A Call To Philanthropy

The grantees that Maine Initiatives supports are organizations that are working at the forefront of racial justice and equity in our communities. In our conversations with them, we have heard a clarion call to the philanthropic sector for how to act in support and solidarity with grassroots and community-based nonprofits in this crisis. Here is what they told us:

  • The COVID-19 crisis is a nonprofit fundraising crisis.
  • Crisis response can’t wait for your funding cycle.
  • Trust grassroots organizations to know what their communities need.
  • Mobilize your money now.
  • Draw more than 5%.
  • Make it easy to access your funding.
  • Use your power.
  • Build new systems to invest in a “new normal”.

We have provided a more in-depth summary of each of these points below. 

  • This COVID-19 crisis is a nonprofit fundraising crisis. All nonprofit organizations are facing unprecedented fundraising challenges during this pandemic. Every type of nonprofit fundraising is impacted by the current crisis:
    • Events: Fundraising event season kicks off in the spring here in Maine, that means nonprofits are forced to cancel key fundraising events necessary to support their general operating needs for the rest of the year. To add to the impact, many organizations have already put down non-refundable deposits on venue rentals and invested substantial staff time in planning–costs that will now never be recouped. 
    • Member Dues: Organizations funded by community memberships are preparing to see huge deficits, as being a member of the museum you can’t go to is a hard sell. 
    • Individual Donor Fundraising: Organizations that have responded to our challenges to “raise money from within your own community” now see their members struggling to make ends meet. 
    • Major Donor Issues: Organizations funded by trust fund payouts or stock donations are already seeing loss of contributions because payouts are smaller and donors are concerned about their own financial security. 
    • Revenue/Fee-for-Service Income: Fee-for-service revenue has dried up, afterschool programs and field trips cancelled, speaking engagements indefinitely postponed. This situation is dire and it is philanthropy’s charge to make sure that our organizations are still around when this is all over.
  • Crisis response can’t wait for your funding cycle. Nonprofits are simultaneously dealing with decreased revenue and increased demand. They are responding first and figuring out where the money will come from later. Traditional funding cycles are not built to respond at the speed of crisis. Just as nonprofits are changing and adapting, so must the foundations that support them. Now is the time to speed up your funding cycles- expedite decision-making, push up Board meetings, and fast track payments (using EFT if possible). We need to get money to the organizations doing the work right now. They can’t wait for us to move at our regular pace. 

All of us are doing much more work than we were a week ago and most of us without any additional funding.” – DrewChristopher Joy of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center

  • Trust grassroots organizations to know what their communities need. Grassroots and marginalized communities have been on the front lines of crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic: the plague of mass incarceration, lack of healthcare accessibility, lack of financial security for low wage earners, disproportional health outcomes for black, indigenous, and other people of color, and more. We need to trust that the people closest to the crisis are the ones who know best how to respond. Trust the leaders at the organizations you are supporting to effectively prioritize their own community response. Center your giving to support those most marginalized. If what you think is most urgent is not what marginalized communities and the organizations that represent them are asking for, follow their lead!
  • Mobilize your money now. At minimum, you should be shifting existing grants from program funds to general operating support. The organizations you support need to have the flexibility to respond as this crisis unfolds. Any new grantmaking should be unrestricted grants and those grants should be made ASAP. Move up your grant schedules to get money out now–waiting may mean organizations you care about are no longer around to access the money. Disburse your grants as soon as possible. Don’t hold money to reserve it “just in case” or to “wait and see how things develop”. Don’t make organizations prove they are still worthy before getting their next installment. Organizations need the trust and flexibility to know the funds they have at their discretion and be able to allocate it where needed most. They are in a much better position to do that than you are.
  • Draw more than 5%. In order to make sure the nonprofits you support are still around at the end of this pandemic you must deploy more money. That means drawing down from your endowments to meet immediate increased need. Endowments are created to fund the mission of your foundation in perpetuity. The nonprofit community is under direct threat from the economic impacts of COVID-19 right now. Now is the time to make an extraordinary draw from your endowment and get money out to the community right now.
  • Make it easy to access your funding. Now is the time to eliminate or deeply streamline your applications. How are organizations supposed to find the time to do big, complex applications during a crisis? How can they possibly propose things that will happen in the future when no one knows what May will look like? And keep in mind that keeping to word counts, fitting into budget templates, and sending in information that you already have from a previous year take up valuable time and energy. Eliminate or push out reporting requirements. The time it takes to write applications and grant reports is time spent away from direct response. Extend reporting deadlines for current and new grants to the end of the year or 12 months after the pandemic is over to give organizations time to recover and make sense of it all.
  • Use your power. Foundations have money, and in our society money equals power. Now is the time to use your voice and power to make change. Push your foundation peers to do more faster. Call the Governor and your state and federal Legislators and advocate for the things your grantees are prioritizing like stays on evictions and releasing of prisoners. Call in your corporate connections and advocate for continued healthcare for laid off workers and reduction of salaries at the top to keep all employees on the payroll. Call your wealthy friends and encourage them to donate as much as they can to the response. 

“Advocate immediately at the state and Federal level that government responses to COVID-19 are focused on whole communities and do not exclude people… Prioritize resources for people of color specifically, who will be left out of many existing safety nets and support systems.” – Ian Yaffe of Mano en Mano

  • Build new systems to invest in a “new normal.” After this is all over things can’t go back to how they used to be. This pandemic has brought to light the broken systems that our country is built on, and it is our responsibility to invest not in the restarting of those systems but in the world as it should be. A place where healthcare and housing are considered human rights. An economic system that values everyone’s work with a living wage and eliminates the disparities between the rich and the poor. We call for a dismantling of the prison industrial complex. For gender justice and disability justice. And room to imagine all of the things that we’ve been told were never possible. 

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