Covid-19: Five key ways foundations are responding

Many foundations have been quick to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, the impact of which is becoming clearer and more worrying. More than 150 have already expressed their solidarity with civil society by signing a Covid-19 funder commitment. Although many have closed their physical offices, foundations across the UK continue to work remotely in support of their grantees and have offered reassurance that grants managers are on hand to deal with queries and concerns. Below is a summary of some of the actions foundations have taken in the last week with more found here.

1. Deploying expertise

Wellcome Trust has pledged up to $50m to a new initiative to speed the development of and access to therapies. The Covid-19 Therapeutic Accelerator will coordinate research efforts and remove barriers to drug development.

One of Nesta’s actions has been to look into redeploying its staff to support efforts by the government and the NHS. Nesta is also assuring grantees that they do not need to contact their programme managers if that means diverting attention away from beneficiaries, teams and themselves.

National Lottery Community Fund has partnered with a range of organisations to launch the Community Action Response. The initiative uses the partners’ reach and expertise to call on communities to connect with each other, support vulnerable and isolated people, and share accurate information.

2. New funds and realigning grant programmes

In terms of direct support for affected communities, organisations and individuals, some foundations have created new funds. Community Foundation Tyne and Wear and Northumberland has launched the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to help small charities and community organisations in their region to help vulnerable people most affected by social isolation and risk of illness.

Community Foundation Northern Ireland has launched a Coronavirus Community Fund, which will offer community organisations emergency funding to deal with emerging issues in the community, affecting older people, as a result of the continuing threat of coronavirus, and the need for self-isolation, and potential for further exacerbation of loneliness and isolation of these older people.

City Bridge Trust, in partnership with the Mayor of London and London Funders, has launched a fund to support London’s community and voluntary organisations. The initial £2m fund, coordinated by London Funders and open to donations from other funders, will support organisations facing immediate financial pressures and uncertainty due to coronavirus.

Arts Council England has refocused some grant programmes to help compensate individual artists and freelancers for lost earnings, as well as relaxing funding conditions and speaking to government.

3. Increasing flexibility around reporting and payment schedules

Many foundations have taken advantage of their ability to be more agile and long-term than other parts of the voluntary sector.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation lists a range of supportive measures which include adjusting reporting requirements, discussing changes to programme delivery, as well as maintaining its current and planned grants spend. 

National Lottery Community Fund has provided reassurance that it will accommodate changes to current grants including timelines, activities, and reporting, and also offer support with salaries and financial pressures.

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is taking a range of actions including moving payments and relaxing reporting guidelines, expanding its grants plus programme, and making top-up or emergency grants.

Corra Foundation has reassured its grantees that grants will be processed as usual, even where grants contribute to salaries of staff unable to carry out their roles. It is also offering flexibility around timescales and how funding is used, and allowing the impact of the situation when reading reports.

Blagrave Trust is supporting its partners by offering flexible funding and timescales, and by talking through issues and concerns.

4. Converting restricted grants to unrestricted funding

William Grant Foundation has converted all its existing revenue grants to unrestricted grants for the current year.

Garfield Weston Foundation is prepared to be flexible in how funds are spent. It is also prepared for grantees to adapt their activities and adjust their timelines, and carrying out its routine meetings and visits virtually.

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales is offering flexibility in how core funding is spent and is open to discussing changes to how project funding is used. It will also consider requests to amend grant payments so that grantees can receive up to 50% of the total in one year.

5. Engaging in advocacy

Some foundations are using their voice to speak out on behalf of beneficiary groups who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. These include funders working on criminal justice, homelessness, or with those on low incomes.

Lankelly Chase Foundation is highlighting the impact the outbreak will have on those experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation is taking steps to support those on low incomes; it is providing solutions on how people might be supported with costs, it is analysing the medium and longer term impacts of an economic downturn, and working with those most affected to amplify their voices and concerns.

City Bridge Trust is playing a central role in efforts to address the impact on London’s civil society; as well as contributing to the fund mentioned above, it is supporting London’s infrastructure organisations to make the case for greater support.

Alex Ferry Foundation is looking at the consequences of the outbreak for workers, including the inability of workers to cover essential costs in the short term, the medium term implications for employment, and the longer term implications for the current economic model.

Next steps

Part of ACF’s response to coronavirus is to gather evidence on how members are continuing to support the causes and communities they care about. At this time, it is essential that we at ACF continue to share best practice and ideas for foundations on how to operate in the current context, as well as share learning on what is working and what is needed.

ACF is working alongside colleagues at NCVO, ACEVO, Charity Finance Group, NAVCA and other infrastructure bodies to ensure the voluntary sector’s needs are met, understood and addressed where possible, and, importantly, that its voice is heard within government.

There are a number of conversations going on between funders working on different issues and in different areas. Please contact if you would like to make connections.


Emma Hutchins
Policy and Communications Manager, ACF

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