How Lean Funders Are Responding to COVID-19 - Exponent Philanthropy
A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

How Lean Funders Are Responding to COVID-19

In April, Exponent Philanthropy fielded a survey to learn how our community is responding to COVID-19, and more than 900 lean funders responded. We’re still analyzing the data and further engaging respondents, but we want to share a high-level overview.

Have lean funders changed their funding in response to COVID-19?

In a word, yes.

Nearly 80% of lean funders have changed their approach to funding as a result of COVID-19. Of those who have not, almost 20% plan to change their approach in the next year.

Are funders giving more this year?

About half of survey respondents say they’ll give more this year because of the pandemic.

Of the foundations that plan to increase their giving:

  • 40.5% will give a certain dollar amount more
  • 20.8% will increase the foundation’s overall payout
  • 5.4% will increase the foundation’s grant budget by a certain percentage

Are funders shifting strategies in response to COVID-19?

Many lean funders are shifting some of their funding to support new populations. The majority of respondents (53%) are working to support individuals who have been economically affected by COVID-19. And almost 42% of lean funders are making grants to nonprofits outside their typical portfolio.

Lean funders are also implementing new approaches to supporting grantees and communities. Highlights from the data include:

  • 72% of funders are making emergency response grants outside the foundation’s normal grant cycle; 13% are considering it.
  • 64% of funders are converting existing grants to more flexible funds (e.g., converting project grants to general operating support grants); nearly 15% are considering it.
  • 63% of funders are making additional grants to existing grantees; 22% are considering it.
  • 56% of funders are delaying or postponing reporting deadlines; 15% are considering it.
  • 55% of funders are collaborating with other funders; 20% are considering it.

See the approaches funders have implemented, are considering, or decided against.

How have foundation operations changed in COVID-19?

Our lives have been upended by the pandemic and social distancing. Foundations are holding virtual board meetings (70%), virtual staff meetings (59%), and virtual meetings with grantees (59%). More than half (55%) of funders have postponed site visits, and almost 30% have moved from issuing paper checks to making electronic payments for grants.

We’ll share how our members are responding to COVID-19 in the coming weeks as we continue analyzing data and collecting member stories.


  1. Scott Gelzer

    Some solid insights from this early survey. Why am I not surprised? Thanks.

  2. Peter Weston

    Wondering if there’s any trend becoming evident in terms of compensation practice for paid CEOs, other staff in the Pandemic environment.

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