Grants managers are among many of the unsung heroes who stepped up during the pandemic. COVID-19 thrust them into the driving seat as overwhelmed grantee partners looked to their grants managers for immediate answers and solutions. Grants managers had to be flexible, get creative, and encourage others to follow suit.

Were we prepared? Did our grants management practices and processes enable grantee partners to pivot quickly and confidently adapt programs accordingly, or did they present an obstacle? If we knew COVID-19 was going to happen, what would we have done in advance to better serve our grantee partners on the front lines, working with the communities, and navigating how to continue implementing projects in a completely new, complex reality?

At CDP, we are wrapping up a monthslong grants management process review and improvement project that reflected on these questions and dove deep into our policies, processes, forms and practices to better serve our grantee partners, streamline and improve our efficiency, and ultimately tie our practices to our values. It has also given our team the opportunity to implement changes in response to useful feedback received from our valued grantee partners.

With disasters and crises becoming more frequent and widespread around the globe, it has been challenging for the team to carve out time to zoom out and look at our systems. But as disaster professionals, my colleagues and I at CDP know how important it is to set aside time to reflect on past responses to disasters and invest in preparing for the next disaster. I like to think of this grants systems improvement process as our version of preparedness. As disaster funders, here is how we continuously prepare to make grants for the next disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Throughout our systems-improvement process, I often reflected on a crisis leadership course I took in grad school because our grant management process is essentially a crisis plan we execute every time a disaster occurs. I found it helpful to think about the four stages of a crisis when answering the question, How can grants managers prepare themselves now to adapt and respond to the next crisis readily?

  1. Anticipation. While we might not be able to think through and anticipate every risk, identifying the most likely scenario is a useful exercise to think through.
  1. Planning. Once risks and implications have been identified, grantmakers can plan for these scenarios and strengthen existing processes, systems and partnerships.
  1. Execution. No matter how much planning has happened, there will remain a need for continued flexibility in responding to any crisis. Crises and disasters evolve, and so do the needs of grantee partners and the populations affected.
  1. Reflection. After the fact, it is important to reflect on what happened and identify organizational successes and lessons learned so those can be incorporated into the grants process.

Read the full article about grantmaking for disasters by Taylor Dudley at PEAK Grantmaking.