The endless, destabilizing uncertainty of 2020 that has put all of our lives in turmoil has also brought a gift for forward-thinking philanthropists:
We have the opportunity to look at all of our challenges in a different light.
2020 has forced us to question all of our assumptions, and it has shown us again and again that things we thought were impossible or set in stone were neither.
In the philanthropic world specifically, we have seen a few encouraging developments that our team hopes will endure into 2021 and beyond, even after the COVID crises passes
Funders embraced their humanity and recognized the interconnected nature of social issues.
We can’t solve pressing social issues when our efforts are siloed. This year has reminded many funders how ineffective it is to focus exclusively on one social issue, say education, when the communities they serve don’t have consistent access to food or housing. In response to COVID, we’ve seen funders set aside fears of mission drift and proactively respond to human needs. We’ve seen funders hand out unsolicited grants to organizations for unrestricted COVID relief. In doing so, many of these funders are learning that taking calculated risks and addressing pressing needs in real time can magnify the impact of their philanthropy when communities face urgent challenges.
Grantmakers streamlined applications and moved toward participatory grantmaking.
In response to the urgency of the need around COVID relief, many foundations rolled out simplified grant applications in an effort to efficiently meet the needs of their communities. They recognized that they don’t need as much information as they’ve collected in the past, and that some of the steps in their previous processes put up unnecessary barriers for groups that are doing good work.
We’ve seen funders who once required a 12-step process and 15 pieces of info from their grantees trim that down to three steps and just 10 basic pieces of information. These kinds of changes represent not only a relaxation of the arduous vetting process in order to release funds more quickly, but a shift to a more collaborative relationship between funders and grantees.
And along with that move to make grantmaking more efficient, there’s also been a growing consciousness of the need to reshape how decisions about funding are made. Every strategic plan we’ve worked on this year has involved some aspect of participatory grantmaking, where the target communities of the grants had some kind of voice and/or decision-making role in the process.
Of course, there’s still an open question of what effective participatory grantmaking actually looks like. Participatory grantmaking is a hot topic without a lot of meat yet, but the trend reflects a growing understanding that those closest to the problem should—at a minimum—be at the table for decisions about resource allocation.
Many more white funders across the political spectrum began exploring systemic racism and their role in perpetuating it.
We’re seeing more funders than ever before dig into questions of equity within their grantmaking processes, start conversations with their staff and their board around racism and its implications in their work, and begin to make plans for how to address it. While this effort feels long overdue, it’s still a marked change from just two or three years ago to see so many more of these discussions happening out in the open, instead of as whispered conversations.
Expanded personal and professional development opportunities for nonprofit leaders — 2020’s best legacy?
The most encouraging trend we’ve seen in 2020 is the explosion in personal development support for nonprofit leaders and funders. When COVID forced us all to transfer our work to the digital sphere, we gained new skills and competency with tools we’ve had for a long time, but never had to master.
That new competency has opened up new possibilities for expanding the reach of much-needed professional and personal development for nonprofit leaders.
In sharp contrast to the inconsistent, and often low-quality digital learning environment that has been created for K-12 education across the country, the continuing education space increasingly offers efficient, effective, and high-quality learning environments for adults. And we believe it will have a huge positive impact on the entire philanthropy sphere.
A great deal of this emergent training is focused on equity, race, and identity—understanding your journey, understanding your personal motivations, and understanding how you move in the world.
The ideas aren’t new, but the reach and accessibility is so much greater, and we believe that will be transformative for the philanthropy world. It’s going to help the leaders of our movements be more effective. They will understand the complexity of the systems around them and how to move within them to accomplish their goals without getting burned out.
This year has been so tough. It has taught us a lot. It has challenged us and stretched us and we’re ready to be done with it. But it has also given us so many new possibilities for our future. And for that, we are grateful.