Five Foundations Commit $1.7+ Billion to Nonprofit Organizations in Wake of Pandemic

COVID-19 – Response from Major Foundations

Five Foundations Commit $1.7+ Billion to Nonprofit Organizations in Wake of Pandemic
June 11, 2020 | Press Release
Today, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a joint commitment to increase their payouts to nonprofit organizations with more than $1.7 billion within the next three years to help stabilize and sustain a nonprofit sector facing devastating economic effects due to the global pandemic and the epidemic of social injustice. This financial commitment represents new funding above the previously approved budgets by each foundation’s board. Each foundation will determine priorities for the distribution of the new funds based on its grantmaking guidelines and priorities.

Generally, in the aggregate, funds will cover grantmaking aligned with each foundation’s mission, including racial equity and social justice, arts and culture, higher education, human services, climate solutions, and other areas to provide financial support to communities that are most vulnerable and hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19…

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Equals Change Blog
Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Measures
Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
11 June 2020
We are experiencing the unprecedented. The world we knew before COVID-19 has been permanently upended. Our lives—our histories—are forever split in two: before coronavirus and after.

Today’s crisis reveals fundamental truths about what it is to be human, to live and to die, and to share our lives with others…

…The Ford Foundation recognizes that this once-in-a-century crisis—and the overwhelming need to emerge from it with a more just and equitable society—requires a once-in-a-century response.

As foundations, our standard practice is to spend the five percent of our endowments each year as required by law to support the financial viability of the institution into the future. We will not spend down our assets but, as I’ve written previously, we cannot limit ourselves to this five percent. We must explore and expand new ways to deploy all of our assets—including the other 95 percent—in the fight for justice.

Given these intersecting, cascading crises, Ford’s Trustees and I have concluded that we cannot and will not merely pay out what we would in a normal year. We cannot and will not allow this economic crisis to decrease our grantmaking next year or going forward. We cannot do the minimum when faced with maximum threat.

If we fail to act, civil society will suffer irreparable damage—and so will the health and vitality of our most vulnerable communities, and the future of our democracy.

And so, today we’re announcing that, for the first time in Ford’s history, the Board of Trustees has authorized up to $1 billion—financed through the sale of bonds—to help stabilize and strengthen the nonprofit sector. This is only possible because of the board’s unwavering, unstinting support, energy and commitment, which serves as a source of inspiration to all of us at Ford, that this is possible, and for that I want to express my deepest gratitude.

With this new source of funding, the foundation will make strategic investments in the individuals and organizations that are not just fighting against inequality and injustice but preparing to lead us through a post-coronavirus recovery.

A Call To Unleash Every Resource
Historically, foundations have issued debt for building acquisition and construction projects—as we recently did to renovate our New York headquarters. Never has debt been used as a tool for expanding philanthropic grantmaking.

This changes now.

A number of US foundations—including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—have joined us and, collectively, our joint commitment to additional grantmaking will add more than $1.7 billion to the nonprofit sector. I’m enormously grateful to the presidents of those foundations who have my admiration and affection: Elizabeth Alexander, Ed Henry, John Palfrey and La June Montgomery Tabron who have dedicated countless hours to our collective action. They are the very best examples of foundation leaders with bold and ambitious visions for their organizations.

If more foundations take this brave step, our sector could generate untold billions of dollars to rescue nonprofits. We could ensure that civil society emerges from this pandemic and economic collapse more resilient and effective than ever.

Philanthropy has a special responsibility. Given our resources, we can support programs and initiatives that others might consider a financial burden. We can, will, and must invest in organizations that attack the roots of systemic inequality this virus has laid bare. And as we fund these vital recovery efforts, we must reimagine our systems—reimagine our democracy, our economy, our culture for the better.

In another tumultuous and violent year, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shared his concern with friend Harry Belafonte that, despite the progress they had seen, America and its systems were still “a burning house.”

When asked what to do about it, Dr. King said, “I guess we’re just going to have to become firemen.”

I return to this exchange often. It clarifies that, despite the scale and complexity of the problems we face, we still share a universal imperative—to become firefighters for justice. To do, whatever it is we do, for justice.

At this moment, it is not enough to douse the “burning house” in front of us. It is not sufficient to lend a hose and then move on. We must, further, think, and act, like firefighters. We must make it our mission to save lives—to rush in where others turn away, take brave and extraordinary action, and attend to the emergency at hand.

We must stop the forces of destruction at their source with every tool and resource we have at our disposal. We must assess the damage caused by these inequalities and set the conditions in which we can build something new.

The lifting will be heavy. It will require humility and selflessness, listening and elevating the lived experience over ego and abstract expertise, and the moral courage to stand up for the rights and dignity of every human life. It will demand that the privileged among us not only give something back, but also give something up.

We live in a culture that makes these things hard—but what makes doing them worthwhile and meaningful is the hope that doing them now will create a better tomorrow. And that hope is the oxygen that allows our movements and institutions and democracy to breathe free.

Ultimately, we need hope—a hope born not from idealism or naivete, but from a stubborn, determined recognition of what we owe each other, and the actions we take today and every day, will bring us closer to the future we seek. We need hope that united—on the other side—we will realize justice for all.