Dear Colleagues,

As the implications of COVID-19 unfold, we know that the shocks of this “new normal” are severe and unanticipated for you—our grantee partners—as indeed they are for us all, professionally and personally. We are acutely aware that this global crisis will manifest differently in different contexts and therefore requires a lot of customization in our responses.

To that end, we want to provide you with maximum flexibility in how you use our funds in this time of extraordinary challenge. We know that “one size will not fit all,” so our program officers plan to reach out to you individually to work on the best ways in which we can support you. The purpose of this communication is to share our general policies so that you will have them in advance of those conversations. We don’t have all the answers, but we are learning as we go and continuing to adapt our responses.

Our funding policies are designed to weather crises
During Darren’s tenure, the Ford Foundation has put in place financial policies that are intended for a time like this. Our goal is to provide as much flexibility, certainty, and stability for grantee partners as possible, despite a time of turmoil in financial markets. We have four primary ways of doing this:

  1. First, the foundation’s primary grantmaking modality is now general operating support. We have moved our total annual grantmaking from 25 percent to 71 percent GOS over the last four years. We also doubled the overhead allocation for project grants from 10 percent to 20 percent, and even more when a compelling case is made.
  2. Second, we take a balanced approach to investing and protecting our endowment, reducing risk and providing a potential cushion for economic downturns. In 2015, we changed our budgetary policies to apply a three-year rolling average of the endowment value to determine our spending each year. In doing so, we insulate our grantees because the foundation’s spending does not fall off a financial cliff.
  3. Third, we have adopted multiyear budgets for each of our program teams to enable more funding certainty for grantees.
  4. Fourth, we work hard to manage Ford’s own operational costs in order to maximize the resources available for grants.

Providing flexibility in the near term
We recognize that the kind of flexibility you need may include postponing or canceling convenings or other activities that our grant is supporting; delaying grant deliverables because activities aren’t able to continue as planned; or delaying submission of proposals or reports. In consultation with your program officer, we are willing to formalize changes to your grant agreement as well, specifically:

  • For grantee partners receiving project support, we are open to converting your current project grants to general support so that you have maximum flexibility to respond to COVID-19. If this is something that would be helpful to you, please let your program officer know. This applies to all grantees other than expenditure responsibility grantees, universities, fiscal sponsors, and governmental units; if you fall into one of those categories, you should speak to your program officer directly and there may be other ways we can provide you with more flexibility.
  • We are open to changing the payment schedule for your grant if that would be helpful to you. Again, please let your program officer know if there are adjustments we can make.
  • Grant funds will not be rescinded if a program, conference, or other grant activity is canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. We understand you have sunk costs and will work with you to repurpose any remaining grant funds for other activities. 

Collective advocacy for broader policy change

  • In the US and beyond, as appropriate, we should seize the opportunities presented by this crisis to advocate for the kinds of policy changes that will help the populations who will be hardest hit by the coronavirus emergency. Together, we can use our platforms to advocate for these kinds of policies. In many cases, these are policies you advocate for generally—reduced carbon footprint, paid sick leave, expanded access to health insurance, customized support for people with disabilities, expanded unemployment insurance, food aid, rental assistance and mortgage forbearance, student debt relief, and more. Your program officers will be interested to hear what you are doing and what you would find helpful in this regard.

As we talk with you over the coming days and months, we will take what we learn and do our best to adapt to your evolving needs. We are very aware of the challenges to morale, organizational culture, and productivity that many of our organizations will be facing. We are committed to being good partners and a source of meaningful support for you.

Thank you for all you are doing in these hard circumstances to keep moving your essential work forward. It matters now more than ever, and we are so grateful to each of you for all you do.

With gratitude,

Hilary Pennington
Executive Vice President of Programs
Ford Foundation