Speeding to a Crawl: Keeping Pace With an Uncertain Grants Landscape


In our current unprecedented reality, the world seems to be coming at us at different speeds. While the news about the COVID-19 pandemic keeps up a breathtaking pace—a neverending hum of facts, predictions, and hypotheticals—for many of us, our personal lives have slowed to a crawl. Almost as if our lives have been placed on hold. So many of the activities that make up our existence have been put on the backburner. Our lives will resume, but we don't know when.

Nonprofit organizations are finding themselves in a similar situation. There are plenty of people who need help, and more with each passing day. But at the same time, many funders are pushing back their normal grant cycles. Fortunately, numerous sources are offering rapid response funds to help fill in the gap.

At GrantStation, we've heard from many organizations that have shifted funding from their standard grant cycles toward pandemic relief. Brenda Weatherly with the 
Community Foundation for San Benito County told me, "We currently have postponed any normal grant cycle and are focusing solely on the very important task of emergency grants for the nonprofits serving the most needy in our community." Their grant process has also been simplified from the normal grant cycle. The application is a one-page form, and the emergency grants committee meets weekly. Other organizations are using similar tactics. Some only require an email or other informal means of application. Response times are greatly accelerated over standard grant cycles.

Brenda offered another good bit of advice to her applicants, advice that also applies to applicants for any emergency funds: "My advice for grantseekers is to only apply for COVID-19 emergency foundation funds if you have a true emergency. If secondary cycles occur after the health crisis is over, then apply if you truly fit that criteria. I hope that the regular grant cycles will resume for all once we are past this crisis, and for that we just need to be patient." Just like in our personal lives, some organizations will need more help than others.  

Even organizations whose operations may not be directly affected by the pandemic have delayed their applications. Many of us may have our minds moving in a million different directions right now, and funders and other organizations see extended deadlines as a way to remove some of the stress. I reached out to the AARP, which extended the deadline for their 
Purpose Prize. Barb Quaintance, Vice President, Enterprise Awards, told me, "We typically get a rush of applications in the last two weeks of the application period. Originally, applications were due to close March 30. Two weeks prior to that date was about the time there was serious recognition of the severity of the pandemic." So the deadline was moved back a month. They still expect an uptick in applications in the last two weeks, but applicants will have more time to prepare.

What should an organization do if they were planning on applying for a program grant, only to find the deadline has been pushed back, perhaps indefinitely? A change in strategy might be necessary.

If your organization is a current grantee, you should reach out to your funders and see what help you can find there. Many funders are setting aside money and other resources to help out currently funded organizations.

In addition, now is the time to be bold. Consider sending an introductory email to funders that might not have a fully unsolicited application process. While some funders are continuing to hold open grant cycles, others are taking the initiative themselves and relying on personal connections with organizations to determine where to direct their funds. So take a chance and try to start that connection.

Your organization should also consider applying for a general support grant. While these grants are usually harder to come by than program funding, many funders are changing their strategy in an attempt to be more flexible during the crisis. Some funders are even allowing current program grantees to shift funding to general operations.

Lastly, you should try to stay on top of the current situation while also looking forward. Don't just think about how much funding you'll need now; consider if your organization's role will increase as the pandemic drags on. You may need to increase your funding request amount accordingly.

While some parts of life may be on pause, your organization's work most likely is not. It will take effort, but you can still find the funding to help the people who need you.

Action steps you can take today
  • Visit GrantStation's COVID-19 funding page for funding leads.
  • Reach out to your current funders. Many are directing extra help to current grantees.
  • Explore general support funding instead of program support.