Insights, News

A Call to Action: What nonprofits want you to know right now

Mar 17, 2020

San Francisco Bay Area

By: Kate Schwass

This was originally published on LinkedIn.

The world is feeling the impacts of COVID-19 and the precautions we need to take to delay the spread of this virus. In the nonprofit sector, the consequences of this crisis are multi-dimensional. Many organizations rely on direct contact with families and students to provide their services – that contact is now interrupted. Organizations have been forced to cancel events that were going to provide critical revenue. They are at risk of not hitting their fundraising targets. And we all don’t know when this crisis will end, making contingency planning nearly impossible.

In our work at GreenLight Fund Bay Area, we spent much of the last week in conversation with the nonprofits we support. We asked what they wished they could say to the philanthropic community and we pledged to share what we heard. Here’s what they said:

To foundations:

  • Unlock general operating support.  If you’ve provided restricted funding to nonprofits, now is the time to reach out and offer to lift those restrictions. We want organizational leaders to be able to pivot to address this current crisis, please unlock the dollars so they can do just that.
  • Pause strategic plans. While many foundations have a strategic plan in place or are engaged in a planning process to execute over the next 3-5 years, now is the time to pause those processes and be responsive to the community. If you are looking for a way to leverage your funding and be transformational in the community, frankly, now is the time.  There will be a time for deeper planning processes later. If we do not take action, organizations on the ground will have significant cash flow problems this year and years to come.
  • Rethink timing and adjust grantmaking processes. Many grant cycles are quarterly, even annually. Reconsider the time frame of your grant cycle in order to make rapid response funding available and consider opening up a grant cycle now.
  • Streamline grantmaking processes. Do you really want organizations working on lengthy grant applications right now?  Foundation staff: talk to nonprofits verbally over the phone, write up a proposal on their behalf, and get that grant approved. Now is not the time to put nonprofits through the hoops.
  •  Proactively communicate with grantees. Have you called your grantees? Foundations need to reach out to their grantees to learn how COVID-19 has and will continue to impact their programmatic outputs and outcomes…and find out how they can help.  At the very least, foundations should anticipate potentially decreased numbers and outputs from what the grant agreement outlined.

To individual donors/corporate philanthropy:

  • Maintain giving commitments. Donors are suddenly finding their calendars cleared of all benefits, galas, and other nonprofit recognition ceremonies because nonprofits canceled events to protect the community. Continue providing the sponsorship dollars intended for these events. Do not ask for a refund – nonprofit organizations are counting on your dollars. Many nonprofits operate on a July to June fiscal calendar, so they do not have adequate time to reschedule events to make up revenue or find that revenue elsewhere. And in many cases, nonprofits are not going to be able to meet their funding goals for the year and will be operating at a loss due to lost event venue deposits and cancellation fees
  • Widen the scope of giving. Ask the nonprofits you support what they need, and while it is critical to support organizations that might feel the closest to this health crisis (e.g. hospitals, food banks), know the nonprofit community at large is struggling. Even organizations that provide internships for first-generation college students or support middle school math skills are grappling with significant ramifications from this crisis and still require support to survive.

In this time of uncertainty and fear, now is the time to boldly and innovatively support the nonprofit organizations we all care so deeply about.