Riding the Grantseeking Wave


Like a photograph of a gentle wave, GrantStation’s annual State of Grantseeking Report usually captures the ebb and flow of the grantseeking experience. However, the pandemic has brought about a tsunami of change, sending nonprofits into a tailspin to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Released in the spring of 2020, last year’s report captured the challenges organizations faced as they navigated the early days of the pandemic, running the gamut from shortages of essential goods to office closures and swiftly changing funder priorities. A year on, The 2021 State of Grantseeking Report, which includes a special section on the pandemic, takes a wide-angle view of how organizations have adapted during this turbulent year. Let’s examine three strategies that have helped nonprofits and other organizations stay afloat.

Socially Distanced Work and Services

Perhaps the most significant changes related to the need for social distancing, which increased organizations’ reliance on virtual environments. Fifty-one percent of respondents to the 2021 State of Grantseeking Survey reported that their organizations transitioned staff to virtual or work from home status.

51% moved staff to virtual or work from home status.
51% moved staff to virtual or work from home status.

Many organizations switched to virtual programming and services as well. For example, healthcare organizations offered telehealth consultations while arts organizations presented virtual exhibitions or moved their performances online. As one respondent summed up, “Like everyone else—we moved everything to Zoom.”

Organizations also met social distancing requirements by moving their services outdoors, adapting their facilities, or offering home deliveries of essentials such as food. Some organizations reported using a combination of virtual and in-person programming.

Several respondents felt that the changes they were forced to make were ultimately beneficial and would continue into the future. One of them commented, “Adapting to a virtual format has allowed our organization to reach a broader audience than before.” Another said, “Our conference went virtual and we are now in the 21st century with more web-based events in the works.”

Coronavirus-Specific Support

Over the past year, budget shortfalls became commonplace due to lost income from in-person events, the costs of technological adaptation, or the expansion of services to meet increased community needs. One strategy for addressing these shortfalls was to apply for coronavirus-specific support, usually in the form of COVID-19 related grants or forgivable loans offered by the Small Business Administration.

The vast majority of respondents (76%) applied for coronavirus-specific grant funding. Of those who applied for this type of funding, 68% reported receiving awards. Almost half of those who applied (47%) received $25,000 or more in total coronavirus-specific awards.

76% applied for COVID-19 grants.
76% applied for COVID-19 grants.

Some respondents utilized GrantStation’s free COVID-19 Related Funding tool to search for this type of award. One person reported, “As a result of our GrantStation search for COVID-19 donations, we have located other donors who we plan to reach out to for hurricane relief donations, on conclusion of our search for COVID-19 relief assistance.”

Most organizations also applied for forgivable loans offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), either through the Paycheck Protection Program (61%), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (13%), or both. Of those who applied, 58% were awarded Paycheck Protection Program funds and 12% received the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. For those who were successful, the effort to navigate the application process paid off, as the median of total SBA funding was $77,750.

Median Total SBA Funding: $77,750
Median Total SBA Funding: $77,750

Creative Budgeting and Fundraising

In addition to seeking coronavirus-specific funding, organizations also used a combination of cost cutting and creative fundraising techniques to balance their budgets.

In order to lower costs, organizations reduced programs and services, the number of staff, staff hours, organization hours, and staff salaries. Compared to last year’s report, more organizations reduced programs and services (44% vs. 20%) or organization hours (26% vs. 5%). This was also reflected in the respondent commentary. A representative from an animal welfare organization stated, “We reduced all our programs, including animal adoption, low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter, and we closed our pet hotel.”


Chart 1


Organizations that traditionally relied on an annual gala or other event to raise fundraising dollars had to get creative in their approach. Most turned to grantseeking, virtual events, and social media campaigns to replace lost income.


Chart 2


However, 58% of respondents reported that these event income replacement techniques raised less money than their traditional events.

For some, creativity paid off. One respondent shared her organization’s approach, “I personally worked with [high school students] to teach grantwriting and actually apply as a team to new funders. Students were really feeling isolated, and this helped them feel like a big part of the community. We received every grant they helped with. I think funders thought our idea of teaching while fundraising was a great one, and it allowed for more personal one-on-one conversations about our mission.”

The Bigger Picture

If the past year can be likened to a wave, the strategies mentioned above are just a few of the ways in which organizations rode out the pandemic, balancing atop their surfboards ever so gracefully. For a more complete picture of grantseekers’ experiences over the past year, be sure to download your copy of The 2021 State of Grantseeking Report. It includes additional data on the topics covered in this article, information on funder responsiveness during the pandemic, and benchmarks to help your organization develop a grantseeking strategy for the coming year.

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