Many foundations have responded quickly to provide funding to those most in need during COVID-19. Yet the stark reality is that there is more need than funds available. The challenge for foundations today is how to maximize the impact of COVID-19 relief funding by investing with both urgency and intentionality.

Here are three strategies for foundations to fund nonprofits’ near-term priorities while -- as much as possible -- doing so in a way that supports the longer-term resilience, growth, and impact of these organizations


1. Provide Access to Technology


COVID-19 is forcing organizations to do things in new and different ways while at times having to adjust focus. While many organizations will go back to how they were before the pandemic, many nonprofits are already realizing that certain innovations brought about by social distancing are here to stay. For example, video-conferencing with participants can remove travel barriers, and online surveys can be help organizations be more responsive to immediate need.


The right technology can unlock efficiencies, insights, and other opportunities that can benefit nonprofits for years to come. The current crisis can be an opportunity to test new ways of doing things, as much of the inertia around “status quo” operations has already been disrupted. Many tech solutions for the near-term will continue to add value in the long-term because streamlined data collection, intentional analysis, and clear communications are always needed.


As an example, the Pallottine Foundation of Huntington, a foundation addressing substance use disorder and other public health priorities in West Virginia, covered the cost of UpMetrics tools and services on behalf of their grantees even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With access to the UpMetrics platform, these grantees were in a strong position to adjust their operations and programming to support their communities in this time of need.


2. Build Community


People need human connection now more than ever (even if through a smartphone or more than 6 feet apart) because connection is essential to meaning-making, healing, and growth. In other words: resilience is strengthened by social interactions.


Providing dedicated time and space for nonprofit staff members to come together can serve as a needed forum for the financial considerations, emotional weight, and other stresses the nonprofits and their stakeholders are facing at this moment. At the same time, the relationships that these leaders form today can plant the seeds of future partnerships and collaborative endeavors.


The Foglia Family Foundation is working to build community amongst nonprofits in their community. The foundation has been working with UpMetrics to build a cohort of nonprofit organizations in the Chicagoland area who are dedicated to becoming data driven. In light of COVID-19, these organizations will meet virtually, allowing them to continue to share best practices, build community, and support each other during this challenging time.


“Zoom fatigue” is real -- but isolation and lack of connection is a far graver concern. Supporting the wellbeing of the nonprofit staff who are delivering so many essential services right now is the wisest way to ensure the sustainability of these needed interventions.


3. Create Learning Opportunities


During a crisis, it is especially easy to get caught up working within the organization at the expense of working on the organization. Establishing technology and community resources for nonprofits’ resilience inherently lends itself to facilitating conversations around lessons learned from this moment.


The Silicon Valley Community Foundation has created a series of webinars for their grantees and other nonprofits in the region. Recognizing that this is an overwhelming time with much uncertainty, the foundation has asked experts to present to the community on a variety of relevant topics. This initiative has provided nonprofits with helpful learning opportunities while also building community amongst grantees.


Learning can take place in every situation. That being said, funders can use this opportunity to listen to their grantees. In these times of uncertainty and unknowns, funders can turn to the organization for insight into what is working, where there is need, and fund effective strategies and solutions.


Amid all the present uncertainty, it is clear that philanthropy will have a central role to play in communities’ recovery efforts. The decisions that funders make today matter. Investing in learning, community, and technology can strengthen organizations’ capabilities to both meet this moment and advance their longer-term missions.

Post by Greg Woodburn
July 20, 2020