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PEAK Grantmaking

Foundations Respond to Crisis: A Moment of Transformation? Towards Equity?

To respond to 2020’s unprecedented challenges, foundations are being called on to change how they approach their work, including providing more flexible funding, shifting power, relaxing grant requirements, trusting nonprofits, and increasing payout. Foundations are also being called to come to terms with how they perpetuate structural racism, and to integrate racial equity across their work. Although they might be answering these calls in the here and now, what long-term changes can we honestly expect?

Last summer, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) explored this question in a research study. Findings from these recently released reports in CEP’s Foundations Respond to Crisis series suggest that foundations are making significant changes to their work. Leaders reported that these crises catalyzed and accelerated change, forcing funders to reconsider how they approach their work. They described working differently and trying new things, being more flexible and responsive, with less focus on traditional norms. They reported getting more grant dollars out the door. Most reported having made new efforts to support communities hardest hit by the pandemic, particularly Black, Latino, and low-income communities. Most leaders also said they are more aware of how race and racism affect the choices they make and the work they do, and even as they themselves identify room for progress, they are making changes to incorporate racial equity into their work. While this is positive news, these findings indicate ample opportunity for progress and suggest there is good reason to be somewhat skeptical.

While only time will tell how deep and sustained these changes will be, the data suggest that most foundations do not plan to implement these practices to the same degree in the future as they do now. Findings revealed potentially significant oversights when it comes to affected communities that have received less support in response to the pandemic. Racial diversity on foundation boards is lacking, yet few interviewees mentioned increasing the racial diversity of their board as a priority.

In this session, CEP director of research Naomi Orensten and Satia Marotta will present key findings from this study, focusing on opportunities for improvement and aspects of grants management.


Naomi Orensten
Director, Research
Center for Effective Philanthropy

Satia Marotta, PhD
Manager, Research
Center for Effective Philanthropy