COVID-19 Resources & Best Practices

COVID-19 Resources


Disaster and Crisis Planning Resources & Philanthropy’s Collective Response 

If your foundation has questions or concerns related to disaster grantmaking, please contact Ask CMF, a technical assistance service of CMF.  

Table of Contents


Where can I find resources to plan or re-evaluate the foundation’s response?

For a community-related crisis, CMF has curated the following materials from our national and regional partners that have been most useful to CMF members facing unexpected situations in their area: 

  • The Disaster Philanthropy Playbook developed by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy is a comprehensive resource featuring practices and approaches designed to address disaster situations.   
  • The Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Plan authored by the Council on Foundations incorporates both internal processes and grantmaking procedures. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has a longer timeframe compared to many crises and natural disasters (hurricane, tornado, wildfire, etc.), and many unknowns. It is critical that foundations think through their immediate, intermediate and long-term roles. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a useful “Lessons Learned” webpage that provides guidance on the role of philanthropy before, during and after disasters strike.   


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What are some key considerations in disaster giving? 

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy offers these basic tips that apply to all disaster giving, not only the COVID-19 crisis.   

  • Take the long view. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven itself to be a marathon, not a sprint. There are many immediate needs, but the recovery process may last years. Plan for a long period in which flexible funding will be needed by grantees. Additionally, plan to re-evaluate and adapt the foundation’s COVID grantmaking efforts to address emerging needs.

  • Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not. Foundations and nonprofits have proven themselves able to provide innovative and flexible solutions, with timely responses. While government funding and support are being implemented, philanthropy has a unique and vital role to play in supporting (though not supplanting) state and federal government efforts. 

  • All funders are disaster philanthropists. Foundations nationally are playing a vital role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Grantmakers across categories are addressing significant needs in their communities, reacting to the many outcomes of the pandemic and economic uncertainty facing their grantees. 

  • Support the sharing of best practices. Through the work of peer groups and philanthropy serving organizations, including the Council of Michigan Foundations, foundations are sharing their experiences and best practices. This information sharing is vital to the success of all communities encountering the COVID-19 crisis and future crises. 

  • Connect with other funders. Foundations are working together to address the impact of COVID-19, especially within their geographic region. Rapid relief funds have shown themselves to be an effective model in collaborative grantmaking to meet the unique needs of the local community.

  • Look to past disasters for guidance. Disaster grantmaking models from previous situations are functioning as the playbook for the COVID-19 crisis. Lessons learned from a wide range of experiences and crisis types can point to effective strategies to employ today and can help us anticipate the next facets of crisis. 

  • Ask the experts. CMF and its partners are serving as vital hubs for information, expertise and public policy initiatives, including through the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Michigan Association of United Way 2-1-1 data centers. This is also a key time to talk to nonprofits directly, to lift up and listen to the expertise of those working on the ground, in community, who are seeing and hearing challenges and opportunities first-hand.    

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How can the foundation respond to other local natural disasters while also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Natural disasters (floods, tornados, etc.) continue to effect communities and states that are already dealing with COVID-related health and economic challenges. The following resources may be useful to foundations coping with simultaneous disasters: 

Many of the resources CMF has created for COVID-19 also pertain to natural disaster situations and their impact on foundations’ operations and grantmaking. The following FAQs can be found within the COVID-19 Resource Central webpage: 

In response to state-wide questions regarding COVID-19 and recent disasters, attorney Jennifer Oertel published “Disaster Relief Philanthropy” in The Michigan Business Law Journal.  This resource offers important legal insight into issues of:

  • Indefinite charitable class;
  • Assistance to individuals;
  • Supporting local businesses;
  • Employer-sponsored disaster relief;
  • Corporate foundation efforts; 
  • Employer-sponsored donor advised funds (DAFs);
  • Employer-sponsored charities;
  • Direct payments to employees;
  • Employer sponsored donations of PTO, leave, and vacation time; and 
  • Records of disaster relief.

Similarly, attorney Robin Ferriby provided guidance for disaster relief for for-profit businesses and individuals

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How does a federally declared disaster designation impact the foundation’s grantmaking activities?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump declared a national emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which triggers the provisions of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 139.  This designation has since been extended by President Biden.   

While some local natural disasters may receive a state-based “state of emergency” designation, not all local events also receive federal assistance. 

The federal designation provides several benefits that directly impact grantmaking foundations. 

  • IRC Section 139 offers 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.   
  • The Stafford Act also allows for employer-sponsored DAFs to serve as an exception to benefit individuals (employees and their families), who are victims of a qualified disaster. Under normal circumstances, DAFs cannot be used to benefit individuals.  

The IRS publication “Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance Through Charitable Organizations” provides additional guidance on how foundations can assist with relief efforts. 

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How do I address children’s questions about philanthropy and the COVID-19 pandemic?

CMF teamed with Learning to Give to produce updated materials appropriate to youth programs and YACs for the COVID-19 outbreak. Learning to Give now has a Disaster Preparation and Response Toolkit, with COVID-19 specific information, available here. Their article "Generosity and Service While Practicing Social Distancing” provides ideas for education-based activities parents and their kids can engage in from home. This resource includes Simple Safe Service activity guides so that families can help members of their communities from the safety of home. 

The National Center for Family Philanthropy also compiled a list of philanthropic resources for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

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Have a question?

These FAQ's 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.

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

Submit A Question

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.



Data & Community SourcesResources & Best PracticesUpcoming Webinars & Calls

Relief & Response Funds in MIState News & Policy AlertsCMF Response


Equity at the Center of Philanthropy’s Response

Effectively addressing the COVID-19 pandemic requires each of us to understand the equity implications for the most vulnerable in our communities. When schools close, businesses require employees to remain home and commerce and industry at all levels feel the pain of an economic slowdown. The impact across Michigan communities is even more significant for underrepresented and underserved populations. We are being called upon to play crucial, even life-saving roles together in partnership with nonprofits, government and other partners.   

The pandemic has unearthed new challenges and exposed existing inequities in Michigan and around the nation—in many cases exacerbating established problems that have historically affected underrepresented populations, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), those living in low-income parts of Michigan (including urban, rural, and suburban communities), low-wage workers, people with disabilities and people without documentation. Indeed, the challenges facing underrepresented communities were not created by the pandemic, but they have been magnified because of it. Michigan philanthropy has a role in addressing these challenges as part of not only relief and recovery, but reform.  

The pandemic is being experienced in the context of systemic racial disparities illuminated by recent events across the country, including trauma caused by centuries of oppression suffered by BIPOC. Racial equity for all people is needed in order to create equal opportunity for well-being and a more just society. Recent civic action around police brutality has reaffirmed the need to focus on the disparate treatment of individuals in Michigan. Addressing these disparities requires that we identify and disrupt structures of systemic racism and recognition that such disparities are not the result of failings by underrepresented groups, but rather the result of structural failures. 

We invite you to subscribe to CMF’s e-communication tool, The Download. Sent on Monday mornings, this publication features the latest updates from the field, emerging and established best practices and key learning opportunities for Michigan philanthropy, grounded in our community to putting equity at the center of our work. 


Have a question?

These FAQ's 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.

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

Submit A Question

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.



Data & Community SourcesResources & Best PracticesUpcoming Webinars & Calls

Relief & Response Funds in MIState News & Policy AlertsCMF Response



Table of Contents:

Grantee Partnerships

Grantmaking Strategy

Grants Management

Specific to Foundation Type




Grantee Partnerships

How can the foundation support our grantees and local nonprofits?

Many foundations in Michigan and across the country have been re-examining their practices and activating a variety of strategies to support nonprofit partners and local communities, adapting to meet emerging and evolving needs while maintaining a long-term view on the organization’s mission, vision, values and ability to respond to future crises. 

Over the past year, numerous national partners have highlighted how foundations have changed their approaches in response to COVID-19. 

Open communication: Central to being an effective partner and resource during the COVID-19 crisis is communication. Foundation leaders are encouraged to reach out to grantees and other nonprofits to invite a conversation about their needs and how the pandemic is impacting their staff, operations and programs, while also encouraging their outreach. For those foundations who engaged in those dialogues at the start of the pandemic, now one year later this may be a key time to revisit the conversation. Foundations should also review their current communications plan and web-based materials to provide up-to-date information about their grantmaking, access to facilities and other deadlines and descriptions that may have modified.

You can also share COVID resources with grantees:

-The Michigan Nonprofit Association created a webpage that includes COVID-19 resources for nonprofit organizations, centered around advocacy, financial, legal, and personnel support.   
-The National Council of Nonprofits has a webpage dedicated to meeting nonprofit needs during the COVID-19 crisis, 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.  

Flexibility in grantmaking: As nonprofits continue to grapple with the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic, foundations are encouraged to explore opportunities to adjust their grantmaking accordingly.

A report from Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy indicated that nearly 800 foundations have signed “A Call To Action: Philanthropy's Commitment During Covid-19” – a national pledge coordinated by the Council on Foundations which includes a commitment to more flexible funding approaches. The pledge encourages foundations to: 

-Loosen or eliminate the restrictions on current grants. 
-Make new grants as unrestricted as possible. 
-Reduce requests of nonprofit partners, including postponing reporting requirements and site visits. 
-Contribute to community-based emergency funds and other efforts to address the health and economic impact on those most affected. 
-Communicate proactively and regularly about foundation decision making and response. 
-Listen to partners, especially communities least heard, and lift up their voices and experiences to inform public discourse and act on their feedback. 
-Support grantee partners advocating for public policy changes to fight the pandemic and deliver equitable and just emergency response for all. 
-Share learnings from these emergency practices in order to consider adjusting philanthropic practices in the future. 

Whatever flexibility looks like for your foundation, be sure grantees are aware of the changes, especially given the many fluctuations nonprofits are seeing 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. For foundations that are transitioning back to their standard grantmaking strategy or pursuing a hybrid approach, that information (and appropriate deadlines) should also be clearly articulated to potential applicants.

As foundations reflect on the flexibility they offered through the pandemic – from short-form grant applications to evaluation methods that are far less time consuming for grantees – it is critical to consider whether those changes can be made permanent. Before going “back to normal” foundation trustees and staff may want to consider adopting those shifts as their new way of operating.      

Connect and collaborate: Work with other funders, nonprofits and community leaders to strategically address needs within the region. Each partner can bring unique strengths and areas of expertise.  

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.    

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. As the intermediate and long-term effects of the pandemic become increasingly obvious, foundations will continue to play an important role in addressing these challenges for nonprofits and the communities they serve. 

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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 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 impact is the COVID-19 crisis having on nonprofit cash flow? How can foundations help? 

Funders across the philanthropic sector have expressed concern about nonprofits’ cash flow throughout the COVID-19 crisis. With increased service demand, shuttered programs and events, and unpredictable revenue, nonprofits are facing financial uncertainty with no precise timeline for returning to “normalcy” in regard to their operations. 

In a blog post, Jeff Williams and Tamela Spicer (Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University) provide insight into the state of Michigan nonprofits’ cash and cash equivalents going into the COVID-19 crisis.  

These are just a few of the key takeaways and common themes we read:  

  • The median number of months of cash on hand for Michigan charitable nonprofits is 2 months – 5.5 months including cash and cash equivalents. 

