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How will COVID-19 impact foundation grants?


LONDON — Foundations are largely stepping up to the unprecedented challenge presented to NGOs by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts.

Despite the recent financial downturn, some funding restrictions have been relaxed and an atmosphere of understanding among many donors is currently prevailing, with new funds and initiatives also being created in response to the outbreak.

But insiders said this response has not been universal, with some funders withholding planned grants amid the economic chaos sparked by the pandemic.

At least $5 billion worth of grants to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak have been given by foundations, mostly to relief organizations, public health agencies, and medical research groups, according to Candid, a group working to provide intelligence to philanthropists.

Long term planning

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the crisis, in which countries have seen dramatic changes in public health, politics, and the economy occur in just hours, long term planning is proving difficult.

“Comparing this to the terrible disaster of 9/11, in some ways this is more difficult to respond to, because we don’t know when it will end, we don’t know how large it will be, and we can’t see where the hotspots are that will most need our support,” Heather Grady, vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, told Devex.

She continued: “We see most foundations in the U.S. understanding the severity of the crisis and its wide-ranging impacts not just on health, but on incomes and educational outcomes. They are stepping up, providing quick money, and crucially, more flexibility to their grantees,” Grady said.

In the U.K., “a lot of what we’re seeing from foundations is a response around talking to grantees and trying to understand the grantees’ financial position,” said Richard Hebditch, director of external affairs at the Association of Charitable Foundations. “With events and things like that, there will be lots of cancellations so that’s all a drop in income,” he added.

Hebditch continued: “What we are seeing is the foundations being willing to step up and see what they can do in the short term and beginning to see what they can do in the medium term as well.”

A major cross-Atlantic foundational initiative in response to the COVID-19 outbreak is the Therapeutics Accelerator, launched earlier this month by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and Mastercard. The $125 million project is dedicated to researching treatments for the disease. The Gates Foundation will also spend up to $20 million to support health authorities in sub-Saharan Africa and Asian countries to improve surveillance, infrastructure, and treatment facilities.

Another is the COVID-Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 response, being run by the United Nations Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. The fund has seen support from high profile organizations, including Facebook, Google, and American Express.

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