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A Year in Review: Philanthropy’s Response to COVID-19

May 14, 2021

The events that unfolded in 2020 were largely unexpected and manifested at such a rapid pace that it caught the world off guard. COVID-19 safety precautions forced businesses to close in-person operations and people were told initially to shelter-in-place, then later to stay home as much as possible. As the pandemic lengthened, the negative economic and social impacts spread across the globe and businesses and organizations were faced with the stark reality that standard in-person operations would not be safe to return to for some time. For many in the philanthropic sector, closing or slowing operations for even just a short time-period was not an option; these organizations saw the need for their services significantly increase as the pandemic bore on and these leaders knew that it was their job to try and lessen the daunting negative impacts.

The philanthropic sector was put to a timed test. They needed to be nimble and quickly respond to the needs of their communities, the nation, and even the world. Many were forced to re-think their carefully planned funding strategies and giving focus on the spot, while simultaneously learning to operate at heightened levels off-site through virtual interactions.

Philanthropy’s response to the pandemic

Philanthropic organizations stepped up to the plate and responded to COVID-19 on a scale that has never before been seen. A University of Washington survey of 500 of the largest U.S. foundations, conducted between May and August, found that 75% reported relaxed grant restrictions, 70% had started COVID-specific response funds, 41% changed funding priorities, and 30% increased their payout percentage. Over 800 organizations signed the Council on Foundation’s pledge to act to support nonprofit partners and communities hit by COVID-19 impacts, including to loosen restrictions on current grants, make unrestricted grants, and to contribute to community emergency response funds. According to Philanthropy and COVID-19, a report from Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (2021):

  • U.S. donor giving was tracked at $15.4 billion across 25,118 gifts (including pledges, cash donations, and in-kind contributions) to respond the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Corporations accounted for the greatest amount awarded (44%), followed by high-net worth individuals (27%), independent foundations (22%), public charities and community foundations (both at 3%), and operating foundations (2%). 
  • Funding from independent foundations more than doubled from $1.7 billion in the first half of 2020 to $4.7 billion in the second half.
  • Community foundations awarded the highest number of grants (54%), however, those awards tended to be smaller amounts. The median award size for community foundations was $10,000, compared with $250,000 from corporate donors.

The philanthropic response in New Mexico

On March 11, 2020, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the first known COVID-19 cases in the state and declared a statewide emergency on the same day. The pandemic halted the state’s economy and has negatively impacted residents who have been experiencing distress related to economic insecurity, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and health outcomes, as demonstrated in a recent New Mexico Voices For Children fact sheet. It is clear that New Mexico communities need(ed) support to assist with COVID response and recovery and our leading philanthropic organizations took note.

The Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy Funding Map is a visual platform that shows how foundations and other donors are investing in disasters, including the pandemic. This map shows that 14 foundations and corporations awarded $7.9 million as epidemic disaster funding in New Mexico for a total of 43 grants in 2020. New Mexico funders included:

  1. BBVA Corporate Giving Program, 1 grant ($3.7 million)
  2. Southern Company Gas Corporate Giving, 1 grant ($2.5 million)
  3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2 grants ($1 million)
  4. Marguerite Casey Foundation, 10 grants ($170,000)
  5. Decolonizing Wealth Project, 11 grants ($146,000)
  6. Santa Fe Community Foundation, 3 grants ($145,000)
  7. Hispanics in Philanthropy, 7 grants ($129,000)
  8. Henry Luce Foundation, 1 grant ($60,000)
  9. Johnson Scholarship Foundation, 1 grant ($40,000)
  10. Mile High United Way, 1 grant ($25,000)
  11. El Paso Electric Company Contributions, 1 grant ($10,000)
  12. Communities Foundation of Texas, 1 grant ($5,000)
  13. Schott Foundation for Public Education, 1 grant ($5,000)
  14. Medina Foundation, 2 grants ($1,000)

The funding data presented above is updated at least monthly and is more current than the data presented in the aforementioned Philanthropy and COVID-19 report, which reflects data in Candid’s database as of January 20, 2021. Candid notes that “data collection efforts largely focused on the U.S., (were) based on publicly available sources in English, including press releases, websites, membership reports, and surveys as well as funders reporting disbursements directly to Candid,” and there are “undoubtedly more donors and awards that are not reflected in the data set.” As an organization directly in-tune and involved in the New Mexico philanthropic sector, The Grant Plant knows the above list is not complete: our community foundations, local United Ways, and independent foundations stepped up to the plate and issued numerous grants to local nonprofit organizations on the frontline of meeting pandemic-related needs, as well targeting support to those who suffered adverse impacts from the economic fallout. The full scope of COVID-19 philanthropy will not be known until the foundations’ 2020 IRS Forms 990 and their allocation of grants become available. 