  • The larger the nonprofit by revenue, the less cash (or cash and savings) on hand – sometimes falling to dangerous levels. While smaller nonprofits oftentimes had well over two months of cash on hand, very large nonprofits measured their cash on hand in days or weeks, rather than months.  

  • Even with minimal event or paid admission revenue, arts organizations were more likely to have “rainy day” funds while health and human services nonprofits had relatively low median amounts of cash on hand.  

  • Younger organizations have more months of cash on hand than older organizations.  Nonprofits founded before 1975 had only 1.1 months of cash on hand, in comparison to 2.5 months for those founded in 2015 or later.   

  • One third of Michigan’s charitable nonprofits have less than one month of cash on hand, while employing two-thirds of the employees in the sector.  

For funders concerned about nonprofit cash flow, this information is timely and important for building future strategy and grantmaking that impacts nonprofits in the near future.  Staff from CMF and the Johnson Center suggest the following as potential action steps for funders: 

  • Grantmakers should reach out to grantees to determine their cash needs, including well-established and large organizations.   

  • For foundations concerned about helping to keep the nonprofit sector’s workers employed, they should consider the impact of cash on hand as an indicator of which organizations need assistance. 

  • Consider how grant flexibility toward operational or staff costs can provide a valuable lifeline to nonprofits. 

  • Support capacity building for nonprofits in the near and long terms. 

  • Help convene nonprofits to help address needs, whether that involves meeting the basic needs of community members or the cash flow concerns of keeping nonprofits’ doors open. 

The Johnson Center presented a webinar, “In the Time of Coronavirus: What the Data Say About the Risk to Nonprofits – A Conversation for Funders” on April 29, featuring Jeff Williams, director of the Community Data and Research Lab (CDRL) at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy in a conversation with CMF President and CEO Kyle Caldwell. CMF members interested in accessing the event recording are invited to contact CMF

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How can we help our nonprofit grantees think about building resiliency into their strategy and programming? 

It is critical organizations consider not only high-urgency, immediate needs amid the COVID-19 crisis, but also their recovery and longer-term strategy.  The term “resiliency” has become synonymous with the long-term stage of COVID-19 and the philanthropic sector’s response to it. 

The S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation developed a series of materials centered around the theme of organizational resiliency. With the many shocks and disruptions that have come to define the COVID-19 crisis, these tools address the heightened interest in resiliency as an asset for nonprofits and their funding partners. Based on this research, resilient nonprofits shared seven defining characteristics: 

  • Purpose Driven: A galvanizing commitment to mission, meaning, and values. 
  • Clear Eyed: Challenges faced head-on, while maintaining faith in ultimate success. 
  • Future Oriented: Forward-looking planning practices for navigating an uncertain future. 
  • Open: Intentional communication with internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Empowered: Inclusive organizational culture that embraces shared leadership. 
  • Committed to Self-Renewal: Space created for rest and rejuvenation. 
  • Connected: Supported by personal relationships, institutional links, and community networks.  

Grantmakers should consider how they can help to cultivate these attributes within grantee nonprofits.  

As Diana Scearce describes in Resiliency at Work, “At their best, resilient nonprofits respond to disruptions as tipping points, rather than tragedies, finding new opportunities to learn, grow, evolve, and, ultimately, better serve their communities.” Funders can help cultivate resiliency in their grantee nonprofits by following good grantmaking principles, including: 

  • Come to the table: Be a student of nonprofits and their context in order to be able to offer meaningful support in times of disruption. 

  • Stay at the table: Listen intently and remain committed, while offering support, even if this means sitting back to give nonprofits the necessary space and time to navigate periods of disruption. 

  • Stand in the nonprofit’s shoes: Commit to understanding the foundation’s biases and blind spots, which may impact its understanding of nonprofits’ challenges. 

  • Be in open dialogue with nonprofits: Invite authentic conversation and learn together with nonprofit grantees in order to prepare and respond to current and potential disruptions.  

  • Keep nonprofits’ needs at the center: Focus on the unique context and needs of nonprofit organizations, particularly in times of turmoil and disruption. Funding initiatives may need to be reevaluated or set aside in the meantime. 

In considering the immense challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, these principles are a good reminder of how funders can come alongside nonprofit grantees to focus on the big picture goals that foundations and nonprofits share to create vibrant and healthy communities.   

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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 Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) has also provided a sample COVID-19 Input Survey that foundations can use with their grantees. This survey instrument is designed to gauge nonprofit challenges, needs and resources during the COVID-19 crisis.  

The Communications Network has put together a “COVID-19 Crisis Comms Triage Kit” with sample messaging, recommendations, and resources useful to communications staff across the philanthropic sector.  

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 some museums remain closed and venues have had to cancel in-person public performances, many arts institutions have found creative ways to reach audiences virtually. As examples, the Metropolitan Opera launched a “Nightly Met Opera Stream” for free and PBS Kids 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. 

Disaster grants for individuals, as well as employee hardship funds, are not designed to duplicate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) payments or insurance payments to individuals or families. As a result, emergency relief from community foundations, rapid relief funds and other charitable efforts are designed to help cover the remainder of basic needs created by the pandemic. An individual applying for this category of funding may receive assistance with medical expenses, funeral expenses, temporary housin, or travel expenses for family members assisting a victim of a disaster. 

The IRS Publication 3833 provides further clarify for employee hardship funds and similar efforts that are designed to benefit employees and their immediate family members. This means that these funds can be used to provide assistance to the employee directly, in the case of the disaster impacting the employee’s spouse or children, or to assist the family in the unfortunate case of the employee’s injury or death. 

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. 

Grants and Loans: Foundations can provide disaster relief payments to for-profit businesses, under certain conditions. These payments can be made if they fulfill a charitable purpose, provide a “reasonable means” of accomplishing that charitable purpose, and any benefit to a private interest is incidental. Grants made to for-profit businesses will require expenditure responsibility.   

Robin Ferriby, senior counsel at Clark Hill, PLC, provided guidance around the question of how foundations can provide disaster relief to for-profit businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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. The Council on Foundations has a useful webpage that describes community foundations’ options for giving to chambers of commerce and other 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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What other resources are available related to support for small businesses?

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has a number of resources and funding opportunities available for small businesses and Michigan-based organizations.  MEDC regularly updates their COVID-19 webpage to include active support programs.

MEDC’s Pure Michigan Business Connect program is expanding its free, online procurement platform by now including donations from suppliers capable of filling health and human service needs across a broad range of product and service categories. The platform will provide direct access to businesses within the state providing supplies including personal protection equipment, food, medical devices, paper products, cleaning equipment and more. The platform is also offering a place for companies with manufacturing capabilities for personal protection equipment to indicate which items (i.e. masks, gowns, ventilators) they are able to produce, along with quantity and timing detail. Service providers seeking access to supplies and suppliers who have items to support COVID-19 response efforts can learn more on the Business Connect website

CMF was among those who submitted comments to the Federal Reserve urging that nonprofits be included in the Main Street Lending Program to support lending to small and mid-sized businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program would offer four-year loans to companies employing up to 10,000 workers or with revenues lower than $2.5 billion. 

Additional resources on COVID-19 related to business are available from Business Leaders for Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce

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How can I report suspicious activity during the COVID-19 crisis, such as illegitimate PPE suppliers, charity scams, hoarding and price gouging?   

While actively assisting nonprofit grantees with acquiring personal protection equipment (PPE), it is important to be aware of illegitimate suppliers. Other scams and fraud have also been reported during the COVID-19 crisis, including the emergence of requests from fake charities.  

The Department of Justice has a webpage dedicated to "detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the [COVID-19] crisis."  Much of this activity can be included in two categories: “coronavirus fraud” or “hoarding and price gouging.”    

As foundations assist organizations in obtaining PPE, the Department of Justice is actively working to prevent hoarding and price gouging of these critical materials. By pursuing the bad actors who are amassing critical supplies, hospitals, medical facilities and other frontline organizations are able to obtain the necessary supplies they require to combat COVID-19.  

If your foundation has encountered or become the victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, or have information on hoarding or price gouging of critical supplies, please contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or email [email protected]. Cyber scam activity can be reported online.   

For foundations seeking out PPE for their employees, MEDC has created a portal to connect Michigan employers with PPE producers to ensure safe in-person operations.  More information on this initiative is available through a state press release.  The MEDC Procurement Platform portal is available here

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Grantmaking Strategy

What is a rapid relief or response fund? 

In response to COVID-19, many communities are forming rapid relief or response funds. They are oftentimes intended to meet the needs of a specific geographic area or of a field of organizations.  According to a report by Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, community foundations and their rapid relief funds provided 49% of grants made to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 860 rapid relief funds were created across the United States in the first half of 2020, with two-thirds of those funds established at community foundations. 

According to the Council on Foundations, these funds share the following features: 

  • Provide one-time general operating support grants. 

  • Accept applications and provide grants on a rolling basis. 

  • Include funding for the immediate economic impacts being experienced by so many, such as those who have suddenly lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, those who cannot work because they are caring for children whose schools have closed and those facing new healthcare costs for testing and treatment. 

  • Clearly delineate who is not eligible. 

  • Collaborate with community partners to understand the pandemic impacts in order to deploy funds effectively. 

  • Have easy-to-find information about how individuals, businesses and others can donate to the fund to support their community. 

A listing of known relief funds active within the state of Michigan that are either led or supported by CMF members are available in our Resource Central page. If you are aware of a relief and response fund led by or supported by Michigan philanthropy that is not listed, please contact CMF

What is the value of operational versus programmatic grants in this environment?

Several sources have recommended that foundations prioritize operational grants. Within the current environment, both operational and programmatic grantmaking strategies are exceptionally valuable and both are needed across the nonprofit sector to ensure the survival of as many organizations as possible through a period of economic volatility and community need. 

Programmatic grants make up a significant portion of modern-day grantmaking strategies. Nonprofits depend on this funding to implement cutting-edge programs and drive impact for the populations they serve. In times of uncertainty and upheaval, nonprofits will be actively implementing innovative strategies to serve individuals within their communities. They are depending on foundations to continue to provide this type of support at or above their current levels.  

Operational grants are somewhat less common within an impact-driven grantmaking strategy. However, nonprofits facing uncertain financial situations (given fluctuations in endowments, fewer people through the door, etc.) greatly benefit from funding that ensures they can keep their doors open and their staff employed. Grants intended to address operations generally allow nonprofits much-needed time and resources until their financial situation and local community are able to stabilize.    

In helping to respond to the pandemic in Washington, the Seattle Foundation created a rapid response fund in collaboration with philanthropy, government and business partners to provide operating grants to local nonprofits.. 

They explain, “One-time operating grants will fund organizations that have deep roots in community and strong experience working with residents without health insurance and/or access to sick days, people with limited English language proficiency, healthcare and gig economy workers, and communities of color, among others. The Fund is designed to complement the work of public health officials and expand local capacity to address all aspects of the outbreak as efficiently as possible.” 

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How can a foundation or corporation contribute financial, material or in-kind donations to assist with the state of Michigan’s response to COVID-19?

Financial, material and in-kind donations to aid the fight against COVID-19 at the state level can be directed to the Michigan Community Service Commission at [email protected] or 517-335-4295. 
The current most pressing needs include:  

-Hospital gowns 
-Sanitizer (Hand/Wipe) 
-Surgical masks N95-N100 
-No-touch thermometers 

Large corporations or individuals who want to DONATE (in-kind services, manpower etc.) can contact [email protected] (EOG POC). 

