How Democracy Fund is Rising to the Challenge of COVID-19

April 3, 2020

Last week, Democracy Fund joined with over 400 other grant makers to sign the Council on Foundations’ Pledge: “Philanthropy’s Commitment During COVID-19.” The pledge calls on foundations to respond to this extraordinary moment with extraordinary measures — both in providing resources to new priorities laid bare by the crisis, and by providing new and different support to current grantees.

In what was already a crucial year for our democracy, the pandemic has brought with it new and unique challenges for our institutions and systems of government. We must ensure the election can proceed safely in this new era of social distancing and that legislators can continue to do their work. At a time when myriad abuses of the public’s trust are possible, we must protect civil rights and ensure robust government accountability and oversight, including of the extraordinary funds provided through government stimulus package. To do so, we must also ensure a fragile news media ecosystem can navigate the coming economic downturn. We are rising to the challenge and working to raise and deploy resources to these numerous new, important priorities.

But our efforts to help our community of grantees navigate the current environment are just as pressing. Nonprofits are adjusting to social distancing protocols and remote work. They are navigating uncertain economic waters as a likely recession endangers philanthropic endowments and other revenue streams. And, they bear the weight of supporting their own staff, while, in many cases, lifting up communities at risk in this pandemic.

In this rapidly shifting landscape, Democracy Fund has appreciated hearing from many of our grantees and peers about how best to support our community. Based on your input – and best practices that are already beginning to emerge across philanthropy – Democracy Fund will be taking two immediate steps:

1. Increasing Flexibility Within Current Grant Agreements

In order to increase stability for our grantees and lessen the burden on them at a challenging time, Democracy Fund staff will be working with each grantee to determine the best way to shift the terms of current grant agreements. For grantees who already have a disbursement from Democracy Fund scheduled for later this year, we will accelerate payments to help organizations maintain continuity of operations. We will adjust requirements to postpone, waive, or amend reporting expectations. And, we strive to provide increased flexibility to as many of grantees receiving project grants as possible by converting restricted grants to general operating support or otherwise loosening project restrictions.

2. Rapid Response Funding for Operational Continuity

In addition to providing flexibility within current grant agreements, this week, we launched a rapid response fund of approximately $550,000 to support our smaller grantees who often have the least flexibility in their budgets to respond to unexpected events. These funds will help smaller grantees adjust to remote work needs, maintain operational continuity, and cover other expenses related to adapting to the current public health crisis. With rare exception, all grantees with 2019 organizational operating budgets of less than $1.5M will each receive $10,000. All eligible grantees have been contacted and the funds are already on their way to our partners. We’ve also shared information and resources with grantees about applying to access funds through the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program.

Preparing For What’s Next

We’re grateful to be able to quickly adjust to support our grantees, but we know the real needs of our partners and of the field are more than Democracy Fund can address alone. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to continuing to partner with our colleagues at other foundations and throughout philanthropy to explore other ways to support our grantees and the field.

To help protect and energize the field of organizations working to strengthen and defend our political system, Democracy Fund is working closely with current partners to safeguard the economic stability of our shared grantees, as well as leveraging our philanthropic partnerships efforts to encourage new donors to support democracy funding.

While it’s easy to feel that everything has changed in this tumultuous time, we must remain grounded in our shared mission to protect and defend our democracy. It is clearer than ever that we depend on a robust, effective, and accountable system of government. Communities need their elected officials to act with integrity and with the public interest at heart. They require trustworthy, fact-based journalism to inform their choices. And, they must be able to shape their shared future through a safe and legitimate election, no matter the conditions of this pandemic in November. Our grantees and partners are charging ahead with their important work, and Democracy Fund is committed to doing all we can to support them. We hope you will too.

Democracy Fund
1200 17th Street NW Suite 300,
Washington, DC 20036