COVID-19 Pandemic: Effective Crisis-Response Giving & Grantmaking

In times of crisis, the ability to address needs as they emerge is critical. We look at strategies individual donors and institutional grantmakers can use to make the biggest impact at a time when every donation counts.

How All Donors Can Help

No matter which nonprofit you support, whether you have $10 to give or $10,000, here’s how you can help.

Give immediately

The scale of this crisis means all nonprofit organizations — and the communities they serve — are affected. Giving immediately shores up the nonprofit infrastructure that every community relies on. Start first with the nonprofits you already know and trust, especially when they serve those already vulnerable to COVID-19 (older adults, anyone with serious underlying medical conditions, disabled people, pregnant women, and people experiencing homelessness) and those at risk due to their work (health care workers, first responders, and essential workers in retail, pharmacy, transit, farms, deliveries, warehouses, and manufacturing). If you don’t already know a nonprofit working with these populations, you can find relevant nonprofits and response funds listed in our List of Nonprofits, Funds & Resources.

Give flexibly

Now is the time to consider removing restrictions of timing or purpose. For example, if you are an individual who gives a small amount every month and can afford to, make one larger donation now. If you are a grantmaker who gives restricted grants, consider converting those grants to general operating/emergency funding and give grants now that you had originally flagged for later in the year.

How Grantmakers Can Help

If you make grants to nonprofits or are leading grantmaking for one of the many COVID-19 response funds, here are some strategies for crisis giving.

Keep it simple

The early phase of disaster relief can be chaotic, and situations can change suddenly. To lessen the burden on applicants and prevent wasted effort by your team, keep proposal requirements simple so that needed, urgent relief flows.

Learn as you go

This is related to keeping it simple. Because the situation is dynamic, you and your team will need a heightened capacity to learn and course-correct. This can be very uncomfortable to institutional funders and staff used to a more predictable, steady-state cadence of due diligence and board reviews. But if everyone thinks of themselves first and foremost as learners in this unprecedented situation, collectively your team will get smarter with each new grant/cycle reviewed and as relevant contextual information and scientific data emerge.

Accept tradeoffs

This is challenging work. You are trying to balance speed with rigor, accountability with trust, communication with planning. These tradeoffs always exist, but are more pronounced during the kind of rapid-response grantmaking necessary to address an immediate, community crisis like COVID-19.

For more see Antony Bugg-Levine in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the joint letter published by BoardSource, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (Hispanics in Philanthropy, Independent Sector, the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP), the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), and United Philanthropy Forum (UPF).