Seven Recommendations for Rapid Response Grantmaking

Casey Pechan of Fluxx Labs recently told the story of how Surdna shifted its grantmaking strategy to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the needs of our grantees. Below is an excerpt of Casey’s blog post, which you can read in full — and watch the companion webinar — on Fluxx’s website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on grantmaking. With so many communities around the world suddenly facing urgent, unexpected need, funders quickly realized they needed to pivot and add rapid-response tactics to their grant portfolio in order to quickly support their grantees. And while COVID-19 is certainly a massive, global disruption — it’s not the first (nor the last) emergency that foundations will have to respond to.

But when an emergency strikes, what do you do first? And how do you reconcile short term emergency needs with long term development vision?

The Surdna Foundation Story

The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster stable communities in the United States—communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John E. Andrus, and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.

In April, when the immediate, emergent, and long-term impacts of COVID-19 started to become more and more apparent, the Surdna Foundation decided to focus $4.6 million of their grantmaking capital towards rapid response efforts.

In order to make this possible the team made key changes to their granting process: no required proposals or reports for the grantee, only the most basic due diligence, and rapid-fire approval and payment processes. The team also prioritized amending current grants, as opposed to requiring grantees to file a new proposal for funding. Program officers could then recommend up to $250,000 in additional funds per active grant, with the recommendation being expedited straight to Surdna’s president for signature approval.

To support their team as they rolled out these changes, the team created highly detailed, step-by-step instructions and held zoom trainings to make sure their teams knew what tools were available (and how to use them).

Surdna’s Grantees – The True Winners

The Surdna Foundation’s rapid response grantmaking efforts had an immediate impact on their community. Within a month and a half Surdna was able to process 71 new grants (a total of $1,644,600), and add 20 amendments to existing grants—providing grantees with a necessary cushion during this time of need.

On average it took the team 1.98 days to process rapid response grants—as opposed to the typical three-month cycle from request to payment.

These moments of crisis, while frantic and exhausting, provide some of the best opportunities for learning. COVID-19 has prompted Surdna to rethink their existing policies and explore what components of these rapid response tactics should be incorporated into their processes when this period of crisis subsides. As part of their mission, the Surdna Foundation is working to address the power imbalance that exists between funders and grantees — putting their trust in the good work of their grantees, and imagining new ways to support their efforts and enable them to do their best work with the least amount of bureaucracy.

To learn more about how the Surdna Foundation changed its granting habits to address this crisis, watch our webinar.

Like Surdna, use these seven rapid response recommendations to help adjust how you grant:

  1. Prioritize a fast registration/LOI process: Use an easy eligibility quiz to quickly determine who meets funding requirements. Save everyone time by focusing on only core information for applicants.
  2. Design a simple grantee portal: Provide grantees with a dedicated information page and be sure to reserve a section of the grantee portal for emergency applications so that they can easily be found and tracked.
  3. Save everyone time and streamline your application forms: Be sure to only include key questions that will expedite a yes or no approval. Use colors, markers, or bold font to clearly identify any information that is required.
  4. Make all application workflows clear and direct: This process can be as easy as creating new workflow buttons to move a record quickly to the right party.
  5. Keep grantees informed with automated email alerts: Lessen follow up by automatically informing grantees about their submission and application status.
  6. Adjust grantee reporting requirements: Keep your reporting requirements simple and make sure that you collect data in form fields—not via attachments.
  7. Keep staff engaged by enabling them to do their work: Ensure that your staff is trained on your system. Speed up the onboarding process with configurable dashboard views and filters that make it easy for them to find what they need.

The Surdna Foundation is a testament to how these steps can lead to efficient processes that serve grantees when they need it most. But they also will help you think about your granting habits at large and what you might want to change, to address the current crisis and beyond.

To learn more about how to efficiently implement rapid response grantmaking tactics at your organization, read Fluxx’s rapid response grantmaking guide.