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PEAK Grantmaking

Acting with Intention When Meeting Needs of the Field in Times of Crisis

Organization Members Only

The past year provided a unique opportunity for the field, program staff, grants management, and senior leaders to come together like never before. Ascendium Education Group was in the middle of finalizing materials for board review and approval when the organization, as well as most of their grant partners had to quickly pivot to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many funders, Ascendium moved quickly to check in with grant partners and adopted flexible reporting structures to allow partners to meet their immediate needs. During that time, program staff asked for and listened to emergent needs from the field. Ascendium understood that setbacks for our partners now could result in catastrophic long-term impacts for the students our grant partners serve. As a funder committed to supporting academic and career success for learners from low-income backgrounds, we aimed to mitigate the potential impact the pandemic would have on critical partners in the field and partner with peer funders to respond to this unique moment.

Able to capitalize on the timing, Ascendium program staff quickly worked with senior leadership to propose several initiatives designed to meet the needs expressed by the field. The result was $12 million in new, flexible funding. The planned addition of these dollars meant that grants management quickly reworked existing project timelines to incorporate the addition of new requests for proposals. With an eye toward service of the field and their urgent needs, grants management worked diligently to adopt existing processes to reflect more streamlined requirements.

During this session, you’ll hear Ascendium present its COVID-19 Impact Response Fund as a case study for strategic, streamlined grantmaking including tips related to:

  • Actively listening to emergent needs from the field
  • Aligning crisis response funds with your organization’s strategy to meet the needs of the field and your board
  • Driving successful program staff and grants management staff collaboration (hint: it’s all about shared mission!)
  • Streamlining grants management processes


Rebecca Villarreal
Director – Education Philanthropy
Ascendium Education Group

Nikki Wachter
Manager – Grants Administration
Ascendium Education Group