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May 12, 2021
Pandemic Spurs Greater Candor Between Nonprofits and Funders

February 18, 2021 — The coronavirus pandemic has created opportunities for nonprofit grant seekers to engage in “more open” conversations with grant makers, but it requires them to communicate clearly and creatively, perhaps more than they have historically, according to Philanthropy Massachusetts, a Boston-based regional association of grant makers.

Poulos: Funders are attentive to needs of nonprofits

Jeffrey Poulos, chief executive officer of Philanthropy Massachusetts, in an interview yesterday, said, “The vast majority of funders say they are attentive to coronavirus pandemic and the needs of the nonprofit sector.”

Most importantly, he noted, there is no indication funders are stepping back from the increased commitments they have made since the pandemic hit Massachusetts last March.

Based on recent conversations with funders across Massachusetts, Poulos said the most pressing local needs—related to food access, housing for vulnerable populations, and mental health—will shape the funding agenda statewide for much of 2021.

The same conditions that have caused greater financial and operational stresses for nonprofit organizations have also created new opportunities.

McCray: Grant seekers on more equal footing with funders

“Funders want to know how the coronavirus pandemic has affected nonprofit operations. It’s an opportunity for nonprofits to be more open, to build a relationship,” said Alex E. McCray, senior director of programs at Philanthropy Massachusetts.

Because funders themselves have been in a crisis this past year, they have become more willing, to different degrees, to allow program support funds to be used for general operations, eased funding restrictions, extended reporting requirements, shortened grant applications, and increased conversations around and funding for racial equity and justice issues.

While grant seekers need to make a compelling case to funders, as they did before the pandemic, how they go about that has changed, largely due to the exponential growth in virtual communications.

Poulos said funders have become much more open to virtual meetings, which remove travel barriers and saves time for everyone.

The resulting greater ease of access means “it’s more important to make a personal connection through story telling and examples of the impact you’re having,” Poulos said.

However, communicating virtually means grant seekers must be clearer, more mission focused, and more illustrative in presenting to funders, he added.

McCray said many grant seekers welcome the enhanced ability to meet on a more equal footing with grant makers.

“There has always been a power differential in the relationship; grant seekers have always guarded against looking vulnerable or revealing anything that makes them appear not to be strong,” McCray said. “The pandemic has created more empathy on the funder side. And funders have encouraged more candor among nonprofits.”

According to a survey of Massachusetts grant makers completed last fall, Philanthropy Massachusetts found that 67% of the funders surveyed reported there had been no change in their candor; 31% said they’ve been more candid with grantees; and 52% stated that their grantees have been more candid with them.

Whether this altered, more open, environment will continue once the coronavirus crisis has eased remains to be seen, McCray said.

In the meantime, grant makers plan to increase funding levels in 2021. The same survey, completed in September, found that 84% of respondents expected to increase in grantmaking dollars over the next 12 months and 57% anticipated increasing additional support due to COVID-19 over the next 12 months

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