COVID-19 Grantee Relations

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Resources & Best Practices for Grantee Relations

The following FAQs are designed to address grantmakers' questions related to their role in preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and related period of economic volatility. Included in the Q&A responses below are samples, tools, articles, reports and other resources. Our team is also working closely in partnership with the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) and Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW) to remain connected around the needs of nonprofits and how funders can help.

CMF members with a question not addressed in the FAQ below, or who have samples that can be added to these resources, are invited to contact Ask CMF.

Disclaimer: The Council of Michigan Foundations is sharing the following sample documents, resources, tools and other materials as a member resource. Please note that these files are provided for educational purposes only, as a reference in developing your own materials. As such, be sure to consult your professional, legal and financial advisors in the development of resources, strategies and policies specific to your foundation’s needs. Further, this is a rapidly changing situation, and as such, be sure to refer to official sources for the latest news and information.

Table of Contents:


How can the foundation support our grantees and local nonprofits?

Communicate: Reach out to grantees and other nonprofits. Ask about the nonprofits’ needs and how the emerging situation is impacting their staff, operations and programs. Likewise, encourage nonprofits to reach out to the foundation to provide input on evolving needs within the community. 

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan launched a webpage that serves multiple purposes connected to COVID-19. One section is dedicated to grantees and shares a list of known needs, as well as an online form that grantees can fill out to highlight other needs they’ve identified.     

They also have shared their message sent to nonprofits inviting them to share their communities’ needs and letting partners know they can continue to apply for grants through the foundation’s online system and through typical means. 

The Kalamazoo Community Foundation has launched a Community Urgent Relief Fund. The page includes information on how to contribute to the fund, resources for the community and information on the Kalamazoo County Response Consortium coordinated by Gryphon Place.

The Skillman Foundation has shared with CMF an email sent to grant partners with their response to COVID-19. The William Davidson Foundation has shared with CMF a letter sent to grant partners

You can also share information you’re learning with grantees:

-The Chronicle of Philanthropy has pulled together a number of key resources specifically for nonprofits
-The Michigan Nonprofit Association released a statement that includes information and COVID-19 resources for nonprofit organizations.  
-The National Council of Nonprofits also has a webpage dedicated to recommended steps that nonprofits can take, as well as nationally-relevant resources. 
-The Association of Fundraising Professionals and Bloomerang have compiled lists of webinars, articles, and other resources specifically dedicated to the challenges that nonprofits face in fundraising during this period.  

Consider opportunities for flexibility in grantmaking: In his article “6 Steps for Grant Makers to Take Now to Ensure Nonprofits Recover from Coronavirus Spread” author Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, advises, “Even if your foundation or government agency does not provide unrestricted funding in normal times, remove those restrictions for now.”  

Consider that nonprofits may not have more than a few months’ worth of cash on hand, and the number of nonprofits with cancelled fundraising events, events they may normally rely on for operational funding.  

Carrie Pickett-Erway, president and CEO of Kalamazoo Community Foundation notes that foundations can explore changing previously awarded grants to unrestricted grants, in addition to new grantmaking. “If the grantee initially asked for money for their youth program, they now could use it for congregate meals if they see that as the highest priority.” 

Reduce administrative burdens on grantees: Bugg-Levine suggests funders suspend reporting requirements and evaluative site visits. “Any hour an organization spends filling out donor reports or preparing for donor visits distracts from planning and responding to this crisis.”  

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County has launched a COVID-19-specific grant application. The form streamlines the grant application process. 

Provide Clear Direction Around Changes to Existing Grant Programs: Communicate with nonprofit grantees regarding any potential changes to the foundation’s grantmaking. With fluctuations in staffing and priorities, any deadlines or submission processes that change should be clearly described within the foundation’s materials or highlighted in web or social media formats. If the foundation is adding a special or emergency fund in response to COVID-19 or economic volatility, make that information clear to grantees with realistic and responsive deadlines and expectations noted.  

Connect and Collaborate: Work with other funders and nonprofits to strategically address needs within the funding region. Each foundation and nonprofit has strengths and areas of expertise that can be called upon within this complex situation.  

In her article, “How to Help the Most Vulnerable Through the Pandemic” author Lauren A. Smith, co-CEO of a nonprofit consulting firm, and a former doctor and public health official, shares, “Foundations can leverage their considerable convening power to help community stakeholders, business leaders and public sector leaders collaborate to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response. Raise your voice and help raise the voices of your grantees and the communities they serve—our elected officials need to know what is and isn’t working. Use your influence to advocate for sustaining critical public health and community support infrastructure when we are not in crisis.” However, Smith also advises that foundations tap into existing local structures when possible, to avoid creating confusion or stress in an already tense situation.    

