3 Best Practices for Remote Disaster Grantmaking Response

March 23, 2020 Alexis Fish

In response to COVID-19, the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America state that everyone should work or engage in schooling from home whenever possible. However, foundations and grantmaking organizations are often strategically office-based to encourage collaboration and community engagement. The President’s Guidelines are forcing foundations to adjust to a new normal of working remotely while continuing and even increasing their grantmaking. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is an expert at facilitating disaster philanthropy grants remotely. (NOTE: All quotes appearing below are by Natalie Worthan, Systems and Special Projects Manager, CDP)

"Because CDP is a remote organization, we have not needed to make any adjustments in our work style. However, we have had to adjust to an increase in inquiries and donations about our COVID-19 Fund … it is good to see the level of response," said Natalie Worthan, Systems and Special Projects Manager.

For organizations that are quickly adjusting to newly implemented work from home policies and rethinking current workflows, adapting to increased use of remote working tools are critical to getting grants out the door.

The key to working effectively while working remotely is to leverage the communications, workflow, and online tools that are available today in Blackbaud solutions.

1) Communication is key when it comes to 100% remote grantmaking. Understanding what role everyone in your foundation plays is important to making sure that your staff is receiving the communications most important and relevant to them. For example, your Executive Director might need to see very different information than the Finance Manager. Make sure to utilize the reporting and workflow customization options to streamline communications and dissemination of information. This will support your goal of continuity in the time of COVID-19 and maximize staff resources. CDP utilizes technology to make sure that the entire team has visibility into projects and deadlines.

"With essential staff in almost every time zone across the country, CDP values its processes. We have weekly virtual meetings that bring the entire team together. We have online tools and shared resources that give the whole team visibility into our projects, so we know what it is coming up and how to allocate our time to priorities. Project management is key to success in remote organizations and we have great tools that cover the physical distance for the team."

2) A streamlined workflow offers a seamless way for staff to execute their work and for decision making committees to make approvals and submit feedback. The reviewer portal is a critical component in supporting an optimized workflow process for both program officers and committee members. Both constituencies can log in, review, comment and score applications to ensure aid flows quickly to those in need.

"CDP's Fund Directors are experts in disaster grantmaking and constant communication is vital to the success of their work, which again, is supported by our online tools. This keeps them connected to a wonderful network of field experts and supported by well-trained internal small teams. This allows CDP to mobilize quickly and respond to priorities on the ground and support medium- to long-term recovery efforts. CDP has also implemented special programs, like CDP Precheck, that allow vetting of organizations that are likely to be grant recipients from CDP Funds, clients, and donors so that we enable funders to act quickly in times of disaster."

3) Online data collection and impact feedback options are another set of key tools available. Many foundations don’t realize that the same tool you are using to collect your initial grant request information can also be used to collect a grant agreement signature, invoices, and impact metrics. These online tools are also scalable which has been an important factor for CDP.

"Blackbaud Grantmaking™ has streamlined our grantmaking process into an automated system and will continue to help our team be more efficient as we become more comfortable and familiar with the database. However, I think it is important to note that Blackbaud Grantmaking is new to our team so we are working together closely to maximize our efficiencies."

CDP has put together a COVID-19 profile with a Critical Needs section that outlines key factors foundations should consider while grantmaking in response to COVID-19. Blackbaud resources for best practices can be found here on the COVID-19 grantmaking, event and fundraising resources landing page.

About the Author:
Alexis Fish, MPA has over a decade of experience in the philanthropic sector advising grantmaking clients on how to maximize their impact and be meaningful partners with the grantees they serve. Alexis works in the professional services group of Blackbaud with foundations of all shapes and sizes. Her passion for helping foundations make their founding mission a reality is what drives her. When she is not working she enjoys volunteering once a week in the local public school helping elementary children learn to read and serves as board member for an international children’s educational nonprofit that delivers free books to children from 6 months to 9 years-old.

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