Foundations are Listening. Here Are Six Ways for nonprofits to Get Heard.
Good communication with your funders is always important. Today, it is imperative.
In the philanthropic sector, one silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis is that foundations are listening more to what grantees need. To date, more than 740 foundations have signed the Council on Foundations Pledge of Action to adopt emergency practices that are responsive to grantees’ needs. You have probably heard about these practices, which include removing many restrictions on current and future grants and reducing reporting requirements. But did you know that these 740+ foundations also pledged to be better communicators? The pledge includes these two commitments:
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.
Yes, that’s right. Foundations are looking to you for solutions. They want to know how the pandemic is affecting your organization and your community. Funders want to know how they can help sustain the nonprofit ecosystem through this crisis, and how they can best support the most vulnerable individuals and communities. They can only learn this from you, who are on the front lines every day.
Even if you’re not providing direct services related to the COVID-19 crisis, funders want to know how you’ve adapted and what your plans are for the future. Now is the time to reach out to your program officers and donors to share what you are learning and what your organization needs.
Six ways to connect with your funders right now We know you may not have time to build a deeper relationship with your program officer right now. You may be delivering food to hungry people. You may be figuring out how to get your PPP loan forgiven, or how to get a PPP loan in the first place. You may be struggling with technology challenges or stark budget realities.
Wherever your organization is right now, financially or programmatically, you can reach out to your funders. We have helped clients take these steps:
Create a one-page status report
Produce an email newsletter
Conduct one-on-one video meetings with major or long-term funders.
If you have more bandwidth, you can make special efforts to engage your funders as thought partners during this time. Consider these actions:
Invite funders to listening sessions to hear directly from community members
Ask funders to join you in a phone call or video chat to share how what they’ve learned in responding to the crisis. Share your learnings as well
Host a virtual funder convening to share strategies across a larger network. The convening could focus on what your organization is doing right now or on your long-term vision to carry out your mission in a changing world.
We have seen positive results with all of these approaches and, in some cases, they have led to new funding.
Inspiring trust in your leadership and work is most critical when funders are determining where their support will have the greatest impact—and when innovative support strategies and flexibility in funding are most helpful to your nonprofit.
Ask for what you need In a true partnership, you need to be able to ask for what you really need. The power imbalance in the grantor-grantee relationship can make this hard, but in the current crisis, we are seeing encouraging signs of change.
Here is one example: Emboldened by some of her funders’ recent flexibility with grantees, a client of ours recently reached out to her program officer. She asked that her nonprofit's grant be recategorized from program support to general support, and the answer was yes! The client can now use the funds where they're most needed during the crisis.
We can help We would love to help you design strategies to keep your communication with funders flowing.