Robert Sterling Clark: Supporting Our Grantee Partners in the Era of COVID-19

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Robert Sterling Clark: Supporting Our Grantee Partners in the Era of COVID-19

For the last two weeks, I have been picturing Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner right off the cliff – and in particular I am feeling the moment he looks down and notices the ground beneath him is missing.  

That moment has been slow and painful for me – in the first days after the COVID-19 virus was announced we made a few tweaks to our usual lives – more hand sanitizer, fewer in-person meetings, new memes. New phrases started to permeate our professional conversations: ‘from an abundance of caution’; ‘social distancing’; ‘zoom protocol’; ‘no more business as usual’; ‘every crisis is an opportunity’. And still, I felt like I was getting ready for a snowstorm – annoyed, and scared, but also sort of excited. 

And then, like Wile E., I looked down, and realized that this time is different. There is no ground beneath us. People are scared and sick and dying. My pilates studio closed. Our grantee partners are in crisis. My son was sent home from his freshman year of college. In my confusion these facts took on equal and terrifying weight.  

Today, March 16, 2020, we are starting to take some action to reflect where we are – off a cliff. And to reflect that reality, we are making some changes in how the foundation does business. Phil Li, the Foundation President, shared our promises to our grantee partners today in an email to all of them:

We have identified ways to meet some immediate needs, as well as mid-to-longer term actions to address the lingering and ongoing impact of COVID-19:   

·       Honor current funding commitments to our grantees. We want to reassure you that you have our full support despite the turbulence in the financial markets.

·       Add one additional year of funding to every grant.  We hope that this continuing general operating support will ease some funding concerns and allow you to focus on serving your communities, and not on us.  The "Plus One" year pushes grant terms out so you don't have to do anything in 2020.  For multi-year grants that were completed in 2019, we will extend them to include this year.  For current grants, we will add one year to the existing agreements.  

·       Relax the timing of grant reporting. We will let go of previously scheduled reports, and circle back later this year to see if you would like to have an in-person CHAT, a phone call, a Zoom video meeting, or not at all.

·       Offer virtual office hours to talk through any issues or topics that are present for you and your organization.

·       Provide a one-year subscription to the Zoom videoconferencing platform, if desired or needed, to help transition your organization to a virtual environment.

·       Explore short-term responses with other funders.  A number of pooled funds or collaborations are being discussed and we’ll engage in those conversations.

·       Advocate within the philanthropic community to convert project-based grants to unrestricted ones to provide more flexibility to grantees.  And we will continue to share and promote trust-based practices – especially general operating support.

In the cartoons, in the scene after Wile E. falls off that cliff, he is back chasing the Road Runner again. We will hope to learn from our experiences a little better than he does. Please help us do so…

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