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COVID crisis forces a shift in grantmaking


24 July 2020 at 11:48 am
Luke Michael
More than half of grantmakers have added a new grants program specifically in response to coronavirus


Luke Michael | 24 July 2020 at 11:48 am


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COVID crisis forces a shift in grantmaking
24 July 2020 at 11:48 am

More than half of grantmakers have added a new grants program specifically in response to coronavirus   

Many grantmakers are struggling with the pace of emergency grantmaking amid the uncertain COVID-19 environment, new research shows. 

The SmartyGrants COVID-19 Grantmaking Survey 2020 collected responses from 87 funders across Australia and New Zealand, to gauge how the COVID crisis has affected grants processes.

It found that when implementing their COVID-19 response programs, grantmakers were commonly challenged by the short timeframes inherent in designing and implementing rapid response grants.

More than half (55 per cent) of grantmakers said they had added a new grants program specifically in response to COVID-19.

One respondent noted having twice the number of applicants as they would in a normal annual round, while another said they had to “rush to get it together”.

Kathy Richardson, the executive director of Our Community – which conducted the survey – told Pro Bono News some grantmakers also faced the dual challenge of increased demand for funds while contemplating a potential or real reduction in their own budgets. 

“Adapting to the shorter timeframes demanded by the times has [been] a challenge for many, though some are doing really well in response,” Richardson said.

“One SmartyGrants user quickly opened a brand new $100 million grants round and received more than 1,800 applications in a day, with 800 grants assessed and paid out by the end of that day.” 

Overall, 94 per cent of grantmakers surveyed have provided extra support to existing grantees, while 81 per cent have helped new applicants to apply for grants.

Around one-third (32 per cent) of respondents said they increased their 2019-20 funding levels above expected (pre-COVID) levels – with a median increase of 30 per cent.  

Richardson said grantmakers were doing their absolute best to speed up and react appropriately to what grantees needed right now, but she noted not every organisation was benefitting. 

“Many grantmakers we surveyed told us they had been providing additional information and help for grantees, had extended deadlines and/or had streamlined their application processes, and most had allowed grantees to vary their project timelines,” she said.

“That said, we know that many not-for-profit organisations are really struggling right now, so it seems clear that the additional funds and additional help are not reaching every group that needs it.

“Organisations that don’t have an existing close and trusting relationship with a funder are likely to be struggling the most right now.”

Grantmakers have also seen some positives emerge from the COVID crisis, with those surveyed enjoying the “ability to be more creative and flexible operating in a virtual environment“, and having “more contact with community groups to find out how they are going”.

Richardson said the COVID pandemic meant grantmaking would never be the same again. 

“Some of the changes have been positive [which was shown when we] asked grantmakers what they’d like to take with them into the post-COVID era,” she said.

“While acknowledging the challenges of quick-response grantmaking, many said they’d like to retain aspects of the streamlined, agile and responsive practices they are honing now.”  

The full survey results can be found here.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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