Beyond Generosity: Streamlining As Crisis Preparation

Mom lifts car crushing child’s leg.

Sully lands plane on Hudson River.

San Juan neighbors rescue neighbors.

How we admire people and groups that respond to a crisis quickly, with purpose, courage, and clarity – and success! Streamlining can help foundations that want to respond in kind.

The literature on disaster and emergency grantmaking calls for boldness, following the lead of local partners, support for cooperative grantee action, and attending to long-term recovery once immediate crises are passed. Streamlined foundations are likely to have the philanthropic chops to meet such challenges because they ground their work in values, continuously refine their grantcraft, and are diligent about simplicity in service of getting funds out the door quickly and with minimal burden to grantseekers. All these practices support creative, collegial, and connected grantmaking in an emergency.

  • KNOW AND LIVE YOUR VALUES. Sometimes there simply is no drill. When circumstances call for a rapid response, reflexes need to kick in – and fast! Does your foundation streamline because it cares about being a good citizen in the philanthropic world? Because it sees excessive and irrelevant demands on funding applicants and grantees as disrespectful? Because it wants its resources to be used well internally as well as externally? Streamlining embodies all these values. If your foundation can act on its principles, without needing to go into deep analysis mode first, you can capably respond in an emergency.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Muscle memory comes from repetition and enables smart, fast performance. Foundations that regularly examine how they do business so they’ll do it as well as possible (streamlining principle #1: take a fresh look at grantmaking requirements), and value consistent practice by ensuring good communication with all stakeholders (streamlining principle #4), have built powers that serve them well for urgent response. As an example, one funders collaborative drew on its strong relationships among its funding partners and with grantees to respond within one week to the announcement of a new and pressing change in its issue area. The collaborative awarded a quarter of a million dollars for rapid response grants without requiring a grant application, after informally gathering information from community organizations to document need, convening its leadership team, and circulating recommendations to all other partners.
  • KIS.S! Many funders have told us that when disaster strikes, they find that they are able to get money to the ground very quickly with much less process than they’d previously believed was essential. But why wait for a crisis to streamline? Grantmakers that right size their requirements to match their grant size, type, and purpose (principle #2 ) and who are already thinking about ways to relieve the burden on grantseekers (principle #3) are already set to act in ways that truly fuel nonprofits’ responses to urgent needs. They’ve thought through practices that don’t undercut organizational capacity, know that real partnership demands risk-taking, and that less is often more. They step up without being asked and waive usual requirements because they know the point of grants is to pay for work to be done, help to be delivered. They Keep It Streamlined. Simple!

How have you prepared to fund rapidly when needed? What regular streamlined practices have you found to serve you well when a crisis requires a quick turnaround? Let us know as a comment or by emailing Dr. Streamline at drstreamline@peakgrantmaking.org

And don’t miss the October 24th special webinar on funder collaboration in disaster grantmaking!

Alice Cottingham

Alice Cottingham is a Chicago consultant to grantmaking foundations and community nonprofits. As someone who believes deeply in Project Streamline, she is honored to be allowed to pose as Dr. Streamline's surgical associate.