Think Multiple Layers Deep in Outcomes: In working across diverse populations and geographic regions, foundations and their nonprofit partners will face new and emerging needs resulting from social distancing policies and other non-traditional patterns of activity within the community. For example, school closures impact food programs designed for children and other services that can cause a detrimental economic effect on vulnerable populations. By collaborating with local government, school districts, nonprofits and other partners, foundations can direct funding to these important needs within their community.  

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What resources are available to help the foundation think through the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on our nonprofit grantees?

Our colleagues at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at GVSU are actively generating blogs and reports from their Community Data and Research Lab to help organizations and donors think through the risks and impact of COVID-19 on Michigan’s nonprofit sector. 

In a recent blog post, Jeff Williams, director, Community Data and Research Lab, Johnson Center for Philanthropy, posits several data-informed thoughts about this crisis and its impact on Michigan nonprofits: 

-Extreme flexibility is key. Due to the unpredictable nature of this event, its progression and its magnitude, everyone involved will need to remain flexible and communicate accordingly. 

-Nonprofits (and foundations) face several financial threats, depending on their revenue model and mission. Specifically, Williams indicates that nonprofits’ revenue may be impacted due to decreases in giving, a decline in service demand and decreased value in investments. The exact impact of the current financial situation varies by organizational size, dependency on investment income and type of services offered.  

-A return to normalcy will likely occur in waves. Based on previous disaster philanthropy scenarios, Williams anticipates that nonprofits and foundations will be called upon to respond in several waves of activity. Essential service nonprofits will serve immediate needs. When the virus curve has flattened, education, housing and human services are most likely to begin to resume more standard activity levels. As “normal” life begins to resume, job training, child care, workforce development and related areas of activity will become more essential, followed later by travel and leisure activities at a point when full business activity can also resume.    

The Johnson Center for Philanthropy and other partners are actively tracking nonprofit data to better understand how donors and foundations can best respond to emerging nonprofit challenges. CMF will continue to update and post these sources as they become available. 

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What communication guidelines might we consider when connecting with our stakeholders? Do you have examples?

CMF has put together these general suggestions to consider when connecting with your stakeholders (i.e. community members): 

-Stay people-centered with a focus on community, health and safety. 
-Recognize the equity issues involved in the crisis, including the impact on vulnerable populations. 
-Consider the role that all play in community resiliency; this may be a long journey with many phases of crisis to address. 
-Acknowledge the nonprofits you work with, with the foundation as a partner and supporter. 
-Acknowledge your partners (and name some i.e. United Way, local officials) who are mobilizing to ensure those most in need in the community have access to care, resources, etc. 
-Communicate how you’re responding, including how you’re working with grantees and changes you’ve made to your procedures.
-Include action steps of what residents or donors can be doing, and how they can help or contribute. 
-Provide links and resources to only the most reliable sources, i.e. CDC, WHO, state’s COVID-19 site. 
-Let your stakeholders know how they can learn more about the foundation’s work and/or when you’ll communicate next. 

The following are just a few examples of communications that foundations are sharing with stakeholders: 

The Skillman Foundation has shared with CMF a blog post with their response to COVID-19. 

The William Davidson Foundation has shared with CMF its e-mailed message responding to COVID-19.

The Greenville Area Community Foundation (GACF) is one of many community foundations that has launched a webpage specific to COVID-19. GACF’s site includes a direct link to donation information through the local United Way and an overview of the foundation’s response to this pandemic. 

The Greater Washington Community Foundation shared their message to fundholders. It includes information on a regional emergency fund and protecting staff and stakeholders, as well as an excellent event cancellation notice that included proactive measures considerate of the community impact of the cancellation.

Looking for additional communication examples? Contact CMF

Additional communication resources: 

The Communications Network is a national community of foundation and nonprofit communications professionals. They have a variety of resources related to crisis and public health communications available on their website, and they are currently offering a new listserv open to anyone, including non-members. You can also connect with Michigan-based in this community peers via the ComNetworkDetroit group on Facebook

Communications professionals from more than 50 U.S. community foundations discussed best practices for messaging their communities and internal teams about the COVID-19 crisis during a March 12, 2020 call, organized by the Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative. They have provided a recording of the call as a member resource.

