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Transforming the “How” of Grantmaking in a Time of Crisis

Grantmaking includes three primary components: what we fund—program areas and impact; who we fund—the grantees we support; and how we fund—the grantmaking practices that are the focus of PEAK Grantmaking’s membership of more than 5,000 grants management professionals. 

As the calls for more responsive and streamlined philanthropy grow around the COVID-19 crisis, grants management professionals are leading organizational efforts to adapt processes, procedures, technology, and communications to be what the moment demands – responsive, agile, compassionate, and creative. 

“Grantmakers across the spectrum are considering how they might better support their grantees.”

Here’s what we’ve learned.  

PEAK has been convening our members for a series of virtual community conversations to understand how grants management practices are evolving to meet pressing needs. A poll of 370 members illuminated the degree of transformation happening in just a few weeks: 

  • 97 percent are considering changing grant practices, including changes to their application, due diligence and decision-making processes, reporting requirements, and more. 
  • 63 percent are considering changing grant priorities (who or what they fund). 

In those calls, and over on our discussion forums, hundreds of members have reported on practice changes underway, focusing on three critical areas: uninterrupted service, responsive communications, and increased flexibility 

How Grantmakers Moving to Remote Operations Are Avoiding Interruptions in Grant Processing 

With the sudden move to remote operations, a common concern is how to make the shift without interrupting or delaying getting grants out the door. Solutions include: 

  • Conducting site visits remotely through video conferencing software 
  • Reworking standard grant payment processes to move from paper letters and mailed checks that require printing and signature to paperless communications and ACH payments
  • Conducting remote grant review meetings with decision-makers by creating or revamping a scoring framework and building it into existing grants management systems 

How Grantmakers Are Redefining Their Communication Protocols with Communities and Grantees to Emphasize Humility, Transparency, and Listening 

Public statements to grantees evidence a groundswell of organizations using this moment to rethink their communications and reconnect with constituents in newly compassionate, collaborative, and transparent ways. 

Common themes and elements include: 

  • An update on funders’ remote work situations and commitment to continuing uninterrupted operations  
  • An invitation to grantees to reach out and share how the crisis is affecting them and the communities they serve 
  • A confession that there is no playbook for what we are experiencing, humility in the face of collective uncertainty, and commitment to listening deeply and acting collaboratively 
  • A clear and detailed explanation of how grant processes and requirements are changing to better support grantees and communities.  

How Grantmakers Are Rethinking Grant Requirements, General Operating Support, Risk, and Flexibility 

Grantmakers across the spectrum are considering how they might better support their grantees as they face increased demand, canceled events, and a shaky fundraising future.  

Our members are already: 

  • Converting existing grants to general operating support, especially for organizations on the frontlines of health care or social service response or those that have lost substantial earned revenue 
  • Offering support for technology or infrastructure so nonprofit staff can continue to work and deliver on their mission remotely 
  • Adding provisions to grant agreements that increase their grantees’ ability to adapt activities, outcomes, or timelines as their situations change 
  • Extending grant periods on existing grants and implementing new processes to make grant modifications easier to request and receive 
  • Streamlining all processes to reduce the burden on grantees managing applications, grant deliverables, reporting, etc. 
  • Coordinating across multiple funders to streamline communications and grant work 
  • Moving future-year grant payments to 2020 
  • Adjusting approved budget allocations to include more indirect costs 

“There is no question that grants management is undergoing a rapid and profound transformation.”

Change for Good? 

There is no question that grants management is undergoing a rapid and profound transformation, with widespread efforts to adapt quickly and effectively; and a commitment to leading organizational efforts to shift practices to be more responsive and flexible. 

The question—and opportunity—is whether this response will translate into permanent change once the crisis has passed.  

PEAK will be tracking the trajectory as we continue to navigate this crisis and beyond, as we continue to champion and support the advancement of more equitable, effective grantmaking practices. 

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