Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Moment of Transformation?

Amid the compounded crises of COVID-19 and the long-standing structural inequities and racism the pandemic is exacerbating, the myriad calls for funders to make fundamental changes in how they approach their work have grown in number and intensity. How are foundations responding to 2020’s unprecedented challenges? What high-level changes in practice are they making — and will these changes be for the long term?

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) turned to foundation leaders for answers to these pressing questions. As Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Moment of Transformation? shows, foundation leaders are reevaluating and making significant changes to their practices in 2020 — including loosening or eliminating grant restrictions, increasing their spending levels, and placing a newfound emphasis on listening to grantees and the communities they serve.

Findings in this report are based on survey data gathered from 236 foundations — 170 of which signed the Council on Foundations’ pledge to act urgently in response to COVID-19, and 66 of which had not — as well as in-depth interviews with leaders of 41 foundations that signed the pledge. (All data was collected in July and August 2020.)

This study is the first in a series of three reports CEP will release examining the extent to which foundations have changed their practices to meet the unprecedented challenges of 2020. The second report in the series will focus on how foundations are reckoning with racism and supporting communities — Black, Latino, Native American, immigrant, low-income, and people with disabilities — hit hardest by the pandemic; the third will look at how they are being more flexible and responsive.