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How Making Strategic Shifts to Granting Plans Can Maximize Impact During COVID-19

by Benevity, Inc

A guest blog by Michelle DiSabato, founder and president of Community Impact Consultants, Inc.

Responding to disasters is nothing new for those of us in the corporate grantmaking space. We react and respond in trying times to hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

But those disasters, while devastating, are usually confined to a specific geographic area or region. Today’s disaster, COVID-19, has no such boundaries and we’re all having to rethink how we work, what we should do and where we should focus our efforts.

COVID-19 is a silent and invisible enemy, and it’s pushing us to reassess and maybe change our current granting plans to ensure we are meeting the needs within communities. Many of my clients have reached out to me with questions about how they should proceed with their community investment efforts in light of the new issues we now face, like:

  • What can we do to help address the crisis in our local communities?
  • How can we help our grant partners and our local communities during this time?
  • How can we or should we still track the impact of our grants during this time?

Here’s how you’ll answer these questions:

Traditional disaster relief: consider a supplemental disaster relief grant

As part of strategic giving, many companies make annual grants to major organizations such as the American Red Cross, community foundations and many others. These grants are part of our general disaster relief preparedness and response.

Now more than ever, it is the time to call upon these organizations to determine how your funding is being used to support the COVID-19 crisis and consider making a supplemental grant based on their current need, the impact of the pandemic in your communities and their capacity to deliver services.

Keep in mind that these grants may only yield numbers served and PPE donated in terms of measuring your impact, which is all you need or should expect from the initial response period.

For those that stay on past the response period into recovery and restoration, what you track in terms of impact should focus on short-term results (what can be accomplished during the grant period) and long-term impact (ultimately, what it will look like when efforts are complete).

Strategic funding: think beyond disaster relief

As we are immersed in calls to action from the media every day, it is human nature to want to address the current needs by shifting your focus from your current pillars (e.g. from arts and culture or workforce development to nationwide health and human services); however, my advice to clients is to, wherever possible, stay the course.

Front-line organizations in the most called-upon areas already have existing funders who contribute to them on a normal basis and will continue to do so by responding to this crisis. So, while it is important to take care of these immediate needs, your contribution will go a longer way if you focus on existing relationships — and it will enable to you track impact beyond the immediate crisis.

Think about it as long-term recovery support vs. immediate disaster response, as the immediate need may seem to be outside your focus area on those front-line organizations, but in the long term, all organizations will need our help and support through this crisis.

Move from program support to capacity building

Wherever your focus may be, it is important to allow funds from new or recent grants to be redirected from its current program or earmarked to help your partners during this critical period. While many tend to just automatically assume that means it has to go to general operating support, I challenge you to think differently.

Perhaps instead of moving to general support, you challenge your partners (and ultimately help them) to think about their current capacity and their gaps given the current crisis. For example, instead of asking just what they need now, you shift their focus to results by asking:

  • What will their organization be able to do more effectively or efficiently as a result of the funding?
  • What will it enable them to do now during the immediate crisis? What are the short-term results?
  • What will it enable them to continue or grow into doing and/or how will they take those learnings and implement them in future plans? What’s the long-term impact?

For example, instead of funds going to program support, the grantee may now use funding to put in a new technology infrastructure. In the short term, it will enable their staff to work remotely, but in the long term will enable them to deliver services to clients remotely and have a more robust client case management system as a result.

Focusing on short-term and long-term benefits will be key in addressing the problems our COVID-19 era funding solves.

I saw a perfect example of this type of shift in focuses post-disaster when a client of mine recognized the need to support and build up the infrastructure of their local nonprofit partners after Hurricane Michael. The foundation is based in Pensacola, Florida, where the major impact occurred and they saw firsthand the needs of the community.

They created a special one-time initiative to Amplify Community Impact, staying within their focus areas, and they were able to report on their impact as well as build the resilience of the community and nonprofits in the aftermath of this disaster.

The question: to measure or not to measure

As our world continues to adjust to the new realities that COVID-19 has created, it is more important than ever to be intentional in our giving. During this time, if you have not already started down your measurement journey and are not collecting KBIs (key behavioral indicators), don’t try to start.

For now, it’s okay to only capture outputs such as number of people served, amount of PPE donated, number of communities served or number of meals served.

And if you have already made the switch to results-focused investing (granting), then don’t give up the ability to dive deeper and engage with your partners and existing grantees at a more meaningful, behavioral or conditional change level. This is our time to work together to make a meaningful impact on our worldwide community affected by our common enemy: COVID-19.

Now more than ever, it is important that we ensure services can continue at expected levels. And by focusing your support on those that you will continue to work with once we emerge from this crisis, it will not only support your future impact story it will enable you to ensure the strength and capacity of your partners when we get back to normal.


Michelle DiSabato, founder and president of Community Impact Consultants, Inc. (CIC), is a philanthropic impact subject matter expert with more than 20 years of experience developing, designing and implementing multi-million-dollar philanthropic initiatives and programmatic social impact analyses. Michelle has worked with a wide array of clients in industries ranging from healthcare and finance to consumer products and entertainment providers, helping them align their giving strategies to meet their business and social responsibility goals, while leveraging and optimizing technology to maximize efficiency. Prior to founding CIC, Michelle was a CSR manager at a Fortune 10 global organization, where she managed one of the largest installed grants management systems (200+ users in more than 15 locations) and led their measurement initiative to determine the impact of their community engagement.