The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on grantmaking. With so many communities around the world suddenly facing urgent, unexpected need, funders quickly realized they needed to pivot and add rapid-response tactics to their grant portfolio in order to quickly support their grantees. And while COVID-19 is certainly a massive, global disruption—it’s not the first (nor the last) emergency that foundations will have to respond to rapidly.
But when an emergency strikes, what do you do first? And how do you reconcile short term emergency needs with long term development vision?
In a recent webinar, we partnered with Fluxx (Grantbook is a preferred Fluxx strategic technology implementation partner) to explore how funders can employ rapid-response grantmaking tactics efficiently and effectively at their foundation. We talked about principles and best practices for framing your response plans, tactical tips that you can implement in Fluxx Grantmaker or other grants management systems, and profiled the Surdna Foundation, who shared how their team supported their overall mission while simultaneously re-allocating funds for rapid response needs.
The Surdna Foundation's Approach
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster stable communities in the United States—communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John E. Andrus, and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.
In April, when the immediate, emergent, and long-term impacts of COVID-19 started to become more and more apparent, the Surdna Foundation decided to focus $4.6 million of their grantmaking capital towards rapid response efforts.
In order to make this possible, they made key changes to their granting process: no required proposals or reports for the grantee, only the most basic due diligence, and rapid-fire approval and payment processes. The team also prioritized amending current grants, as opposed to requiring grantees to file a new proposal for funding. Program officers could then recommend up to $250k in additional funds per active grant, with the recommendation being expedited straight to Surdna’s president for signature approval.
To support their team as they rolled out these changes, virtually overnight, the Surdna Foundation made a concerted effort to create highly detailed, step-by-step instructions and held zoom trainings to make sure their teams knew what tools were available (and how to use them).
The Surdna Foundation’s rapid response grantmaking efforts had an immediate impact on their community. Within a month and a half Surdna was able to process 71 new grants (a total of $1,644,600), and add 20 amendments to existing grants—providing grantees with a necessary cushion during this time of need.
On average it took the team 1.98 days to process rapid response grants—as opposed to the typical three-month cycle from request to payment.
These moments of crisis, while frantic and exhausting, provide opportunities for learning. COVID-19 prompted Surdna to rethink their existing policies and explore what components of these rapid response tactics should be incorporated into their processes when this period of crisis subsides. As part of their mission, the Surdna Foundation is working to address the power imbalance that exists between funders and grantees—to the extent possible, putting their trust in the good work of their grantees, and imagining new ways to support their efforts and enable them to do their best work with the least amount of bureaucracy.
To learn more about how the Surdna Foundation changed its granting habits to address this crisis, check out the webinar replay.
7 rapid response recommendations:
- Prioritize a fast registration/LOI process: Use an easy eligibility quiz to quickly determine who meets funding requirements. Save everyone time by focusing on only core information for applicants.
- Design a simple grantee portal: Provide grantees with a dedicated information page and be sure to reserve a section of the grantee portal for emergency applications so that they can easily be found and tracked.
- Save everyone time and streamline your application forms: Be sure to only include key questions that will expedite a yes or no approval. Use colors, markers, or bold font to clearly identify any information that is required.
- Make all application workflows clear and direct: This process can be as easy as creating new workflow buttons to move a record quickly to the right party.
- Keep grantees informed with automated email alerts: Lessen follow up by automatically informing grantees about their submission and application status.
- Adjust grantee reporting requirements: Keep your reporting requirements simple and make sure that you collect data in form fields—not via attachments.
- Keep staff engaged by enabling them to do their work: Ensure that your staff is trained on your system. Speed up the onboarding process with configurable dashboard views and filters that make it easy for them to find what they need.
The Surdna Foundation shows how these steps can lead to efficient processes that serve grantees when they need it most. Check out Fluxx’s Rapid Response Grantmaking guide to learn more about implementing these tactics.
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This post originally appeared on Fluxx.io