Kenneth Lu ( / CC BY

March 16, 2020; Robert Sterling Clark Foundation (blog)

Lisa Pilar Cowan, the vice president of the R.S. Clark Foundation, announced in a blog yesterday that the foundation would add an additional year of funding for all current grantees. This gets close to the strategy NPQ is backing, which we borrowed from Vu Le, which is that all foundations consider doubling their payouts this year and that they specifically double the grants already made over the past year to allow their grantees to not only weather the storm while serving a public in crisis, but also invest in advocacy—because this crisis is also an opportunity, and we should be working very hard to disallow a recovery whose benefits are regressive.

Cowan writes that this moment can be likened to Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner right off the cliff: “In particular, I am feeling the moment he looks down and notices the ground beneath him is missing.”

When all of your grantees are faced with this reality, a new approach is required. So, she writes, “we are making some changes in how the foundation does business.” The actions they plan to take are to:

  • Add one additional year of funding to every grant. “We hope that this continuing general operating support will ease some funding concerns and allow you to focus on serving your communities, and not on us. The ‘Plus One’ year pushes grant terms out so you don’t have to do anything in 2020. For multi-year grants that were completed in 2019, we will extend them to include this year. For current grants, we will add one year to the existing agreements.”
  • Relax the timing of grant reporting. “We will let go of previously scheduled reports, and circle back later this year to see if you would like to have an in-person chat, a phone call, a Zoom video meeting, or not at all.”
  • Explore short-term responses with other funders. “A number of pooled funds or collaborations are being discussed and we’ll engage in those conversations.”
  • Advocate within the philanthropic community to “convert project-based grants to unrestricted ones to provide more flexibility to grantees. And we will continue to share and promote trust-based practices—especially general operating support.”

NPQ is looking for more of this kind of philanthropic leadership, where few-questions-asked investments are made because the current environment justifies them. We believe this is the right strategy for philanthropy right now. It exhibits faith and true partnership, and in the many extra actions taken, we could very well see much that is new.—Ruth McCambridge