Businesses who want to SELL protective gear listed above, please email [email protected]

All other business needs related to PROCUREMENT and or SUPPLIER CAPABILITIES, please direct them to

Businesses who are asking how they can help with PROVIDING SPACE like warehouse space or hotels for self-quarantining or makeshift hospitals, camp group, etc. can contact [email protected]

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How can the foundation make international grants to address the global impact of COVID-19? 

Our partners at the Council on Foundations have created a “Tips and Resources for Responding Globally to COVID-19" webpage that serves as a useful starting place for making international grants. Some of their tips include: 

  • Understand the legal basics of international grantmaking and IRS regulations. 

  • Be patient with nonprofit partners, especially in a crisis situation. 

  • Use an equivalency determination, when possible. 

  • Try to streamline your application and reporting processes. 

  • Use local networks and foundations for support. 

  • Consider using a U.S.-based intermediary organization. 

  • Think long-term through multi-year, operational or infrastructure grants. 

  • Approach global grantmaking with humility. 

Foundations looking for additional resources on international grantmaking are invited to contact Ask CMF for customized support. 

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Can Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) be used to support the COVID-19 response?

Yes, donor advised funds can be used to support COVID-19 response.   

Council on Foundations (COF) notes that in general, DAFs can continue to follow many of the same rules and restrictions that are typically in place and can be used to provide support through domestic public charities. Expenditure responsibility may be required for grants to supporting organizations or non-501(c)(3) organizations. Grants to organizations outside of the U.S. may have additional requirements.    

With interest in supporting local businesses at an all-time high, some foundations have asked if DAFs can be used to further this activity. The IRS publication 3833, “Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance through Charitable Organizations,” provides specific detail about the types of charitable purposes that can be directed to businesses, with many similar constraints as found in supporting general economic development purposes. Whether using a DAF or other charitable mechanism to support this activity, please consult with qualified tax or legal counsel to ensure compliance with the IRS’s definition of allowable charitable activity in this area.  

Typically, DAFs cannot be used to assist individuals. With the enactment of the Stafford Act, employer-sponsored DAFs have an exception to benefit employees and their families who are victims of a qualified disaster. The Council on Foundations has outlined the requirements of employer disaster relief funds of this type.

Please consult with qualified tax or legal counsel to learn more about the particular circumstances and criteria involved in this form of activity.  

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Can foundations make grants to crowdfunding campaigns for COVID-19 relief? 

It depends. According to the Council on Foundations, most crowdfunding platforms (including GoFundMe), are not registered as 501(c)(3) public charities. Others, such as GlobalGiving, are distinctly charitable crowdfunding platforms and have their own charitable designation. 

On most crowdfunding platforms, foundations can make grants to pages and accounts that are set up by a charitable organization to benefit that organization. The platform is a different method of accepting the grant for the nonprofit. 

Crowdfunding campaigns that are set up by an individual or non-charitable entity must be treated as a grant to a non-charity, even if the person setting up the fund intends it to benefit a charity. The foundation would need to obtain proof of the grant’s charitable purpose, such as documentation of the grant funds reaching the charitable organization. Grants made from donor advised funds would need to exercise expenditure responsibility for this situation. 

Please note that some online giving tools charge a fee for the service. This fee may be charged to the nonprofit or donor.   

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a significant increase of “fake charity” scams and similar fraud.  Please be cautious in vetting charitable giving and grantmaking opportunities, especially before making an online gift or a grant outside of your regular grantmaking procedures. If your foundation has encountered or become the victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, please contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or email [email protected]. Cyber scam activity can be reported online.   

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How do we create or use a discretionary grant program to make emergency/disaster grants?

As an alternative to a formalized emergency grantmaking policy, some foundations (more frequently private or family foundations) have the option of using a discretionary grant process to enable more rapid, disaster funds to be disbursed. Discretionary grant programs oftentimes provide trustees and/or senior staff members with a pre-designated amount of funding they can grant to organizations of their choice. Sometimes these grants are limited to the foundation’s existing funding goals, while other institutions allow for broader charitable grants to be made. Foundations also vary in whether application or reporting forms are required for these gifts.

Discretionary grant programs can work as an alternative to emergency/disaster grantmaking policies, as they frequently have a less rigorous grantee application and board approval process.  In some foundations, these grants can be approved by the CEO or senior staff, which allows for funds to reach nonprofits quickly and efficiently.

If your foundation is interested in exploring discretionary grants as an option, the National Center for Family Philanthropy has a webpage dedicated to discretionary grants, including sample policies and forms.

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How are foundations assisting nonprofits with cash flow issues?

Foundations are actively assisting nonprofits with cash flow issues, especially as many organizations are temporary closed or facing unprecedented demand for services. 

Cash Flow Loans: The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation announced a program for short-term cash flow loans for local nonprofits, up to $50,000 for each organization. Other community foundations throughout the state are also exploring cash flow loans for local nonprofits, including through the use of Program Related Investments (PRIs). 

Operating Support Grants: Many foundations throughout the state are looking at ways to prioritize operational support for nonprofits. Realizing that some nonprofit programs are essential to meeting basic needs or ensuring the health and safety of communities, foundations are actively prioritizing their grantmaking to ensure that nonprofits receive critical funding to continue operations and meet demand. 

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How can foundations provide assistance to nonprofits, beyond direct grants? 

Jennifer Oertel, CMF Impact Investing Expert in Residence, wrote a blog post entitled, “Impact Investing as a Tool for COVID-19 Economic Recovery” outlining a number of examples of foundations assisting nonprofits and local businesses beyond standard grantmaking options, including impact investing, nonprofit loan programs and innovative donation activity. 

Impact Investing: Michigan Women Forward (MWF) is both an investee and an investor, raising funds from various investors through loans and in return loaning those funds to small, mainly women-owned businesses. MWF has reached out to each of its investees to proactively offer support and ask what they need, offering support such as no-penalty loan extensions and relief from payments for the next 90 days (to be re-evaluated depending upon length of the stay-at-home mandate). MWF also created an online assistance program to serve its target population virtually. MWF’s supporters have been generous in their contributions to support this outreach. 

The Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) is raising donations to support its “COVID-19 Impact Investing Project Fund.” The fund offers 0% loans to small businesses in Midland County that are in jeopardy due to the pandemic to provide them immediate short-term assistance. Through the loan fund, coupled with a COVID-19 Response Fund (providing donations), MACF has pledged $1 million in COVID-19 relief, including $250,000 in matching funds. In addition, it has convened a coalition of philanthropy, government, educational and business partners to provide a collective response to COVID-19 in Midland County. 

Nonprofit Loan Programs: The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) launched a short-term cash flow loan program that is providing short-term (up to 180 days) cash flow loans of $5,000 - $50,000 to charities based in, or primarily serving, Washtenaw County. The loans will be made on a rolling basis from a revolving fund of $500,000. This impact investing initiative complements the community foundation’s grantmaking to support COVID-19 response, relief and recovery efforts. AAACF reports it has funded over $1 million in grants and $245,000 in loans to local nonprofits, as of the end of April. 

Innovative Donation Activity: Mission Investors Exchange is actively tracking innovative approaches nationally, such as corporations using their purchasing power to secure bulk personal protection equipment (PPE) to donate to state procurement officials and factories retooling to produce needed PPE, with states and donors aiding efforts by chipping in for shipping costs or raw supplies. Companies are also providing technical assistance to organizations seeking and applying for assistance (including navigating the CARES Act benefits and determining which loan options to pursue), and many funds have launched to provide loans and grants to small businesses and charities. MIE maintains an ongoing list of community sourced ideas to meet the COVID-19 crisis with impact investing
The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University invites CMF members and partners to highlight innovations happening in the philanthropic sector as a response to COVID-19 and the economic crisis, including their own organization’s work and innovations seen from other nonprofits and funders. The information provided via this online form will be shared back with the field. 

CMF members seeking ideas or technical assistance with impact investing are invited to reach out to Expert in Residence Jennifer Oertel.  

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How can funders support efforts connected to food access for children and vulnerable populations?

CMF’s March 23, 2020, issue of Weekly Download highlighted the challenge of ensuring food access and distribution systems to reach the state’s children and vulnerable populations. The staff of the Office of Foundation Liaison recommended several ways that philanthropy can support efforts around food access: 

-Stay informed and coordinate with your local/regional partners: Michigan philanthropists and nonprofits know their food banks and schools. In this early phase of the crisis, there is more happening on the local level that funders can immediately engage in as state and federal responses materialize. Advocate for coordination across siloes, establish collaborative tables to identify needs and responses and share your activities with CMF as we work more broadly to shape informed policy, identify roles for philanthropy and share effective responses with your funder colleagues. 

-Consider direct financial support: The Food Bank Council of Michigan shares, “The network of Feeding America Food Banks are on the front lines of COVID-19 and are distributing record amounts of emergency foods to all those affected by the pandemic. These food bankers and their teams are courageous, tireless and dedicated to meeting the need for as long as the crisis lasts.” The Consumers Energy Foundation, a CMF member, made a $250,000 donation to the Food Bank Council of Michigan. “With schools and businesses closed and many grocery store shelves left bare, local nonprofits are playing a critical role in helping those in need,” Brandon Hofmeister, Consumers Energy Foundation president, said in a news release.    

-Be creative, be flexible and innovative: These unprecedented times call for philanthropy to leverage its intellectual capital, flexible funding and thinking, and networks to meet needs in new ways. In addition to needs specific to food distribution, these routes represent an infrastructure to reach Michiganders and could be used to make other goods and services available. 

-Maintain the long view: The crisis is magnifying many of the systemic deficiencies on which philanthropy has been focused for years. Michigan’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) population is falling into a safety net that is already filled with our most vulnerable populations. Loosened state and federal policies during an emergency such as COVID-19 represent what philanthropy and its partners advocated for prior to the crisis. Eligibility for services has increased, reimbursement rates for programs have increased, training and credentialing has been streamlined, etc. How can we emerge from this crisis in a strong position to actualize systemic and policy improvements? 

The Office of Foundation Liaison is working closely with the governor’s office and stakeholders to monitor, coordinate and share information on needs and gaps in food distribution during this crisis. If you have information to share about challenges your foundation or community, or effective work you and colleagues are implementing, please message Stephen Arellano with the OFL. 

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What resources are available for funders looking to support efforts connected to early childhood and childcare?

The Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (ECFC) has built-out a page of resources specifically for funders whose grantmaking includes early childhood needs. ECFC advises, “Philanthropy should consider how to target investments to have the most impact, augmenting and supplementing other public and private responses without reducing the responsibility and obligation of the public sector.” They have identified a preliminary list of emerging needs, curated a growing list of sample materials from funders nationally and identified tools specific to advocacy.

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What resources are available to find out more about the philanthropic sector’s response to COVID-19?

Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) are tracking the sector’s response. According to Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s report, “Philanthropy and COVID-19 in the First Half of 2020” over $11.9 billion has been directed to COVID-related efforts in the first six months of 2020. Candid's disaster funding map tracks giving to disasters, including giving to COVID-19.

