Courting Foundation Support
in the Midst of Crisis

Ken Marotte Senior Writer AC Fitzgerald Author

Ken Marotte, Senior Writer and Managing Director

Much has been written about individual fundraising in the coronavirus era. But what about foundations?

“We have to triage like everyone else,” an officer with a prominent foundation told me. “Everyone is nervous, but we’re handling it, and moving forward.” He emphasized that existing grantees and efforts will get preference in this difficult season: “Newer [projects] are going to be in a tougher environment. It’s going to be much more competitive.”

His foundation is seeing significantly increased demand at a time when securities markets are unsettled and erratic. Since foundations tend to thrive on stability and predictability, this could have important consequences for nonprofits.

Which begs the question: Are foundations worthy of your efforts right now? Yes, and here’s why:

*** Foundations must give. Each year, foundations must distribute grants equaling at least five percent of their assets. This requirement is not relaxed in times of crisis or hardship. They need organizations like yours.

*** Foundations are stable. Foundations tend to be carefully and conservatively managed, with ample resources to weather the toughest economic storms.

*** Foundations provide a solid return on investment. No galas, conferences, or hefty travel budgets to worry about. Simply do your research and make your strongest case.

How do foundations act in times of crisis? There’s value in looking back before moving forward. During the Great Recession, we observed:

A decrease in multiyear grantmaking and average grant size. Foundations wanted to help, but many sought a return to fiscal normalcy before making larger commitments. Some even reduced average grant amounts on a temporary basis. Temper your expectations accordingly.

An increase in support for general operations. Some foundations released grantees from program-based restrictions so they could channel funds where they were needed most. Talk to your foundation contacts about how they can be of help.

Interest in what’s relevant. Foundations wanted to be part of the solution. If you’re working in a geographical area that’s been hit hard by COVID-19, or if you’re contributing toward better economic solutions or improved public health practices, communicate that clearly.

A bias for existing grantees. While foundations tend to fare better in crisis than nonprofits, they weren’t immune to loss in the late 2000s, nor are they today. Many are seeing significant portfolio losses and looking to shore up expenditures accordingly. Continue to approach new grantors, but prioritize your prospects and be understanding of the tough position in which they find themselves.

Many of these trends have already resurfaced. Nearly 500 foundations have pledged to be flexible and generous in these trying times, while some proactive grantors have even issued statements on where they stand and what lies ahead.

In summary, take heart and give it your best shot. Be sensitive, work strategically, and don’t be afraid to pursue this promising opportunity at a time when nonprofits and foundations need each other greatly.

Ken Marotte serves as Senior Writer and Managing Director at AC Fitzgerald. He writes powerful fundraising pieces for the firm’s clients, and uses his skills in process analysis and improvement to strengthen our day-to-day operations.

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