Published in Chronicle Of Philanthropy

By Hilary Pennington, Kathleen Enright, Tonya Allen

Many foundations temporarily increased flexible, unrestricted funding for grantees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford’s Hilary Pennington, Council on Foundations’ Kathleen Enright, and McKnight Foundation’s Tonya Allen, argue these changes should not only be permanent—they should go even further.

Just after the Covid lockdown, the Ford Foundation joined the Council on Foundations and several grant makers to launch a philanthropy pledge focused on helping nonprofits survive the economic fallout from the Covid pandemic and meet the exploding demand for services in their communities.

The pledge succeeded beyond our expectations. More than 800 organizations signed the pledge statement. Better yet, many grant makers followed through on their commitments, according to a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. “Among the most frequent changes they made as a result of the pandemic were loosening or eliminating grant restrictions, reducing what is asked of grantees, and making new grants as unrestricted as possible,” the center reported. It is through these practices that we can forge the trust required to create the large-scale societal change we seek.

But as Alex Daniels reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofits are worried that the rubber band will snap back now that Covid is starting to recede. Now is not the time for us to go backwards. In fact, we need to expand beyond the pledge’s eight modest commitments. A lot has changed since we rolled out the pledge at the outset of the pandemic—and we have learned a lot as well. Most important of all, the events of the past year demonstrated the imperative for philanthropy to focus explicitly on addressing anti-Black racism and elevating leadership of people of color.

That’s why foundations that learned and adapted amid the challenges of 2020 should go even further in 2021. In that spirit, here are five practices nonprofits have been calling for foundations to adopt:

  1. Break out of the “nonprofit starvation cycle.”
  2. Address inequities in society and our own institutions.
  3. Share power with grantees and treat them as partners in change.
  4. Play well with others.
  5. Focus our processes on learning and improvement.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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