The Michigan Society of Association Executives, of which CMF is a member, has provided a listing of partners who can support communications, public relations and event planning supports. Please contact Bridget McGuiggan, chief strategy officer, CMF, for that resource or other communication-related needs. 

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What are some of the ways nonprofits are thinking creatively and reaching out to communities while serving their mission?

Some nonprofits are serving on the front lines in order to meet urgent health and social service needs. Organizations like Gleaners and Kids’ Food Basket are working to bring food to children out of school, expanding upon their existing operations through increased donations and volunteers. 

Other nonprofits and institutions are thinking about their missions in new creative ways. While museums are closed and public performances cancelled, arts institutions are being creative about reaching audiences at home, where entertainment may be greatly needed in social distancing conditions. The Metropolitan Opera announced that it is launching a “Nightly Met Opera Stream” for free. PBS Kids has built upon its strengths in educational programming to offer daily activities and tips for children home from school. 

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What are some ways that foundations are assisting individuals?

As part of the philanthropic sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, foundations are actively looking to support individuals directly impacted by the health effects of the pandemic or by social distancing, as well as others suffering from widespread economic effects on nonprofits and businesses. 

The Council on Foundations also has a useful webpage dedicated to addressing how foundations can create hardship funds and provide assistance to individuals.

Robin Ferriby, a CMF member and senior counsel at Clark Hill, PLC, has also written an article entitled, “Considerations in Supporting Individuals during COVID-19 Pandemic,” that provides an overview of relevant laws that influence how foundations and employers can assist individuals.

United Way: Many foundations are looking to regional partnerships to ensure that individuals receive the assistance they need. A number of Michigan community foundations are teaming with their local United Way and other regional partners to meet the needs of their community. The United Way has an established system within most regions of the state to directly address basic needs, while foundations are able to support and provide additional capacity to meet widespread need.

Community Action Agencies: A network of 28 community action agencies service all 83 counties within Michigan, providing vulnerable populations with critical services throughout the relief and recovery stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The DTE Foundation made a $500,000 matching grant to Michigan Community Action agencies, to provide emergency food and housing assistance to individuals across the state. 

Other Nonprofits: Foundations are also working with their existing strategic partners to reach vulnerable populations within their communities. Through emergency and urgent need funds, community funds are specifically reaching the organizations that have established connections to the individuals who need assistance. 

Employees: The President’s declaration of a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act for the COVID-19 pandemic triggers the provisions of Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 139. This section provides guidance to employers for providing “emergency relief payments” to staff without those payments being considered as taxable income to the employee and exempts such payments from being subject to unemployment insurance taxes to the employer.  

For example, during this type of extreme need if employers should provide additional medical assistance not already covered or child care through direct employee payments, those would not be taxable to either the employee or employer provided that it meets the eligibility qualifications as outlined. Further, during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the IRS issued a notice which references Publication 3833Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance Through Charitable Organizations. This publication provides additional guidance on how charitable organizations, including employer related private foundations, public charities and donor advised funds can make relief payments to individuals or otherwise support these relief efforts. Specifically, the publication offers guidance on establishing disaster relief programs to cover basic necessities for the general public and how private foundations can support employees using foundation assets without being considered self-dealing or requiring additional IRS approval. 

As described in more detail in this memo drafted for corporate clients by Jennifer Oertel, a CMF member, shareholder with Bodman PLC and CMF’s Impact Investing Expert in Residence, the rules against impermissible private benefit, self-dealing, and recipient charitable class still apply. It is posted for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice.  

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What are some examples of how foundations are assisting local and small businesses?

Foundations are actively using their local connections and partnerships to assist businesses facing financial challenges. 

Chambers of Commerce and Economic Partnerships: Foundations can work in collaboration with chambers of commerce, local governments and businesses as active partners in addressing community needs. As part of a network of institutions, foundations can assist in supporting the economic welfare of small businesses and their employees. (Please note that foundations may face restrictions for some economic development grants or those directed to non-501(c)(3) organizations. Consult with tax or legal counsel before making these grants.) 

Foundations have found additional ways to support local businesses, such as ordering food from local restaurants and continuing to rely on established partnerships for office space and services.   

CDFIs: Partnerships with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are also an important means for foundations to support small businesses. Through Program Related Investments (PRIs) and other avenues, foundations can help local and small businesses gain access to loans that ensure they can survive through this period of economic volatility.  

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Have a question?

We will continue to update this webpage with new Q&A items. If you have a question not shown here, we invite you to reach out via Ask CMF, a technical assistance service available to all CMF members. Questions may also be directed to CMF staff members by visiting our team page

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