COVID-19 Disaster and Crisis Planning Resources & Philanthropy’s Collective Response


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

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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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