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Connecting Regional Funders to Respond to COVID-19

Friday, March 20, 2020

While we all work to adjust and respond to the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic, Philanthropy Network members and other regional funders are mobilizing with intention and urgency to address the devastating impact the crisis is having on individuals, organizations and communities in Greater Philadelphia and beyond.

We are convening our network regularly (and virtually, of course) so they can communicate what they’re hearing from their grantee partners about needs and challenges on the ground, share actions they are taking on behalf of their own organizations to provide vital support, and discuss opportunities to act quickly and collectively to address both immediate needs and long-term recovery efforts.

On March 17 and March 18, we hosted video conference calls for funders to connect and provide updates. Several organizations shared news about newly-created COVID-19 rapid response funds established to support the region’s nonprofits. Discussed were:

Also sharing updates about their immediate responses to address the effects of the COVID-19 crisis were:

  • Lincoln Financial Foundation, who is increasing its current round of health and human service grants by 25 percent.
  • The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, who is using existing funds to prepare academic packets for students and encouraging donors to contribute to Philabundance to expand their program to provide meals for students while they are out of school.
  • PECO, who has allocated $200,000 in emergency funding to support regional organizations, including the Red Cross and United Way.
  • Patricia Kind Family Foundation, who is extending reporting deadlines for current grantees, and considering low- or no-interest loans to assist grantees with cash flow challenges.
  • Scattergood Foundation, who is convening its grantee cohorts via Zoom conference calls to hear how they are faring in the crisis, and discussing options to increase flexibility of their current grants.

Other broad themes and advice that funders shared for how they are adapting their thinking and practices during this challenging time:

  • Communication is key.  At a time of crisis, it’s more important than ever to connect with grantees, partners and other stakeholders. Pick up the phone and ask your grantees how they are being impacted and the best ways that you can help, and talk with your fellow funders to share what you’re learning and doing.
  • Make flexible dollars available now.  Consider a simple, streamlined application to allocate rapid response funding to existing grantees, or donate to one of the collective COVID-19 rapid response funds that are being established to support organizations throughout the region.
  • Relax the rules. With organizations in survival mode, think about ways you can ease the burden on your grantees to allow them to prioritize their energy and resources. Actions could include adjusting deadlines and easing reporting requirements, and releasing existing grants from restriction so project grants can be put toward general operating support. If you do adjust the rules, reassure grantees that they won’t be penalized down the road for making the changes you approved.
  • Plan in phases. From past disaster responses, we’ve learned that immediate relief will necessarily be followed by longer-term recovery. Beyond crisis intervention, think about strategies to support nonprofit stabilization and sector building activities post-crisis.
  • Consider increasing payout. The demand for nonprofit services increases during a crisis. While foundation endowments are taking a hit as a result of the stock market’s loss in value, now is precisely the time for foundation boards to discuss granting above the 5 percent payout in order to put vital resources in hands of front-line organizations. As one funder said, “Five percent is the minimum, not the rule.”

There is a clear understanding that our current circumstances require philanthropy to stretch beyond its traditional comfort zone and act swiftly and creatively in support of communities and nonprofit partners. While our sector isn’t always known for its lightning-fast responsiveness, it’s heartening to see so many funders stepping up to the challenge and embracing many of the trust-based philanthropy principles that these unpredictable and unprecedented times demand.   

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, Philanthropy Network will keep the lines of communication open among funders and our cross-sector partners to explore opportunities for collaboration, and report on efforts by the regional philanthropic community to coordinate action and align resources as we work together to repair and rebuild moving forward.

Posted  by Amy Seasholtz, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications at Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.

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