Covid-19: Results of ACF’s survey on foundations’ responses

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working to make sure we understand how foundations are responding to the coronavirus crisis. As part of this, we ran an online survey, which closed last week and to which 56 foundations replied. So what have we found out?

Firstly, we know foundations are shifting what they’re doing in response to the crisis. Almost one in five say they’re changing all their day to day activity (we asked respondents to score themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is no change and 5 is changing all day to day activity. 16% put down 5 on the scale with an average score of 3.25).

The most common action is to be more flexible around reporting and payment schedules, with nine out of ten doing this. As one said “We have suspended all formal reporting, in favour of picking up the phone and checking in with our partners how they are doing, how we can help and what they need from us”.

Many mentioned that they had signed the pledge organised by London Funders. Many were also looking to fast-track funding decisions in response.

The second most common response was working to establish a new fund or re-align grant programmes to focus on direct support for those groups or causes affected by coronavirus, with just under two-thirds of respondents doing this. For many, the emphasis is on a fast response and they are working with existing grantees rather than building new relationships or opening up to new applications. Others are making funding available beyond their usual grantees, for instance major grants to organisations helping older people or making rapid small grants to those they knew needed help.

A sizeable minority are also converting restricted funding to unrestricted and inviting grantees to request advance payments to help ease cashflow. From the comments on these questions, we expect more foundations to follow suit. 

A smaller group are also engaging in more advocacy on behalf of those most affected by the crisis. For others though, capacity constraints mean that this isn’t seen as possible and the focus is what they themselves can do quickly to respond. 

Three-quarters are interested in pooling resources or combining process with other foundations, and there are now active debates on how best to do this. Some commented with their concerns about duplication of proposals and wanted to see a simple and clear proposal which is also adaptable enough to work for a range of foundations. 

Comments to various questions highlighted the need for advice and help for staff to reassure trustees on due diligence as foundations move more quickly, reduce their requirements on grantees or change their payment methods. We’re now looking at how best to support this. 

We also asked about other things that foundations are doing. Most comments focused on collaboration but some additional activity included:

  • New ways to pay grantees
  • Online forum for grantees
  • Secondments to other organisations and volunteering by staff from foundation or parent corporation 

Answers to our question on what government and regulators could do focused on the following areas:

  • Working with the voluntary sector on policies to respond to the crisis
  • Providing a central point of information (though has been developed since the survey opened)
  • Funding for charities
  • Recognition that the response to the crisis needs to avoid entrenching inequalities or failing to work for the most vulnerable
  • More flexibility and better communication from the Charity Commission for England and Wales 

Finally, we asked about things that ACF could do to help. In order of frequency of mention, these were:

  • Information and advice
  • Examples of what other foundations are doing
  • Maintaining the sense of community among foundations
  • Advocacy and voice on behalf of sector
  • Fostering collaboration and coordination action by foundations

We’ll be drawing on this as we develop our programme of events and learning over the year. 

Results are below. In hindsight, some of the questions could have been more tightly phrased, for instance around whether foundations have already acted in some areas or whether they are planning to. We think, from the comments, that more foundations are now looking at moving to advance payments than suggested by the figures alone. The figure on unrestricted funding may also be under-reported as some provide unrestricted funding as their usual grants anyway. 

How much are you changing your work (e.g. grant programmes) in response to the coronavirus pandemic? (scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being no change at all and 5 changing all your day to day activity in response)
Answer Choices     Responses
1                       5.36% (3)
2                       21.43% (12)
3                       32.14% (18)
4                       25.00% (14)
5                       16.07% (9)

Is your foundation planning to establish a new fund or re-align grant programmes to focus on direct support for those or causes affected by coronavirus?
Answer Choices     Responses
Yes                62.50% (35)
No                     32.14% (18)

Is your foundation increasing flexibility around reporting and payment schedules?
Answer Choices      Responses
Yes                 89.29% (50)
No                       10.71% (6)

Is your foundation inviting its grantees to request advance payments to ease their cashflow?

Answer Choices      Responses
Yes                 38.18% (21)
No                       60.00% (33)

Is your foundation planning to convert restricted funding to unrestricted funding?

Answer Choices      Responses
Yes                  41.07% (23)
No                        51.79% (29)

Is your foundation engaging in advocacy on behalf of particular groups, such as those most vulnerable to the virus or a precarious section of the workforce?

Answer Choices      Responses
Yes                       23.21% (13)
No                        75.00% (42)

Are you interested in pooling resources or combining processes with other foundations in response to coronavirus? Please give more details in the comments box.

Answer Choices      Responses
Yes                  72.73% (40)
No                       25.45% (14)

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