In early spring this year, as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, foundations in the U.S. began to respond by shifting resources and practices. Some funders, nonprofits, and others in the field called for fundamental changes in how funders approach their work — including upping the provision of long-term, flexible funding, shifting the funder–grantee power dynamic, placing greater trust in nonprofits, and increasing foundation payout.

As the pandemic exacerbated long-standing structural inequities — especially in Black, Latino, Native American, and low-income and working-class communities — foundations were also called on to invest in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and to integrate racial equity more comprehensively into their work.

Given all the calls for change, the question becomes: what’s actually changing in foundations’ practices? And what does this mean for the future?

This summer, CEP set out to explore these questions.

In our new report, titled Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Moment of Transformation?, we share some answers, honing in on how the crises of 2020 are shaping the thinking and actions of U.S. foundations.

Insights in this report, the first in a three-part series, are based on what we learned from surveying and interviewing foundation leaders. We based many of our questions on elements of the aforementioned pledge. In July and August, we surveyed more than 800 foundations and received responses from 236 (170 of which had signed the pledge and 66 of which had not). Additionally, we conducted hour-long, in-depth interviews with leaders of 41 foundations that signed the pledge.

In analyzing this data, we learned that the crises of 2020 have catalyzed foundation leaders to reconsider their choices about how they conduct their work.  These leaders say that the events of recent months have prompted them to reevaluate — and reevaluate quickly — how they approach their work and incorporate new or different practices, with less of a focus on traditional norms. As one leader said, “This has been a wakeup moment for philanthropy.”

All interviewed foundations and almost all surveyed foundations reported making changes in how they go about their work. Among the most frequent changes were loosening or eliminating grant restrictions, reducing what is asked of grantees, and making new grants as unrestricted as possible. (How foundations are being more flexible and responsive with grantees will be explored in more depth in the third report of this series.)

Read the full article about a moment of transformation by Naomi Orensten at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.