No one knows to what extent COVID-19 will disrupt the work of nonprofit organizations and how they fundraise. I suggest we ignore the gloomy predictions of shuttered charities for now, and focus instead on what we know: foundations, corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations are all in a state of uncertainty. 

In terms of grant writing, it’s clear that nonprofits will need to adjust their grants programs and adapt the language in their grant applications. But how?  

Obviously the stock market has taken a hit, which affects returns and the available funds of most foundations. Foundations will each choose how they respond to this squeeze, but it is safe to assume all foundations will be giving less next year. As for the short term, this grant writing firm in the States makes the case that foundations’ immediate response is usually to increase their giving. They recommend that organizations apply for as many grants as possible right now

Organizations doing work on the frontlines simply don’t have the time to wait out the usual time period it takes to apply and secure grant funding. Many foundations are responding by lowering barriers and increasing giving. The NYT wrote about this in the States, and we see the same thing in Canada as local foundations provide rapid response grants. The Vancouver Foundation, for example, has launched their Community Response Fund to help qualifying organizations during the crisis. (Behind the Scenes and Breakfast Club of Canada are two others offering emergency funding.)

There are also countless organizations who work in spaces not directly associated or affected by a health crisis. Their work may not seem as urgent in the present moment, but they still need a plan and the funds to continue their valuable work. 

As I see it, there are at least two facets of the present crisis that require careful thought and planning when it comes to grant writing: financial scarcity and humanitarian crisis. And while it’s true that the modern world has not faced this particular confluence of catastrophes before, there are lessons to be learned from previous economic downturns and health epidemics. 

In times of financial scarcity, like the 2008/2009 recession, this survey found grantmakers weren’t as willing to consider multi-year grants and wanted to see more collaboration amongst organizations. Not surprising. (In fact, I’ve written before about how funders prefer collaborative programs.) 

I think that in any financial downturn, an organization’s grant applications should highlight efficiencies and include robust evaluation. Implementing a thorough evaluation system inspires trust in your ability to be prudent, efficient, and remain solvent at the best of times, and those are absolutely critical right now. 

In a humanitarian crisis, honesty and sensitivity is key. Now is not the time to attempt to connect a tree-planting program, for example, to the present crisis. If your organization helps reduce isolation for seniors in our community, by all means, make the case, but be realistic and very cautious in tying your work to the needs of the crisis. 

There are countless heartwarming and heartbreaking stories in the news about the social charities and service organizations that are stepping up and doing their utmost to help those disproportionately affected by this pandemic. I applaud them (every night at 7pm!) and feel gratitude for their good work. 

I also have immense appreciation for those working in hospitals and care facilities, driving the buses and checking out groceries — for everyone working in the face of real dangers so that the rest of us may be healthy and safe. 

Further resources: 

The federal government is offering some relief — see if your organization qualifies

Imagine Canada is keeping a list of resources for fundraisers during COVID-19. 

Read more Grant Writing Tips.