The Council on Foundations is asking foundations to share their responses to COVID-19 through a pair of forms on its website. Data from the surveys will be shared in aggregate as resources to gain a better sense of what’s happening in the field. The COF resource hub includes updates, announcements and other tools, as well. 

The Center for Disease Philanthropy’s COVID-19-dedicated webpage includes information on impact, critical needs and how to help. 

The Chronicle on Philanthropy has made their COVID-19 coverage free of charge.

The Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative has launched a webpage to track the responses of community foundations nationwide.

National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) and Giving Compass are working together to track the responses of family foundations nationwide.

Foundant Technologies has launched an interactive dashboard and map representing its clients’ COVID-19 funding. 

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Grants Management

How can the foundation change existing grant agreements to allow for unrestricted use of funds or for other purposes, as a result of COVID-19?

Even with COVID-19 impacting foundations and nonprofit operations, the foundation can follow existing internal policies or procedures that influence how grant agreements are amended. If these policies do not provide for a rapid response approach to amendments, internal discussion with foundation leadership should take place to determine appropriate measures for addressing changes to existing grants and potential temporary changes to internal procedures. 

Generally, grant agreements can be changed via an amendment document signed by both the foundation (grantor) and the nonprofit/recipient (grantee). This amendment may be formatted as a letter or relatively short document, which should be saved along with a full copy of the original grant agreement. It is important to maintain written documentation that records the mutual agreement of both the foundation and the grantee in regards to any changes being made to the original grant agreement. In some cases, amended grant agreements may be able to be signed electronically or via email, although this activity varies by state. 

The COVID-19 situation may result in changes to grant agreements, in such areas as:  

-Changes of grants from restricted to unrestricted use of funds. 
-Extending the time period in which grant dollars can be used. 
-Influencing the goals or scope of work being carried out by the nonprofits with the grant dollars. 
-Use of grant dollars for general operational, rather than programmatic, purposes. 

In making changes to existing grant agreements, please ensure that all legal restrictions on the use of grant dollars are still maintained. For example, private foundations still face restrictions on the ways in which they can provide grants to individuals or for certain advocacy/lobbying purposes.   

The Council on Foundation has provided a sample agreement intended to convert project grants to general operating support.  

Please consult qualified tax or legal counsel for clarification on grantmaking procedures outside of standard activities. 

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How can our foundation think through the complex issues of spending policies, payout rates and grantmaking strategy to the COVID-19 outbreak and related economic volatility?

The complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic and related global economic volatility has led some foundations to reconsider their existing grantmaking strategies and grant budgets. With communities and nonprofit grantees facing numerous challenges related to the COVID-19 situation, grantmakers are being called upon to provide short-, medium- and long-term funding, sometimes in ways that fall outside of their standard grantmaking strategies and procedures. 

Exponent Philanthropy noted in a blog post that small-staffed foundations nationally are considering ways to provide extra or advanced funding to nonprofits. While funders are required to follow a 5% minimum distribution requirement, many funders indicated that they were considering making grants beyond that level in this time of crisis. 

The National Center for Family Philanthropy encourages foundations to think about their long-term strategy and approach to the COVID-19 situation. They point to creative solutions being suggested by family foundations nationally, including building budgets for contingency grants, revisiting the question of perpetuity, examining current spending policies and taking a long view of the foundation’s assets. Research from the IU Lilly Family School of Family simulated the impact of differing payout rates which showed that foundations in these models could sustain themselves, even while providing additional grants during recession periods.  

Examining spending policies is a particularly important step, according to Dimple Abichandani of the General Service Foundation. In her article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Abichandani indicated that the General Service Foundation adapted its previously traditional spending policy to account for external factors that influenced their mission and values. This approach allowed for a “balancing test” that enabled the foundation to respond to current needs and opportunities. In addition to elements of a traditional spending policy (investment returns, operating expenses and perpetuity considerations), the General Service Foundation also began to account for growth goals, meeting current needs, organization mission and grants/programmatic needs. This approach may provide some foundations with a means to reevaluate their spending policy to account for the complex challenges presented by COVID-19.

In a blog post by Candid Vice President for Knowledge Services Larry McGill, “Foundations and the Great Recession: Context for Our Current Crisis” McGill reflects that in considering how we respond to the current pandemic and economic crisis, we are “not starting from square one” given some similarities to the financial impact of the Great Recession. He points to the efforts of foundations at the time in minimizing the impact on nonprofits by holding their giving steady or increasing payout rates to meet needs. Additionally, the Great Recession provides foundations with a modern-day template to meet the needs of vulnerable populations, use asset averaging to ensure steady giving and encourage community foundations and other grantmakers to play a significant role in nonprofit survival and recovery from periods of economic volatility.  

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Can the foundation make changes to existing endowment funds or its spending policies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Robin Ferriby, senior counsel at Clark Hill, PLC, provided guidance around the question of using endowment funds to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions may be of particular concern for community foundations.

Organizations that hold endowment funds should have documentation that outlines existing spending directions and charitable purpose restrictions that could apply to these funds, likely contained within gift instrument or fund agreements. Ideally, these documents should also outline under which conditions such restrictions may be modified or removed.   

Federal and Michigan regulations do provide flexibility for the modification or removal of restrictions on these funds.  

-The Michigan Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA) provides a process for a short-term increase on spending rates for endowment funds, assuming that the long-term purpose of the endowment in maintained. 

-Community foundations may use variance power to modify or remove endowment and charitable purpose restrictions, if the conditions exist to trigger that power. 

-Nonprofits and foundations may be able to modify or remove restrictions using processes outlined within UPMIFA. However, some processes may not be practical in the current environment, as access to Michigan courts and the Office of the Attorney general may be limited by emergency actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Jennifer Oertel, a CMF member, shareholder with Bodman PLC and CMF’s Impact Investing Expert in Residence, has also provided further clarification for member questions regarding changes to fund agreements. 

-The foundation may ask a donor directly to modify a fund’s purpose, as long as the fund originated from a single donor. 

-Generally, the Council on Foundations and other legal opinions have indicated that the lessening of fund restrictions is fine, but the addition of more restrictions on a fund indicates too much donor control. 

-If the foundation is considering allowing a donor to amend the purposes of their fund, foundation staff should consider the impact of that decision on other funds. While it may seem okay to amend one or two funds, the foundation should consider how other donors may want to make changes, causing a ripple effect through the foundation’s funds and potentially depleting its ability to address other community needs. Ideally, the foundation should develop a comprehensive internal plan to address how it handles donor requests to amend fund agreements.  

-Variance power is based on the original purpose being “unnecessary, incapable of fulfillment, or impractical.” In some cases, it may also be based on the idea of the original fund’s purpose as being “inconsistent with the charitable needs of the community or area served.” While the COVID-19 pandemic may present an urgent need, it does not necessarily meet the criteria required for variance power.   

-Consider using existing field of interest funds with broad community-based purposes to help address the impacts of COVID-19 within your region. Repurposing funds that are not related to addressing health or community needs may be more challenging to use for COVID-19 needs. 

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Specific to Foundation Type

What resources are available for family foundations to think through their approach to COVID-19?

CMF is partnering with the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) to help address the unique challenges of families responding to COVID-19. We understand the unique nature of this situation, as it threatens the safety of family and friends, our communities, grantees and the operations of foundations themselves. 

NCFP released, “Leadership in Difficult Times: Guidance for Donors and Giving Families – Responding to the Emerging COVID-19 and Economic Crisis”. This insightful publication focuses on the importance of caring for the health and wellbeing of: ourselves, our family, our team, our grantees and our communities. 

NCFP also reminds us to prepare for the immediate needs of these stakeholders, as well as preparing for the long-term impact of these challenges. Family philanthropy is being called upon to be flexible and stretch itself to grow in this period of uncertainty and change.  

We encourage family foundations to regularly check CMF’s event listing for relevant webinars from CMF and our partners, including programming offered by NCFP.   

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What can corporate giving programs do in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Corporate foundations and giving programs vary greatly in their structure.

The Council on Foundations released a Legal FAQ that points to the challenges of corporate foundations violating self-dealing rules under certain conditions. A corporate foundation’s program should not be intended to generate business, and it should not be intended to result in an economic benefit for either the company or another disqualified person. Please consult with your legal counsel to ensure that the philanthropic activity associated with a COVID-19 response is allowable within the parameters of IRS guidance.  

Employee Assistance Programs: Some corporations have an Employee Assistance Program. These programs are typically managed or paid for by the corporation itself, rather than through the foundation. If your organization has such a program, oftentimes managed by an external firm or via the HR department, please contact that group for more information about how that may apply to the COVID-19 outbreak.  

Employee assistance (or hardship) programs can be used to benefit the employee and their immediate family, with the company’s policy for employee hardship funds clearly defining which people constitute “family members” for the purposes of these initiatives. An employee can be applicable to receive assistance through these programs in the case that they or their family members are negatively impacted by a disaster or financially catastrophic situation, such as a fire, accident or unforeseen event. Families are also eligible to apply for these funds in the case of the eligible employee’s injury, death or involvement in a disaster situation. 

Companies with an employee assistance program should have a clearly defined policy and application for employees to submit requests to access these funds. The policy should outline under what conditions employees are eligible to access these funds, such as minimum number of years of employment. Additionally, the policy should outline appropriate uses for these funds, including maximum amounts and the frequency with which an employee can reapply and receive funds from this program. 

Corporations may have additional means to support individual employees, such as by providing additional sick leave or extended telecommuting options. See response to "What are some ways that foundations are assisting individuals?" for other ways foundations are helping individuals during this time. 

In-Kind Support: During several webinars, Dr. Judy Monroe (CEO of the CDC Foundation) indicated the important role of in-kind donations to provide medical equipment to states facing the COVID-19 outbreak. The CDC Foundation is designed to direct donations to state health departments, as well as national research priorities for COVID-19. Similarly, in-kind donations may be valuable to local nonprofits and institutions serving communities and vulnerable populations.

Volunteer Support: With social distancing in place across Michigan, volunteer opportunities are somewhat limited. However, healthy individuals may play an important role in ensuring that nonprofits are able to serve children and seniors who need assistance in obtaining food and other services.

The Michigan Community Service Commission has created a COVID-19 webpage dedicated to learning more about how to assist with the COVID-19 response across the state.  Potential volunteers can sign up for volunteer opportunities through Volunteer Michigan’s web portal.   

Serve as a Community Partner: Rapid response funds have launched across the state. Many include businesses among the many institutions funding grants to assist localized COVID-19 response efforts. Corporations have the opportunity to serve as a natural partner to their local communities, including through emerging funding partnerships and rapid response funds.

Leverage Corporation’s Unique Strengths: Companies have unique expertise, assets, and relationships that can be used to maximize impact in addressing the needs of key stakeholders, including local community members, customers, and employees.  Solutions to key challenges may come from unexpected places, whether among leadership, employees, or external stakeholders.  Some companies are repurposing their existing infrastructure to meet needs, such as repurposing manufacturing, supplying hotel rooms to medical personnel, or providing kitchen facilities for food preparation and distribution. 

Manufacture PPEs: Corporations with manufacturing specialties are working to produce much-needed personal protection equipment (PPEs). As part of Michigan’s Arsenal of Health, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) offered $1 million in grants to small Michigan manufacturers to produce critical health and human services supplies.  

The Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), CECP, Council on Foundations and Points of Light released a joint letter calling for the world’s leading corporations to choose the “courageous opportunity in this crisis,” by valuing their business needs alongside societal needs. They call for corporations to bring their resources, innovation and expertise to provide for the “immediate and long-term relief and to rapidly scale solutions.”

CECP Pulse Survey from March 12, 2020 indicated that 36.1% of respondent companies used both a disaster relief strategy and additional response mechanisms in response to COVID-19, including such options as matching gifts, skills-based volunteerism, local grantmaking, new partnerships and supporting communities needs specific to the crisis (food, children’s needs, PPEs, etc.). Only 11.1% of respondents indicated at that early point in the crisis that their team had not taken action.  

FSG released an insightful article, “COVID-19: Companies, Let’s Get Practical,” that outlines a number of ways that companies are using their strengths to meet the needs of their employees, communities, and key stakeholder groups.  With a focus on meeting the needs of stakeholder groups, companies are able to identify critical needs and areas that they are uniquely qualified to assist with COVID response. 

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Have a question?

These FAQ's 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.

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

Submit A Question

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.



Data & Community SourcesResources & Best PracticesUpcoming Webinars & Calls

Relief & Response Funds in MIState News & Policy AlertsCMF Response


Internal Procedures During COVID-19

Table of Contents:

Human Resources & Meeting Employee Needs

Administration, Finance & Legal

Board Governance



Human Resources & Meeting Employee Needs

What basic procedures should we consider putting in place for employee expectations while they work at home during this crisis? 

Foundations should review their remote worker policy if it already exists; it may be contained within a broader employee handbook or related HR policy. Foundations who don’t yet have such a policy, the National Council of Nonprofits has a wealth of resources around this topic.  

In general, the following are examples of employee expectations to help ensure stakeholders can access employees, and employees and supervisors remain connected.  
Staff must:  

-Be reachable by phone, as well as be available for video call when needed, and active on email during regular business hours. 
-Update their calendar to indicate remote status and include the number at which they can be reached.  
-Forward their office phone to their remote number during business hours.  
-Discuss with their supervisor any additional job-related expectations relating to working remotely.  
-Be able to demonstrate progress on work being performed remotely. 

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How can foundations help each other and their employees throughout the COVID-19 crisis?

Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, shared a blog post in which he shared a list of suggestions for leading through the COVID-19 crisis.  His list offers insight for how foundation leadership can better serve their staff, grantees, and fellow foundation colleagues. Some of his recommendations include: 

  • Check in on a one-on-one basis with your staff. 
  • Empower creativity across your organization. 
  • Recognize and support your staff who are also full-time parents during this crisis. 
  • Keep your board updated on emerging plans and ways to be involved. 
  • Recognize that members of your staff will be affected by COVID-19, either directly or through those they know. 
  • Make plans for contingencies and redundancies that will need to be put into place for staff directly impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Learn from peers leading other organizations and collaborate whenever possible. 
  • Take time for yourself and find ways to gain perspective. 
  • Acknowledge that mistakes will happen.
  • Know we will get through this. 
  • Question usual operating assumptions. 
  • Know that you’re doing your best. 

Jonse Young, co-chair of CMF’s Michigan Forum for African Americans in Philanthropy (MFAAP) Affinity Group and director of philanthropic services at Grand Rapids Community Foundation, shared with CMF members, “We know African Americans are disproportionately affected by this pandemic, representing 40% of the COVID-19 related deaths in the state. Philanthropy has an opportunity to respond both externally and internally to the inequities that have been further exacerbated by this crisis. Through conversations with my fellow MFAAP colleagues we recognized the need to lift up best practices for organizations to engage with and support employees of color who are grappling with this crisis. We invite you to read our guide featuring different policies and practices to support African American staff sourced directly from CMF members.” The MFAAP-developed guide is available here
If you have additional examples to share or questions about best practices, please connect with Olivia Henry Harris, CMF learning services coordinator.  

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How do we share the required Department of Labor poster regarding COVID-19 when working remotely?

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employers are required to post this poster with information about employee rights to paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave.  Employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to place this poster in a conspicuous location on the work premises.

When employees are working remotely, the employer can satisfy this requirement by emailing or directly mailing this notice.  Employers may also post this information on an internal or external website that is accessible to employees. Once employees begin to return to the workplace, this poster must be posted in a conspicuous location, through December 31, 2020. 

For more information on how FFCRA impacts foundations and their employees, Robin Ferriby, senior counsel at Clark Hill, PLC, provided guidance. Clark Hill provided information on updated Department of Labor guidance addressing questions about FFCRA and employers’ PTO policies.

Specifically, all nonprofit and for-profit employers that employ fewer than 500 employees are required to provide benefits under the Act once it goes into effect (no later than April 2). Certain employers - those with fewer than 50 employees - may be exempt from providing benefits under the Act if they can prove that providing such benefits would jeopardize the viability of the business as an ongoing concern.    

New benefits required under the Act include: 

-Two weeks of paid sick leave for both full and part-time employees regardless of the length of service of the employee.    

-Twelve weeks (the first two of which may be unpaid) of family leave for full and part-time employees who have at least 30 days of employment with the employer. This particular benefit is limited to those employees caring for children under the age of 18 with a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. 

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What other resources are available for our foundation as employers?

The AAIM Employers’ Association has provided access to a recorded webinar addressing the points shared below. Please note that while it is free, sign-in is required for access. 

-Can proof of a negative coronavirus result be required before allowing an employee in self-quarantine to return to work? 
-How should employers handle an employee who may have been exposed to the virus? 
-If an employee contracts the virus at work, should it be treated as workers' compensation? 
-What options are there when an employee refuses to self-quarantine after returning from a personal trip to a level three country?

The Management Center has written an article "5 Tips for Managing Remotely During COVID-19."

The New Horizons Computer Center has a slate of free webinars for work from home training.

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How can employees access healthcare coverage if they are released or experience a drop in income? 

Michiganders who lose a job, resulting in a loss of their healthcare coverage or a change in income, may have low or no-cost healthcare options available through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Consumers in these situations are not required to wait for the yearly open enrollment period and can act immediately to obtain coverage.  
To determine eligibility, consumers should visit Depending on income and their situation, consumers may qualify for cost sharing reductions, premium tax credits, coverage for their children (CHIP) or Medicaid. Consumers should contact DIFS toll free at 877-999-6442 if they need assistance. 
Information in this response was provided by the Michigan Nonprofit Association. 

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How can the foundation plan for employees returning to work safely? 

The Small Business Association of Michigan has released a Tips and Resources webpage dedicated to helping Michigan organizations create preparedness and response plans for returning to work safely.   

Some highlights of SBAM’s recommendations include: 

  • Encouraging employees to stay home if they feel sick. 
  • Practicing proper hand hygiene.
  • Display the required Department of Labor poster regarding COVID-19. (See our FAQ “How do we share the required Department of Labor poster regarding COVID-19 when working remotely?” for more information.)
  • Provide personal protection supplies where appropriate. 
  • Frequently clean commonly touched surfaces within the workplace.
  • Provide clear instructions for social distancing and queueing within the workplace, including breakrooms, restrooms and other locations where people may gather.

SBAM also released its “Small Business Owner’s Guide to Getting Back to Work Safely” booklet, available on its webpage

OSHA has also released a poster, “Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus” that can be displayed at all workplaces. Their recommended steps include: 

  • Encourage workers to stay home if sick.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Provide a place to wash hands or make available alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Limit worksite access to only essential workers, if possible.
  • Establish flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible hours (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible.
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, tools and equipment.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment and other elements of the work environment.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved cleaning chemicals with label claims against the coronavirus.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products.
  • Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.

OSHA also has a “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" booklet available.  

Legal counsel from Bodman shared a template “COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan” that meets the requirements of Executive Order 2020-97. 

The CDC has also released documents that can be shared with employees to help keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. “How to Protect Yourself and Others” outlines ways that individuals can prevent the illness from spreading, including washing hands, avoiding close contact, wearing a mask, covering coughs and cleaning surfaces. “How to Safely Wear and Take Off a Cloth Face Covering” presents simple steps to wear and remove face coverings correctly, as well as best practices for everyday health habits during the pandemic. 

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity also launched its MI Symptoms Web Application, which allows employers a free system to implement COVID-19 symptoms screening for employees. MI Symptoms provides employees an objective tool to inform their employer that they should not be coming to work, without having to share symptom-specific information. An FAQ for the MI Symptoms program is available, as well as a press release announcing its launch. 

If your foundation has a policy in place and can share it for peer learning purposes, please contact CMF

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How can foundations find PPE for their on-site staff? 

Employers are now required to provide on-site employees with proper safety equipment as part of their re-opening plans. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has created a website that puts organizations in contact with vendors and manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE).   

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, including the use of homemade cloth masks. Instructions for wearing and making homemade facemasks are available from the CDC.  

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Should foundations consider moving forward with performance reviews during the COVID-19 crisis? 

Performance reviews should be a regular part of the foundation’s human resources activity.  However, COVID-19 and its broader impact may significantly affect whether or not performance reviews are a reasonable option in the near term. 

Many foundations conduct performance reviews for staff, oftentimes with the CEO or an HR professional conducting the reviews for most staff, and the board evaluating the performance of the CEO. (For information about how to conduct performance reviews for staff and executives, please visit CMF’s Sample Documents Hub.) 

These reviews can be valuable learning tools for organizational staff and can potentially impact compensation decisions. However, they can also be time consuming. For example, BoardSource’s recommended process for a board evaluating a CEO can take up to eight weeks and includes ten distinct steps to fully assess the CEO’s annual performance. Within a crisis situation, the foundation’s “standard” performance review process may need to be adapted to meet the current limitations facing staff and board members. 

article published by SHRM outlined a number of scenarios currently facing employers that resulted in significant changes to their performance review processes. Inspired by these examples, there are a number of ways that foundations may be able to adapt their current performance review processes to still achieve necessary staffing and organizational goals. 

  • Be Flexible: The current crisis environment means that the existing performance review process may need to be adjusted. The timing, structure or format may be adapted to fit the organization and staff members’ needs. For example, some aspects of the process could be delayed or certain questions could be discarded. 

  • Be Consistent: With many staff members working on a different set of projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership and HR staff will need to determine what changes to make to the performance review process and then be consistent with those changes across the staff. If one person is evaluated against their ability to do their job under standard conditions and another is evaluated against work not found in their job description, the overall effectiveness and fairness of the process can be called into question.   

  • Clearly Define Productivity: In an office that may now be almost entirely remote, staff productivity may look different and may be more challenging for some leaders to identify. Consider what components of the performance evaluation fit with staff activity in a virtual setting and determine if any aspects of the review may be worth changing. 

  • Consider Frequency: In some cases, the current environment requires more frequent communication between staff and leadership, rather than depending on an annual review. For example, the standard performance review may need to be folded into a series of conversations or monthly/quarterly meetings to evaluate staff members’ emerging needs and areas for improvement, while also identifying potential opportunities as the crisis evolves. 

  • Use a Template: To save staff time, performance evaluations should use a review template that can guide staff and leadership through a series of questions or categories. This results in a focused discussion, especially when both parties have access to the evaluation metrics in advance. CMF’s Sample Documents Hub includes a number of performance evaluation templates, appropriate for nonprofit and foundation organizations.   

