As COVID-19’s rapid spread has wreaked havoc on our sector, more than 550 foundations (at the time of writing) have signed a pledge to support our nonprofit partners and the people and communities hardest hit by the pandemic and associated economic impacts. The pledge includes eight commitments, ranging from being more flexible with timelines and reporting requirements to converting project grants to general support so that nonprofits can use the funds where they need them most.

The sixth commitment of the pledge focuses on listening to communities least heard, amplifying their voices, and considering their perspective in decision-making.

Even in the best of times, that type of listening has not been philanthropy’s strong suit. As we have written before, the rhetoric about listening often outpaces actual practice. And now, when stress is so high and with so many competing demands on individuals, organizations, and communities, making the effort to listen may seem like a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” But we believe listening to all voices — especially voices least heard — is essential, particularly as funders seek to inform effective responses to the many requests coming their way.

There is no specific playbook for how foundations should listen during an unprecedented pandemic and global economic turmoil. But there is experience to build upon.

Drawing on what we learned from a recent Hewlett Foundation scan of foundation listening practices, and on our years of experience promoting the integration of voices least heard into organizational decision-making through Fund for Shared Insight and Listen4Good, we offer the following suggestions as an initial roadmap for foundations as they seek to act on their commitment to listen to grantees and affected communities right now:

  1. Discern and be transparent about your boundaries.
  2. Conduct open listening sessions.
  3. Go deeper with a few organizations.
  4. Consider whether you can involve a few grantees or community representatives in co-crafting responses based on identified needs.
  5. Identify responses that are easier to implement and make those first.
  6. Prioritize and test what you have heard.
  7. Close the loop with the people who gave you input.

Read the full article about fulfilling philanthropy’s COVID-19 pledge by Valerie Threlfall, Melinda Tuan, and Fay Twersky at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.