Top Foundations Pledge Flexible Funding to Grantees in Wake of COVID-19 Crisis

Council on Foundations, Ford Foundation and 40+ philanthropic organizations lead the call for funders to commit to more flexible funding and quick administration
Thursday, March 19, 2020

New York, March 19, 2020 — More than 40 major US-based and international foundations announced today to pledge their commitment to more flexible funding to help grantee partners meet emergency needs prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. Signatories include The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Seattle Foundation, and Robert Sterling Clark and Skillman Foundations among many other leaders around the country dedicated to advancing social change and supporting vulnerable populations.

The pledge—spearheaded by the Ford Foundation, informed by conversations with the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project and in partnership with the Council on Foundations—is a call to action to philanthropies everywhere to address the unanticipated effects of this global crisis as its social and economic implications unfold, so grantees can move quickly to serve the communities most impacted. Funders have signed on to a comprehensive list of commitments to support organizations during this critical time, which include loosening or eliminating restrictions on current grants, contributing to community-based emergency response funds, and engaging with grantee partners to generate thoughtful and immediate responses that will serve affected communities.

“As we experience this new reality, alongside partners and allies around the world, we must remember the remarkable impact we can make by working together,” said Hilary Pennington, executive vice president of programs at the Ford Foundation. “Now, more than ever, we must join forces in a commitment to best serve our grantees, who are supporting communities on the frontlines of this global pandemic, with flexibility and resources however we can. The Ford Foundation is proud to take this pledge and we encourage our peer institutions to sign on, so our nonprofit partners can continue to propel their critical work forward.”

Kathleen Enright, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations said, “One of philanthropy’s key strengths is its ability to pivot and adapt as circumstances require. That flexibility is needed now more than ever. The Council on Foundations is committed to supporting our members and the philanthropic sector as a whole as we make important changes to serve communities and the greater good.”

Pia Infante, steering committee chair of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project explained, “The reason a trust-based approach works in this short-term, emergency frame is because it works for the long term. When we deeply resource our leaders, organizations, and movements, we enable the adaptivity necessary in the chaotic, complex times we are living. It may have taken a global pandemic for some philanthropies to let go of restrictions, arduous processes, and exacting expectations of already overburdened nonprofits, but let’s hope one benefit is that we now jettison all that no longer serves the greater good."

“The strength of our organizations and communities is best demonstrated by how we come together,” Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation, said. “This pledge is a way for those who lead philanthropic organizations to expand our privileges to our nonprofit partners, the real heroes working on the ground, able to illuminate emerging hardships and best ways to address them.”

Funders interested in joining can read the full pledge below and sign on at www.cof.org/pledge.


A Call to Action: Philanthropy’s Commitment During COVID-19

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has created a global health and economic crisis that is testing every one of us. We know that the shocks of this “new normal” are severe and unanticipated for our grantee partners. As leaders of major philanthropic organizations, we recognize the critical need to act with fierce urgency to support our nonprofit partners as well as the people and communities hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19.

Our Pledge

Over the days, weeks, and months ahead, each of our foundations pledges to:

  • Loosen or eliminate the restrictions on current grants. This can include: converting project-based grants to unrestricted support; accelerating payment schedules; and not holding grantees responsible if conferences, events, and other project deliverables must be postponed or canceled.
  • Make any new grants as unrestricted as possible, so that nonprofit partners have maximum flexibility to respond to this crisis. We will also support organizations created and led by the communities most affected that we may not fund currently.
  • Reduce what we ask of our nonprofit partners, postponing reporting requirements, site visits, and other demands on their time during this challenging period.
  • Contribute to community-based emergency response funds and other efforts to address the health and economic impact on those most affected by this pandemic.
  • Communicate proactively and regularly about our decision-making and response to provide helpful information while not asking more of grantee partners.
  • Commit to listening to our partners and especially to those communities least heard, lifting up their voices and experiences to inform public discourse and our own decision-making so we can act on their feedback. We recognize that the best solutions to the manifold crises caused by COVID-19 are not found within foundations.
  • Support, as appropriate, grantee partners advocating for important public policy changes to fight the pandemic and deliver an equitable and just emergency response for all. This may include its economic impact on workers, such as expanded paid sick leave; increasing civic participation; access to affordable health care; and expanded income and rental assistance. It should also include lending our voices to calls to action led by grantee partners, at their direction and request.
  • Learn from these emergency practices and share what they teach us about effective partnership and philanthropic support, so we may consider adjusting our practices more fundamentally in the future, in more stable times, based on all we learn.

We encourage other foundations to join us in making these commitments and holding ourselves accountable to them by signing this pledge of action.

COVID-19’s impacts are reaching every corner of the world. We must stand together. By acting together to provide flexibility to our grantee partners, we believe we can help them move their essential work forward powerfully and confidently in this critical moment.

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The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit membership association of grantmaking foundations and corporations. For more than 70 years, the Council has worked to provide the opportunity, leadership and tools needed by philanthropic organizations to expand, enhance and sustain their ability to advance the greater good.

For more information about the Council on Foundations, please visit www.cof.org. Follow the Council on Facebook @CouncilonFoundationsand Twitter @COF_