  • Determine the Purpose of Reviews: Within the current economic environment, some organizations may be considering whether they can afford staff raises or bonuses.  Organizational leadership should determine, in advance, the purpose of this year’s performance reviews. If these meetings are solely designed to influence compensation, some organizations may determine that the review process is not a worthwhile use of staff time. Alternatively, organizations may determine that performance reviews are exceptionally worthwhile, as they can be used to evaluate, motivate and set goals for staff for the upcoming year, independent of compensation.  

The organization should clearly communicate with staff about the goals of its performance review process, as well as expectations and anticipated or potential outcomes. 

Ultimately, each organization must determine whether performance reviews are an appropriate process to pursue during the crisis. Depending on staff availability, project load and the appropriateness of the performance review process to the current situation, each foundation faces different challenges and should manage their human resource response accordingly. 

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Administration, Finance & Legal

Can staff travel to the foundation’s building to conduct essential business?

Update: As of June 1, 2020, Governor Whitmer released Executive Order 2020-110, which means that “Michiganders are no longer required to stay home.” However, certain businesses and activities are still restricted and “any work that is capable of being performed remotely must be performed remotely.” 

Current guidance indicates that organizations can have employees on site to “conduct minimum basic operations” for the purpose of maintaining the value of inventory; maintaining the value of equipment; for security; to process transactions (including payroll and benefits); or to facilitate working from home. 

Employees working on site should be restricted to the minimum number of hours possible and with staggered schedules to minimize contact. Likewise, employees should follow CDC recommendations for social distancing, frequent hand washing and increased office cleaning/disinfecting procedures.  

In a call with CMF members earlier this year, Governor Whitmer reiterated the importance of all foundation and nonprofit staff practicing social distancing and the need for staff to should utilize remote work access wherever possible, including those performing essential needs for their organizations. 

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How can foundation staff handle the issue of retrieving U.S. mail while employees are working remotely?

Update: As of June 1, 2020, Governor Whitmer released Executive Order 2020-110, which means that “Michiganders are no longer required to stay home.” However, certain businesses and activities are still restricted and “any work that is capable of being performed remotely must be performed remotely.” 

Foundations should clearly communicate via organizational websites and email signatures that staff are working remotely and that U.S. mail is not being checked regularly.  

Some organizations are using the United States Postal Services’ Informed Delivery service, which allows for users to preview which letter-sized mail and packages are scheduled to arrive to their address.  

Each organization may designate employees responsible for conducting business within the physical office. Generally, these people may be responsible for sorting mail, creating PDF copies of physical correspondence, and gathering and depositing checks.   

Staff members working within the foundation’s physical office should follow guidance for maintaining a safe workplace and minimize time spent on site. If it is unsafe for only one employee to go to the office alone, employees in the office together should follow guidance for social distancing.

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How can foundations maintain financial controls while working remotely?

Update: As of June 1, 2020, Governor Whitmer released Executive Order 2020-110, which means that “Michiganders are no longer required to stay home.” However, certain businesses and activities are still restricted and “any work that is capable of being performed remotely must be performed remotely.” 

Foundation staff have expressed concerns about how to deal with existing financial controls, including those for handling deposits and mail, while working remotely.   

Kyle Schafer from Maner Costerisan has recommended several approaches to addressing financial controls: 

  • In addressing internal control concerns, organizations can designate one staff person to open the mail over a video calling tool (Zoom, for example), with another individual on the other end of the line. 
  • In addressing the detective side of internal financial controls, organizations should implement a timely review of banking activities (additions, deductions, and cleared checks), such as performing a daily review of the previous day’s activities.   
  • Organizations should communicate with payors to encourage electronic payment options, whenever possible.

Colleagues at BoardSource also compiled a list of suggestions for maintaining financial controls while working remotely. Some of their recommendations include: 

  • Contact your organization’s audit firm for recommendations that fit your existing organizational controls and learn how changes to your procedures now may impact your audit later. 
  • Document your organization’s plan to handle cash receipts, cash disbursement and payroll. Monitor the execution of the plan carefully.  
  • Do not forward mail to a staff person’s home address. 
  • Ask vendors and those that owe your organization to use an electronic payment method (credit card, website, ACH, wire, etc.) rather than paper checks.  
  • Use technology to monitor internal control processes. This could include using shared spreadsheets for cash receipts or “Zoom” to open mail. 
  • For banks that require two signatures on paper checks, some alternatives include sending the checks between the two signers via U.S. Postal Service, asking the vendor to use an electronic payment method instead or asking the bank for a temporary change to the signature rule.  
  • In the longer term, consider using an accounts payable program that has built-in customizable internal control procedures.   

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Can the foundation use electronic signatures or e-mail messages to conduct foundation business or make changes to grant agreements? Specifically, what suffices as a legal signature, given how many foundations are currently working remotely?

Many foundations are currently managing all operations virtually, including the development and amendment of grant agreements.

Michigan adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act in 2000, which dictates how organizations can use electronic documents and transactions. If both parties involved in a given transaction agree to use electronic signatures, then an electronic document is sufficient.  

In many cases, foundations and other organizations use a photocopied or electronically-generated PDF signature to conduct business remotely. If this is inconvenient or impossible, the foundation may be able to use e-mail to state out changes to grant agreements (for example) and then request that the other party (a grantee, in this case) should reply by email indicating that they agree to the amendments listed in the original email. In these agreements, both parties should be in agreement, as if their signature were affixed to a paper document.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and similar federal policy does not apply to certain business contracts or estate planning documents. Please consult with appropriate legal counsel regarding any specific concerns that could impact foundation business in these areas.  

Please note that Executive Order 2020-41 does loosen the rules for electronic transactions and signatures as they pertain to court documents, wills and trusts.  However, most foundation and nonprofit use of electronic signatures is already covered by the 2009 amendment of the Michigan nonprofit statute, consistent with the above description. If you have specific questions about how this may impact your organization, please contact Ask CMF

(Information related to this question was provided in part by Jennifer Oertel, a CMF member, shareholder with Bodman PLC and CMF’s Impact Investing Expert in Residence.)

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Where can I find related legal resources?

Jennifer Oertel, a CMF member, shareholder with Bodman PLC and CMF’s Impact Investing Expert in Residence, has shared with CMF Bodman PLC's answers to several legal questions related to workplace law, employee benefits, and more. 

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How can the foundation learn more about the Nonprofit Relief Funds available through the CARES Act?

Many CMF members have asked for more information about how to determine the most appropriate relief options for their organization.   

Bodman Law partnered with CMF to create a FAQ document that assists in determining if Employee Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) or Paycheck Protection Program options are most appropriate for an organization’s needs. This document help explains the purpose of these loans and the differences between them, including their impact on payroll and loan forgiveness.  

Independent Sector has created a useful webpage that is designed to help nonprofits understand the eligibility criteria, timelines and application information related to the CARES Act. Organizations may need to collaborate with their banking partner, as well as qualified tax or legal counsel to learn more about these opportunities. 

Nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees are may be able to access the following relief options: 

-Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and loan forgiveness 
-Employee Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) grants 
-Employee retention credit 
-Deferral of payroll taxes 

Nonprofits with more than 500 employees have the following options: 

-Employee retention credit 
-Deferral of payroll taxes 
-Economic stabilization fund 
-Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) grants 

The National Council of Nonprofits published an analysis of the CARES Act and developed a useful side-by-side comparison chart of the loan options available to nonprofits through the CARES Act.  

In a webinar for CMF members, the legal team from Bodman Law discussed aspects of the CARES Act in depth, including a look at the loan options available to nonprofits.  

*Note: On April 6, 2020, the SBA issued updated guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as highlighted in this FAQ. We advise checking the SBA website for the most current guidance. 

Some of these relief programs, tax credits and loans cannot be pursued simultaneously. Application requirements also vary. Please seek advice from qualified tax or legal counsel to determine the most appropriate options for your organization.      

The Michigan Nonprofit Association recommended the following steps for preparing your application and related materials: 

1. Call your financial institution to determine if they are an SBA lender. You best chance at getting support through the process is with your own bank where you have a relationship. If you don’t, check with a bank in the neighborhood of your organization where they might be familiar with your work. Another idea is to check with a bank where you may have your own accounts. Relationships matter.  
2. Review your finances and determine if the loan makes sense for your situation. It covers operational expenses such as rent or a mortgage as well as payroll for staff. If you need support, this could be a vehicle for you.  
3. Consult your board chair and finance committee chair to review. It is helpful to talk through a decision like this with others. Also, getting a loan will most likely need board approval.  
4. The application can be uploaded virtually and there are services that provide virtual notary services if the bank or program requires signature notarization.  

Additional information about these programs is available through the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBA). A sample application form is also available.    

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What options are available to the foundation for keeping workers on payroll? What is the Paycheck Protection Program? 

The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the CARES Act, is specifically designed to incentivize organizations to keep their workers on payroll. Organizations can access a loan that covers payroll, rent, mortgage interests or utilities. These loans are forgivable, under certain conditions, including if all employees are kept on payroll for eight weeks.  

Additional information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is available through the U.S. Small Business Administration. A sample application form and maximum loan application calculator is also available.  

Organizations will need to work with an SBA-approved banking institution or lender to participate in this program; some CDFIs also serve as SBA-approved lenders. A list of SBA lenders in Michigan is accessible through the SBA webpage.   

April 23, 2020 Update: In a 388-5-1 vote, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed legislation to provide approximately $484 billion in coronavirus relief for small businesses, hospitals and expanded medical testing. The relief package provides $310 billion to the PPP, of which $60 billion is set aside for community banks and smaller lenders. The President is expected to sign it into law on April 24. 

Other options for economic relief for your organization or grantees may be available through current or emerging governmental programs. The SBA has a COVID-19 Relief Options webpage with information about the Paycheck Protection Program and other forms of assistance that may meet other critical needs. Some forms of assistance may be mutually exclusive or inappropriate to your organization’s specific financial situation. Please seek advice from qualified tax or legal counsel to determine the most appropriate options for your organization.  

Please note that the SBA has provided additional guidance that may impact the applicability of some large charities and foundations for their PPP loans. The SBA may seek further documentation to prove that borrowers’ PPP loan applications were necessary and met the certification of economic uncertainty in good faith. Guidance as of May 6, 2020 indicates that SBA plans to review all loans in excess of $2 million.  The “safe harbor” deadlines for organizations that do not meet these new requirements can repay their loan has also been extended beyond the original early May deadline.

Bodman Law partnered with CMF to create a FAQ document that assists in determining if Employee Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) or Paycheck Protection Program options are most appropriate for an organization’s needs. This document help explains the purpose of these loans and the differences between them, including their impact on payroll and loan forgiveness.

The Kresge Foundation shared a blog post highlighting the PPP and other loan opportunities that can help nonprofits meet urgent needs: “Mission, Money & Markets: Nonprofit Guide to Accessing Capital Through the 2020 CARES Act.” 

Bodman Law has also developed a set of resources to help clients navigate the legal and business issues connected to COVID-19, including the CARES Act, with specific guidance related to the PPP. 

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What are the foundation’s obligations to receive forgiveness for a Paycheck Protection Program loan? 

