As the potential effects of the coronavirus on people, nonprofits, and the economy began to crystalize in the spring, hundreds of organizations—more than 1,100, actually—popped up across the country to provide emergency funding.
Funds then flowed in from donors who wanted to help out in their communities. The outpouring of donations has been phenomenal, says
Vrana, deputy director of “policy, systems, and giving by all” on the philanthropic partnership team of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But, many of these relief organizations—even though started by well-established nonprofits, in many cases—were overwhelmed, and they needed support to handle those funds.
Last week, the United Philanthropy Forum, with US$9.1 million in grant funding provided by the Gates Foundation, announced that its newly created Momentum Fund was awarding US$8.5 million in grants averaging US$65,900 each to 129 nonprofits providing Covid-19 relief funding in the form of grants and direct support to organizations serving under-resourced Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
This initial grant is among efforts by the Gates Foundation’s philanthropic partnership group to shore up the infrastructure of nonprofits and donor networks to more effectively direct funding—and volunteer hours—toward Covid-19 needs. And as Vrana says, “everything is touched by Covid” today—food, healthcare, the economic recovery, and schools, to name but a few things.
“We want to make sure resources are getting to those [areas], and to the communities most disproportionately affected by Covid,” she says.
Grantmaking—with a focus on reaching society’s most vulnerable—is one leg of this effort, with about US$13 million in total granted so far. Aside from the United Philanthropy Forum grant, the Gates Foundation also supported the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) with US$450,000. WFN assists women’s foundations across the country, about 35% of which are led by women of color.
“Through grantmaking, we are getting resources to intermediaries who are in those vulnerable populations and are serving those most disproportionately affected,” Vrana says.
Another US$1.2 million went to VolunteerMatch, which helps volunteers find organizations with specific needs. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, VolunteerMatch needed a way to connect volunteers with virtual opportunities. The Gates Foundation grant allowed the organization to “transform their platform” to not only provide virtual volunteering, but to help nonprofits learn how to create those opportunities, she says.
By focusing on strengthening the infrastructure of giving, donors can have more confidence that their dollars are directly responding to needs, Vrana adds.
The second major effort by the Gates Foundation was the creation of PowerOf—a platform launched on May 5 during #GivingTuesdayNow that allows potential donors—“from neighbors helping neighbors to commitments exceeding US$100 million,” as the foundation puts it—as well as volunteers to find vetted organizations doing effective work to address all aspects of the Covid-19 crisis.
For this effort, the Gates Foundation worked with several organizations, including founding partners #GivingTuesday, DonorsChoose, VolunteerMatch, and Candid. Global Giving, Charity Navigator, and GivingCompass have also joined. The idea is simply to create a more coordinated, effective philanthropic response—to strengthen the power of giving.
One reason the Gates Foundation took this approach is based on research that there is a “17% gap between intent and action for everyday givers”—including givers worth multi-millions. The site makes it easy to find a variety of opportunities to both give and volunteer. A visitor to the site can also explore specific areas of need, such as to “support equity” or to “support healthcare.”
With the site ramping up only recently, the foundation is now “starting to learn things about donors and what they are interested in,” Vrana says. That knowledge will allow them to refine the site to best respond to what givers need and are interested in. “We are in a big learning phase,” she says.
The Gates Foundation is also looking into how to strengthen networks of high-net-worth individuals and institutional donors. Many regional networks and donor collaboratives already work together to be more effective, but the foundation is hoping to “super charge” those efforts at collaboration and coordination, Vrana says.
“The need is greater than any of us can handle,” she says. “We need ways, and more than one way, for people to come together—institutions, corporates, and individuals—and break down those silos, and really funnel capital to the most effected, the most under-pressure, vulnerable projects and organizations and solutions to address the pandemic.”