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Part III: Look to the Past, Fund the Future

This post is part three of a three-part series. If you haven’t already, go back and check out part one and part two, where we describe what happened to the nonprofit sector in Washington during the last economic recession and what nonprofit leaders can do today to survive.

At Ostara, we have come to recognize that our team is in the unusual position of being able to connect the dots between nonprofit needs and grantmaker desires. There is so much overlap in that space, and in a time like this, we know that grantmakers and philanthropists want nothing more than to find the overlap and lean into it. (You can tell by the still-growing list of response funds.)

In that spirit, Ostara would like to offer a few recommendations of where and how foundations can think about prioritizing their goals.

  1. Plan to support recovery in phases. Quick response to emergent needs is necessary, but so is long term thinking about the stability and planning for the organization. As our previous research shows, there are short, mid, and long term periods of time in which the economy will cycle back around. Grantmakers that openly and explicitly communicate phased thinking – on websites and in emails and outreach – will help current grantees and potential grantees see where they may fit in. The more nonprofits can understand the timing of a potential partnership in the longer term, the better they can plan holistically and prioritize their time.

  1. Understand that survival may be the key metric for success. It won’t be the number of people served, the number of hours worked, or graduation rates; simply existing in 2021 will be one of the hardest and most important things a nonprofit is able to accomplish. This could turn out to be especially true for organizations whose mission is not specifically health care or human services – such as education, arts, culture, environment, advocacy, and social justice organizations. Although, we are seeing that all organizations and their people are directly connected to this pandemic in some way. Some foundation staff already know or suspect that reporting requirements and outcome tracking are excessive. Grantmakers that clarify expectations around outcomes for current grantees or potential future grantees with sensitivity to this reality – and grantmakers who require as little as possible – will provide the biggest relief from a grantee’s day-to-day stresses.

  1. Nonprofits need stability and some grantmakers may be in a position to provide it.  Long-term, unrestricted financial commitments will make a bigger difference than any other kind of financial gift. A grantmaker that removes as many restrictions as possible – not just during this epidemic but permanently – will have the biggest impact on a nonprofit’s ability to serve their community. Consider making bigger and more long term commitments, reassuring grantees that they can count on multi-year funding without meeting benchmarks. Foundations may feel that this is the absolute wrong time to spend down assets, but just as with financial ROI, investing in social impact ROI when the economy is most vulnerable can have the biggest social return. Grantmakers often encourage bold action from their grantees and this is an opportunity to demonstrate what that looks like.

  1. Money is great, and is only part of the solution. Nonprofits need ongoing, relevant fundraising expertise and capacity to complement and support their teams. That is likely to become even more true as budgets are slimmed and funding levels drop over a sustained period of time. Now is the time for organizations to plan for the future and invest in the important work of engaging donors and stakeholders. Grantmakers can now consider what role they can play in helping nonprofits assess their organizational needs and access that kind of expertise and support.

Philanthropy in the form of foundation giving is a core driver of nonprofit work in our region. We know that grantmakers are here for the long haul, and Ostara shares the desire to support both individual nonprofits as well as the longevity of the sector as a whole.

Grantmakers face an unprecedented opportunity to show up in new and innovative ways when it is most needed and most impactful to the largest number of people. Some may act quickly, and some may take their time to plan out your response. Everyone can play a role in this recovery in a way that resonates with each organization’s core values.

There is much opportunity and we are here to help in every way we can. How can we work together?

We are here for you and we will walk with you as you navigate this situation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to shift your fundraising event plans, how to respond to funder inquiries about programs and services, how to manage remote work for your teams, or to navigate fears with donors or volunteers. We’re here to connect.


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