Update: As of May 15, 2020, SBA published its PPP Loan Forgiveness Application form and instructions, available through the SBA website

Plante Moran provided useful guidance to organizations about the rules for PPP loan forgiveness. While some components of the program are still being decided, this resource offers answers to some of the field’s most frequent questions on this topic. 

Several key highlights for navigating the PPP loan forgiveness process include: 

-Create a clear process for tracking and properly recording all disbursements from the PPP loan. 

-Supporting documentation is key to obtaining loan forgiveness.  Make sure to keep clear records and all proof of payments related to the PPP loan. 

-Consider creating a separate bank account to manage your PPP loan funds and make it as easy as possible to develop an audit trail for the loan funds.   

-Contact your lender for information about creating specific PPP reports that help track and submit support for loan forgiveness. 

-Organizations have an eight-week timeframe after the depositing of the loan funds to use the funds (and record the use of those funds), in accordance with the restricted purpose of the PPP loan program.  Activity that takes place during this eight-week period will be used for calculating the level of loan forgiveness. 

A sample PPP loan tracking document is available here. This spreadsheet can assist organizations with recording and tracking data that will influence their level of loan forgiveness. MNA, Co.Act Detroit, and Insights3 also released a PPP loan payment calculator, designed for Michigan nonprofits.

If a foundation has laid off employees prior to receiving their PPP loan, they should resume full employee count and pre-crisis payroll as soon as possible after the loan funds arrive. (Employees filling these roles during the 8-week period do not necessarily have to be the same as those filling the roles prior to the crisis.) The level of loan forgiveness may be proportionally impacted for organizations that do not attain their pre-crisis payroll or employee count. 

Please note that elements of the PPP loans are subject to change and depend upon the SBA’s pending guidance. 

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What are some key considerations we may want to think about in deciding if a future event we planned should proceed in person, be changed to virtual, postponed or canceled? 

There are many factors that go into this decision making around hosting meetings and events. Below are just of the key factors you may want to consider: 

Health and Safety – It is imperative you are aligned with current mitigation guidelines release by the State, along with guidance from the CDC and other official agencies. Decision making should keep the health and safety of participants as the top priority in event planning considerations. Recognize that state and federal guidance will shift as the situation evolves; the crisis may look drastically different months into the future. It is important to monitor what experts are anticipating for the longer-term with regard to health and safety.   

Immediacy – Consider whether the content is time sensitive or in some way urgent, or whether it can wait, in which case postponement may be the most appropriate option.   

Format – Look at whether the content can be adapted for a virtual (web-based or call-in) format, or perhaps conveyed as a written message sent via email. There may be times when in-person dialogue or interaction is critical, and so again, delaying the event may be appropriate until in-person gatherings can resume.  

Impact – Consider the impact a cancellation or postponement would have on those supporting the event in some way. This includes not only participants and hosts or speakers, but also the surrounding community, venue staff, vendors and many others connected to the program or meeting.   

Budget and Contracts – Explore the financial impact of each option, taking into account any contracts that may exist for venues and services. If in your planning you are hopeful the event can still happen in person, work with your legal counsel to write new contracts in such a way that maximize your flexibility should the event need to be canceled or postponed. 

CMF decided to transition its 2020 Annual Conference from an in-person event to a virtual experience. In announcing this change, CMF also released a planning memo that outlined the reasons behind the move to virtual and how that impacts current and future conferences and learning services programming.

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What protocols should organizations consider implementing for the safety, comfort and convenience of staff and participants when it comes to in-person events? 

Current guidance does allow for in-person events under specific conditions.  However, these regulation of events and gatherings can change depending on current outbreaks within local areas or regions. Events and programs may require making plans months or even years in advance. The following list is intended to assist in considering how to address issues related to the safety, comfort and convenience of staff and participants for post-COVID events. 

  • Plan for the possibility of social distancing and masks being a requirement for the foreseeable future.  As outbreaks of COVID-19 fluctuate nationally, event planners should plan for how to enforce social distancing and/or the wearing of masks by event attendees.   

  • Consider making changes to your existing attendee cancellation policy. Attendees who are ill should be comfortable either cancelling or swapping in a colleague on their event registration.  This may mean adjusting cancellation policies, particularly around last-minute cancellations and changes, cancellation fees, etc. 

  • Make sure to have back-up plans for presenters, keynote speakers and other important event participants. Just as attendees will need to be healthy before attending events, they need to be reassured that speakers are also healthy. For small events with one speaker, work with them as needed to secure a person who could serve as backup in their absence should they become ill. For larger events, such as a conference, develop alternatives for addressing last-minute cancellations of speakers and special guests. 

  • Plan for the possibility of staff members being ill. While many staff who have helped run conferences and other programs have had the experience of "pushing through" events while under the weather, it is exceptionally important that staff are healthy before and during the programs that they are managing. Develop contingency plans if one or more staff cannot participate.   

  • Explore how to infuse virtual or live-streamed elements within the in-person experience. Some participants may not be able to attend a program in person due to cost, distance, health or other factors. Adding livestreamed presentations and other virtual programming, more people can engage, including those who may not have otherwise considered participating in person. This option can also offer opportunities for unique presenters or collaborations by bringing out-of-state or international presenters to the local conversation through technology. 

  • Share your event date earlier than normal. Due to the large number of rescheduled events, many organizations are finding that the fall and later months of the year are filling with scheduled events that typically occur in the late winter and spring months. Make sure to communicate your event date to key stakeholders and potential attendees with more advanced notice than may be part of your typical event plan. 

  • Schedule your event space well in advance. If your organization holds a special event or program outside of your standard workplace, you may discover that other event spaces are booked well in advance, more so than normal. For example, many venues are already filling up for 2021, due to rescheduled events from 2020.   

If you have additional suggestions or ideas related to in-person events and programs, please share them with CMF

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How does the new flat tax rate impact our grantmaking, especially with increased giving in response to the COVID-19 crisis? 

The new private foundation excise tax was modified to a new flat rate of 1.39% as of December 20, 2019. This new rate is effective for foundations’ taxable years that begin after December 20, 2019. Foundations with a fiscal year that begins before December 20, 2019, should consult with their financial or tax advisor to determine the appropriate tax rate. For more information, please consult the IRS webpage.   

Before the enactment of the flat rate tax, a foundation’s tax rate varied based on the amount of grants given each year. According to Exponent Philanthropy, the advantage of the new 1.39% tax rate is that foundations can give the same or more in total grant amount in a single year, allowing for more flexible grantmaking from year to year.   

With expanded grantmaking efforts intended to address the COVID-19 crisis, foundations can use the new flat tax rate to increase grantmaking amounts without being penalized in future years.  

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How do changes in the IRS tax deadlines impact foundations?

On April 8, 2020, the IRS announced the extension of payment deadlines for taxpayers, as indicated in Notice 2020-23

This extension does impact exempt organizations, including foundations and charitable organizations. The IRS has extended filing and payment deadlines originally due between April 1 and July 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020.     

This extension impacts the following forms:  

-Form 990  
-Form 990-EZ  
-Form 990-PF 
-Form 990-T 
-Form 990-W 
-Form 1120-POL 
-Form 4720 

The Council on Foundation has clarified that “the extension to July 15, 2020 is automatic, and exempt organizations do not need to file any request for extension. If an organization needs even more time, it can file Form 8868 before July 15, 2020. However, any additional extension cannot exceed the original statutory or regulatory extension date (i.e., generally six months from the original due date).” 

The IRS has also provided guidance on how employers can defer the deposit and payment of their share of social security taxes through December 31, 2020.

Please consult with your tax advisor to determine the impact of these changes on your organization.

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Is there a checklist we can use to review the foundation’s activities and ensure we haven’t missed anything critical during our efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic? 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many foundation staff have been working extra hours to ensure that grantees are well supported, address the unique needs of colleagues internally and collaborate with external partners. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across the sector, it is important to ensure the foundation’s key activity continues, or missed and delayed elements are addressed in a timely manner. 

CMF has created a “What Did We Miss While Managing the COVID-19 Crisis?” checklist, available for download through the Knowledge Center. 

Highlights from the checklist include: 

  • Board Meetings: For foundations with monthly, quarterly or annual meetings, some may have been missed in the wake of the current crisis. Use this opportunity to schedule any missed meetings or make adjustments to scheduled board meetings to ensure that all requirements are being followed, such as the number of board meetings to occur each year and the percentage of board members to be in attendance. Board meetings can also take place virtually.  

  • Financial Audit: Check that all internal and external financial deadlines have been met, especially if you have changed over to a new fiscal year.  

  • Tax and 990 Deadlines: While the IRS has extended payment deadlines for many necessary forms, ensure completion of all required forms and payments in a timely manner. 

  • Performance Reviews and HR Functions: In the midst of a crisis situation, performance reviews and other regularly-scheduled HR functions may have been postponed.  Before resume those traditional activities, consider adjustments that reflect the current work environment, staff needs and any changes in policy. 

  • COVID-19 HR Policies and Procedures: The Department of Labor has created materials that foundations should have posted within their workspace. Likewise, there is information available to employers to help them create procedures that help to ensure safe workplaces for employees. Even if only one person is working in the office, these policies and the DOL poster should already be in place.  

  • Grantmaking Activity: As the COVID-19 pandemic has now spanned months, look ahead at how another round of quarterly grantmaking activity (applications, evaluations, etc.) and the anticipated response to ongoing community needs will impact the foundation.   

  • Insurance and Other Financial and Contractual Responsibilities: Many administrative expenses of foundations are regularly scheduled, double check that bills are being covered. This can include contracts, real estate, retirement plans, permits and other fiscal and legal responsibilities.   

  • Facility Issues: While many staff may be working virtually, foundation facilities still have costs and associated maintenance needs. Ensure that rental payments are being made, and regular cleaning and maintenance issues are addressed. If a staff person has not visited the office space regularly, conduct a thorough walk-through to check for any potential problems (water leaks, general disrepair, evidence of pests, etc.) and make a list of issues that need to be resolved prior to other staff returning to the facility. 

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What are some of the long-term administrative plans that the foundation should consider, based on its learning experience during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many foundations and nonprofits taking a serious look at their current administrative policies and procedures. In the long-term, foundations can reassess aspects of their operations to more effectively navigate future crises.   

  • Disaster Planning: While many foundations have a disaster plan for grantmaking or continued operations, often they are focused on responding in the case of natural disasters (tornados, floods, etc.). The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in many foundations expanding to other categories of crisis, including pandemics. 

  • Succession or Alternative Staffing Plans: In the wake of COVID-19 some foundations have found themselves with rapidly-changing staffing situations, as staff working out of their homes, manage childcare responsibilities and beyond. The workload resulting from COVID-19 has also forced many staff to take on roles they were not trained for initially. Some organizations have discovered they needed multiple people trained for a single emergency-level position due to the long-term nature of the current situation. Other organizations are making policies that now clearly delineate “essential” workers or those who have increased leeway for virtual work. 

  • Regularly Review Formative Documents: In the midst of the crisis, many foundations have discovered that their articles of incorporation, bylaws and other policy documents were not sufficiently updated to be in accordance with current nonprofit law. This is a time to review and update these documents to ensure the foundation has a full range of options available to manage unexpected needs, such as virtual board meetings or grants to non-501(c)(3) organizations.   

