the comments below or send your comments by email.

Sample Foundation Coronavirus Statements

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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