Lean Funders Are Adjusting Their Grantmaking and Operations to Respond to COVID-19: Week of April 20 - Exponent Philanthropy
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Lean Funders Are Adjusting Their Grantmaking and Operations to Respond to COVID-19: Week of April 20

On Friday, April 17, Exponent Philanthropy hosted a fifth live discussion for lean funders to share how they are responding to COVID-19. We will continue to host these discussions every Friday at 2 PM ET to give all lean funders the opportunity to connect around their responses. We are also compiling COVID-19 information and resources relevant to lean funders.

Lean funders are responding to COVID-19 in varied ways, while recognizing the virus, response, testing, treatments, medical supplies, and community needs are ever-changing.

On April 17, funders discussed:


Lean funders emphasized a need to change how they think about communicating with grantees. Tanir Ami, executive director of the CARESTAR Foundation, said she has had great conversations with some grantees but hasn’t heard from others. Those on the front lines of the pandemic lack the bandwidth to have a conversation right now. Funders stressed that recognizing who you don’t speak to, and why, is as important as who you are able to reach. Funders say they’re working on balancing communicating support to grantees with giving them the space they need to achieve their missions.

Investing in grassroots organizations

Funders shared how critical it is to go beyond supporting large or well-established nonprofits. Vanessa Briggs, executive director of the Brandywine Health Foundation, said grassroots organizations will be key players in the COVID-19 response and recovery. They’ve already spread awareness on the importance of social distancing, and they’ll continue to inform the public as new measures materialize.

Contemplating evaluation

Some funders are thinking ahead to grant evaluations when the dust settles. Several stressed trust, saying they’re less concerned with a formal evaluation process. Funders are balancing wanting to measure performance with understanding that it can take time to make an impact. They agree it’s important to align with their boards, and early, on what they hope to gain from the evaluations to better support grantees.

Wider effects of COVID-19

Beyond the obvious economic and health impacts of COVID-19, funders also voiced their concerns for the broader ramifications of social distancing, societal instability, and high levels of unemployment. Funders reiterated being mindful of the increases in mental health incidents, suicide rates, hate crimes, and domestic violence, and they and grantees are working to create preemptive support systems.

Concerns about the long-term viability of some nonprofits

Funders say they can’t fill the fundraising voids for all grantees, and they remain concerned about the long-term survival of some. Several organizations supplying essential services for the pandemic were of concern operationally even before it emerged. Funders stressed they are increasingly focusing on groups that are thriving in their lanes. And they hoped that as closures commence, mergers might too.

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