  • IT Strategy: With Stay at Home orders enforced across the state, many foundations experienced a fully-virtual office for the first time. Those without a comprehensive IT strategy may have particularly struggled. This can be a good time to reassess or develop a long-term and crisis-ready approach to IT solutions, including grantmaking, financial management software, communications and the accessibility of essential hardware (laptops, phones, etc.) for all staff.


Board Governance

What is the role of the board in response to the COVID-19 situation?

According to our colleagues at BoardSource, board members have numerous responsibilities in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on their organization.   

Board members have a duty of care to the foundation, which means that they should be actively supporting and engaged in the organization’s work, especially during a crisis situation. The board has the ultimate responsibility for the organization and should be making strategic decisions that safeguard and further its mission and grantmaking. 

Whether your foundation has few or many staff members, the board may be involved in the following areas: 

Risk Assessment and Management: The board should assist the CEO with determining internal and external risks associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, including its impact on key stakeholders, internal staff and the financial health of the institution. With that information in mind, the organization can then develop an appropriate plan for managing those risks. 

Organizational Event Contingency Planning: While social distancing policies and CDC recommendations have led to the cancellation of events, the board can play an important role in determining the impact of these cancellations and help identify contingencies that ensure the organization’s financial welfare.  

Finances and Investments: With the economic repercussions of COVID-19 on the global economy, boards are being called upon to make important decisions around institutional finances and investments. For foundations, these discussions also involve determinations around payout rates for grantmaking, especially in the face of higher demand for philanthropic funding across the nonprofit sector.  

Staff and Stakeholder Safety: With many foundations implementing remote worker policies, board members still must keep in mind the safety of staff and stakeholders. Business continuity plans and human resource policies should be in place to ensure that critical functions of the foundation continue even if staff are sick or away from the office. 

Board Meetings and Decision-Making Practices: Board business will need to continue throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, even with restrictions in place. Many foundations are encountering increased demands on staff and board members, resulting in more frequent meetings and decisions around policies and grantmaking.  

Communications: Board members serve as ambassadors for the foundation and play an essential role (along with the CEO) in crisis communications by sharing with the staff what they are hearing on the ground and sharing back through their networks information that the foundation has prepared for dissemination.  

Continual Assessment: With the evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation, board members should work together with the CEO to ensure the foundation is appropriately responding to emerging challenges and information, maintaining appropriate lanes to allow the CEO to do their job effectively. 

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Can the foundation hold a “virtual” board meeting or does it have to conduct its board meetings in person?

It depends. Each state has different laws regarding to what degree electronic communications can be used to conduct board meetings. Within Michigan, organizations can conduct board meetings virtually, as long as all participants are able to communicate.  

However, not all foundations have up-to-date bylaws and board procedures that allow them to take advantage of electronic communication options. CMF highly recommends that foundations regularly review their existing board procedures. Depending on the year that bylaws and other board procedures documents were created or updated, they may easily pre-date changes in state nonprofit law, including updates that allow for the use of modern remote communication and voting options.  

Boards should always review bylaws and other board-specific documents first before making any decisions or holding votes outside of regularly scheduled, normally formatted meetings of the full board. While virtual meetings may be an option for foundations, use caution before utilizing phone or online meetings for board meetings and voting. If this is not a standard practice of the foundation, please contact legal counsel for clarification regarding your board procedures.  

Please note that Executive Order 2020-48 relaxes the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, which impacts organizations that require public participation in their meetings. If you have specific questions about how current restrictions impact your organization, please contact Ask CMF.  

For more information, Board Source has resources on virtual board meetings. BoardSource is also making its “Virtual Meetings Untangled” publication free during the COVID-19 situation.  

For additional tips on streamlining virtual board meetings, BoardSource board chair, Cathy Trower released a blog post on best practices. She recommends focusing on the essential components of the meeting, setting ground rules and keeping the meeting to two hours or less. Her 12 suggestions focus on the importance of the board’s leadership and overall effectiveness that are worthwhile considerations whether meeting in person or virtually.  

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Are required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRAs suspended for 2020? How does that impact the foundation’s donors?  

Phil Purcell wrote an article on the impact of the CARES Act on charitable giving. In the article, he writes: 

“The new law suspends required minimum distributions (RMD) for 2020 from IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and most other defined contribution plans maintained by an employer for individuals. Minimum distributions that have already started are still required from defined benefit pension plans and some 457 plans. However, required minimum distributions that would have had to start in 2020 do not have to start until 2021, including distributions from defined benefit pension plans and 457 plans. 

“This change will decrease the tax incentive for a donor to make a qualified charitable distribution (QCD)—an IRA charitable rollover—from an IRA in 2020. However, the change will help retirees who would have had to withdraw a greater percentage of their retirement accounts than expected or face a penalty, given that their RMD calculation for 2020 is based on the retirement account balance as of Dec. 31, 2019, and account values decline with the market." 

What does this mean for community foundations and other organizations that are actively raising funds from donors?  

A donor age 70.5 years or older can still make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) up to $100,000 from an IRA to a qualified charity. Typically, that amount could offset their RMD for the year. However, the CARES Act makes it so that RMDs are not owed this year, resulting in the donor trying to use a QCD, not obtaining an offset for future RMDs. In that regard, applicable donors may not find a tax benefit in making that particular kind of gift this year.  

Essentially, the change in the RMD is designed to make sure that a retiree’s income does not particularly suffer in the current economic environment. The ultimate impact on QCDs is a secondary outcome of that change. 

Foundations should encourage donors considering this (or any) option to discuss their plans with a qualified tax professional. There are a variety of giving benefits this year related to the CARES Act, even if a QCD does not have its typical advantages. 

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What resources for crisis fundraising are available for foundations and grantee organizations? 

The Association of Fundraising Professionals has a COVID-19 Resource Guide available with a list of relevant resources and tools on fundraising during this pandemic.  

The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has launched its “Fridays with The Fund Raising School” weekly webinar series. These free webinars are focused on pressing challenges for fundraisers in the field, including many issues related to crisis fundraising during COVID-19 and periods of economic volatility.  Recordings of past webinars in the series are freely available.  

Indiana University and The Fund Raising School also have blog posts, podcasts and other resources focused on fundraising during the COVID-19 crisis available on their website. One such blog post, “Optimism, Communication, and Leadership: Fundraising During COVID-19" features a Q&A with experts on these topics of optimism, communication and leadership for nonprofits actively fundraising in these challenging times. 

Candid has created a “Funding for Coronavirus (COVID-19)” webpage, which includes a list of funding opportunities and emergency financial resources related to the COVID-19 outbreak.   

The Capital Region Community Foundation, a CMF member, hosted a webinar for local nonprofits to learn about crisis fundraising. Presented by community foundation staff and a local consulting group, this webinar reached dozens of local nonprofits with vital information about how to fundraise throughout the COVID-19 crisis.  

Russell James, Professor of Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, released an insightful article for major gift and planned giving officers actively fundraising during and after COVID-19, “10 Strategies for Post-COVID Fundraising in Complex and Major Gifts." 

The Giving Institute has a Resources webpage featuring COVID-related resources from many national fundraising and nonprofit consulting firms, including blogs, webinars, fact sheets, and virtual conferences. 

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How does recent legislation impact our foundation’s fundraising and contributions in 2020?

According to a blog post by Philip Purcell, a frequent speaker on the tri-state webinar series CMF leads in partnership with our colleagues in Indiana and Ohio, the CARES Act has numerous impacts on philanthropy in 2020. 

Universal Charitable Deduction: The deduction reduces a (non-itemizing) donor’s taxable income in 2020. This deduction is available for cash gifts of up to $300 per tax-filing unit (married taxpayers with a joint return that qualify can deduct only up to $300). Please note, these deductions are not available for gifts originating from private foundations, donor advised funds (DAFS), or supporting organizations, or for deductions forwarded from the previous year. CMF has created a Charitable Giving Incentive Toolkit that also includes website and social media graphics

New 100 Percent AGI Limit: For donors who itemize their giving, a 100% adjusted gross income (AGI) limit is available for cash gifts made to public charities within 2020. Gifts to donor advised funds, supporting organizations and private foundations do not apply.  

Suspended Required Minimum Distributions (RMD)s: RMDs to IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and other contribution plans are suspended for 2020. This decreased tax incentive for donors to make a qualified charitable distribution from an IRA may impact some donations. 

Corporate Contributions: Corporations’ limit on cash contributions has been increased from 10% to 25% of their taxable income in 2020. These must be cash gifts to public charities, not gifts to private foundations, DAFs and supporting organizations.   

Food Contributions: Contributions of food inventory have been increased from 15 to 25% in 2020. 

Nonprofit Loans: Nonprofits may be able to access loans to ensure they maintain their employees and bridge expenses in 2020. (For more information, see the FAQ item: “How can our non-private foundation learn more about the Nonprofit Relief Funds available through the CARES Act?” 

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Should foundation board members and volunteers assist with fundraising during the COVID-19 crisis? 

Many organizations require fundraising dollars as an essential component of their revenue. Staff should involve board members and volunteers in fundraising activity during (and after) the COVID-19 crisis.   

As Dave Sternberg wrote in a blog post for BoardSource, the current environment provides an excellent opportunity for board members to become involved in their organization’s fundraising activity.   

CEOs and development staff should provide board members with the tools to succeed in fundraising.  When combined with a board member’s willingness to get involved (or an institutional requirement for board members to help with fundraising), this can make for a powerful and effective combination that directly benefits the organization.   

Some potential steps for including board members (and other volunteers) in fundraising during the COVID-19 crisis include: 

  • Educate Board Members: In the face of countless community needs driven by COVID-19, staff should actively educate board members about their organizations’ needs and their role in bridging the fundraising gap. This crisis is an excellent time to teach (or remind) board members about the importance of fundraising, as well as the many ways that donors can give. Board members may have specialties outside of the nonprofit sector and be unfamiliar with how to speak with donors, tools for giving (DAFs, grants, etc.) or the behind-the-scenes work of the organization. By educating board members about these topics, staff may gain useful allies in their fundraising efforts.   

  • Use a Case for Support: Internal staff can build out a case for support and train board members to use it. With a consistent message and a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and need, board members can serve as compelling ambassadors to reach other donors and funders. 

  • Use Social Media: With staff, board members and volunteers working remotely, social media and technology are an essential means to reach potential donors. Board members who may have not previously used social media to promote their organization may find this to be a worthwhile time to start. Staff can provide a tutorial to help board members learn how to share the foundation’s messaging and campaign materials. (Please note that some social media fundraising campaigns may direct funds to individuals, rather than the charitable organizations they intend to benefit. For more information about this challenge, please see Can foundations make grants to crowdfunding campaigns for COVID-19 relief?

  • Use “Old Fashioned” Technology to Reach Donors: With social distancing, many people (including donors) may be feeling cut off from the world. Board members can help send “snail mail” letters to donors or call those who may otherwise not hear about the organization’s recent activities.   

  • Say “Thank You”: While staff may be providing behind-the-scenes support, board members can offer a personalized “thank you” to donors. This may take the form of a letter, email or Zoom meeting, but the relationship building can pay dividends after the current crisis is over. 

For organizations that are trying to encourage board members to participate in fundraising, consider implementing a “board fundraising policy” or include fundraising as a requirement of board service.  BoardSource has an easy-to-use sample policy available for board fundraising.  

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Have a question?

These FAQ's 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.

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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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.



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