New Mexico COVID Funding – Results from The Grant Plant’s Monitoring Activities

The Grant Plant is proud to play a lead role in serving the philanthropic sector in New Mexico.  In partnership with Pivotal New Mexico and 501(C)PA, The Grant Plant has been monitoring and sharing COVID-related funding opportunities relevant to New Mexico-based organizations to help with the state’s recovery and relief. The COVID-19 Funding Resource Center was made possible through support from the Thornburg Foundation and Anchorum.

Through our work to monitor and highlight COVID funding opportunities, we seek to help New Mexico organizations persist throughout the pandemic. This work has enabled us to be in tune with the real-time response of funders in New Mexico. After the review of Candid data, above, it was clear that the many our state’s foundation and corporate funders who have stepped up to provide financial support to combat negative COVID side effects have not yet been recorded in Candid’s current data presentation.

A reflection of past COVID-19 funding opportunities identified by The Grant Plant paints a picture of how New Mexico funders mobilized to respond to specific community needs. Our records show that from May-June there was a strong response from New Mexico foundations and corporate giving programs, as demonstrated through the release of funding opportunities that provided support to combat COVID-19, including:

  • Albuquerque Community Foundation with United Way of Central New Mexico (May)
  • All Together New Mexico Fund (May)
  • Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico with United Way of Southwest New Mexico (May)
  • FHLB Bank Dallas (May)
  • Lea County Electric Cooperative (May)
  • Los Alamos Community Foundation (May)
  • McCune Foundation (May)
  • New Mexico Local Food Supply Chain Response Fund (May)
  • PNM Resources Foundation (May)
  • Santa Fe Community Foundation (May)
  • Taos Community Foundation (May)
  • United Way of Eddy County (May)
  • Wells Fargo Foundation (May)
  • ABQ Community Foundation: Emergency Action Fund  (June)
  • Con Alma Health Foundation (June)
  • Con Alma Health Foundation: COVID Relief for Immigrant Communities (June)
  • Paso Del Norte Health Foundation (June)
  • Santa Fe Community Foundation: Native American Advised Fund (June)

From July to December 2020, we found fewer COVID-related opportunities from New Mexico funders – seven opportunities were identified, three of which were from new funders (Chamiza Foundation, Comcast, and New Mexico Oil and Gas Association). It is important to also note that some funders identified during the May-June timeframe offered rolling support with no or extended deadlines that extended into the later part of the year, or contributed to community funds to support our local nonprofits.

Much like Candid’s research referenced above, although The Grant Plant monitor was conducted diligently, it does not show all funding opportunities that made available by New Mexico foundations and corporations. The Grant Plant staff monitor a number of diverse information sources to identify funding opportunities, including through public news releases, foundation newsletters/email notices, internal sources, and so forth, however some funding opportunities may have been missed.

Although data collection is still in the initial stages, it is clear that the philanthropy sector has worked hard to provide a strong response to COVID-19 to try and address the health, social, and economic needs of communities. Funders were called on to increase their giving as a whole, make unrestricted/flexible grants, target giving to communities particularly impacted by COVID, recognize racial divides, focus on systemic changes, and more. Their task is not an easy one. Many steps we have seen funders take in response the pandemic have been impactful – the banding together through collaborations to heighten responses, to listening to and working with the communities most impacted directly, to loosening restrictions on grants and expanding application windows. These steps are positive for the philanthropic sector as a whole and we believe that our philanthropists, along with other supporters, will continue to stand together to rebuild our communities and re-envision how to best provide economic and social supports. The need to be flexible and responsive to community needs will continue into the years ahead. Like everything post-pandemic, we anticipate the world of philanthropic giving will continue to evolve while embracing some positive changes that were made necessary due to the pandemic.

The Grant Plant wishes to thank New Mexico’s philanthropic heroes, who went above and beyond to support our nonprofits, small businesses, and individuals during this unprecedented time of need. Your ongoing efforts before and after COVID are much appreciated and we applaud the critical roles you play in our communities.

Contact: Wendy McCoy, Senior Resource Development Officer, wendy@thegrantplantnm.com

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