Philanthropy and the Pandemic Part III: Grant Flexibility
September 28, 2020
Over the last six months, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of charitable giving. With millions of Americans of work or furloughed and thousands more fighting the effects of the novel coronavirus, donors have felt an obligation to give back to their communities during this period of strife and uncertainty. As I’ve written before, donors have delivered—they’ve provided key resources to communities in need and have worked to combat the many negative externalities born of this situation.
So far, we’ve examined two fundamental aspects of the new philanthropic paradigm: that donors are giving more than ever to charity, and that donors are strategically targeting these funds at key social and economic issues. In the final installment of this three-part series, I want to turn my attention toward another rapidly changing aspect of philanthropy—flexibility.
Perhaps no other word more appropriately describes the mindset our society has needed to embody over the last six months. Between the deadly pandemic, the nationwide reckoning on race relations, the unprecedented recession and, now, the wildfires in California and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, Americans have spent much of the last year learning to adapt to new ways of life at the drop of a hat.
To better meet the needs of this increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world, philanthropists have needed to make adjustments. While traditional grants have been a godsend to many during this pandemic, the unpredictability of the moment means that charities and social service providers have needed to shift their focus and coverage in order to most effectively offer solutions to this year’s ever-evolving challenges. In this unpredictable world, traditional grants that earmark donated funds for specific purposes have become less effective. What a donor identifies as a pertinent need at the time they issue a grant could be markedly less concerning by the time that money gets to the charities that need it. In many ways, the unpredictability of the moment means that narrowly construed grants have often left recipients one step behind.
To address this concern, almost 800 donor organizations recently signed a pledge to shift their strategy, committing to offer flexible funding to help grantees meet emergency needs resulting from the pandemic. Many foundations are even choosing to give unrestricted funds, reduced reporting requirements and offering emergency funding to grantees. In a year where the need of the moment has constantly changed, these sorts of unrestricted funds offer foundations and nonprofits the ability to pivot their service provision to address new challenges and concerns.
But also key to this moment is ensuring that minority communities have access to the resources they need to thrive. As I’ve written before, COVID-related social resources have not always been evenly distributed, and minority communities receive fewer resources. UnidosUS and NCAAP, respectively, have developed resources to help philanthropy and emergency responders serve the Latino and Black communities respectively. Their efforts have helped ensure that all Americans—regardless of race—fell equipped to navigate this pandemic.
Across these new dynamics, flexibility is the operative term. Over the last half-year, we as a society have learned to adapt on the fly, contending with the fallout of numerous successive crises. Grant flexibility allows nonprofits and social service providers to better address the challenges of the moment; which, in 2020, have been manifold and constantly changing. Providers have pivoted between health care service provision, rental assistance and economic relief, and now—particularly in California—to disaster relief. As we work to support our communities through this difficult time, flexible giving can make a significant difference.