New Study Sheds Light on Foundation Support for Communities Hardest Hit by COVID-19

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Cambridge, MA — In response to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, almost 90 percent of foundations taking part in the latest research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) say they are making new efforts to support organizations serving communities particularly adversely affected by the public health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Released today, Foundations Respond to Crisis: Toward Equity? is the second in a series of three reports from CEP examining the extent to which staffed foundations have changed their practices in response to calls for change to meet the unprecedented challenges of 2020. The report finds that almost all foundations report placing new, or more, focus on supporting Black, Latino, and lower-income communities — and that more foundation leaders say they are reckoning with racism and paying greater attention to racial equity in their work. That said, there are still significant opportunities for further progress, and it remains to be seen how deep and sustained this new focus will be.

“We are seeing that foundations are both becoming increasingly aware of how race and racism affect their work and making important changes to respond to the related challenges of this year,” says Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president, research, and co-author of the report. “The data in this report provides an important look into the extent to which funders have made rapid changes in 2020. It also indicates there are several areas in need of further attention when it comes to truly centering equity — and racial equity in particular — in the ways that foundations work.”

Findings in the study are based on survey data gathered from 236 foundations — 170 of which signed the pledge hosted by the Council on Foundations to act urgently in response to COVID-19, and 66 of which had not — as well as in-depth interviews with leaders of 41 foundations that signed the pledge. All data was collected between June and August 2020.

Most frequently, foundations have made new efforts to support organizations serving Black or African-American communities (75 percent of survey respondents), lower-income communities (71 percent), and Latino communities (63 percent). Slightly less than half of foundations have made new efforts to support organizations serving undocumented immigrants. Fewer foundations still have made new efforts to support other communities hard hit by the pandemic, such as Native communities (25 percent), Asian or Asian-American communities (28 percent), and people with disabilities (30 percent) — a potentially significant oversight, especially considering that a sizeable proportion of the population have a disability, which often compounds discrimination and financial distress.

When it comes to supporting organizations created and led by individuals from communities most affected by this year’s crises, compared to their pre-pandemic practices, 59 percent of foundations surveyed now are giving a higher percentage of grant dollars to those organizations. Slightly more than 20 percent said they only began supporting these organizations after the pandemic began, and 12 percent said they do not support any organizations created and led by people from communities most affected.

Further, leaders at over 80 percent of foundations interviewed said they are making changes that incorporate racial equity into their grantmaking or programmatic strategies. Most interviewees described a shift in focus to recognize the role that race plays in their work, or for some, to center race in their work. For example, 85 percent of foundations interviewed mentioned turning inward to reflect, learn, and make changes in organizational practices in policies, and 56 percent of survey respondents reported changing aspects of their foundation’s grant application processes to reach more nonprofits led by people from communities most affected by the pandemic.

Yet there remains significant room for progress. Almost 90 percent of foundations interviewed said that they will be focusing more on racial equity, but many acknowledged that they have a long way to go in particular areas for improvement, such as increasing staff diversity; doing more to integrate equity into their strategy and grantmaking approaches; reducing barriers to funding; conducting more and better outreach and relationship building in the community, particularly with organizations led by people of color; and increasing the diversity on their boards. Progress in these areas remains to be seen.

“Philanthropy is immensely susceptible and vulnerable to trends,” said one foundation leader interviewed for the study. “We’re seeing a lot of performative behaviors around the response to racial justice. What I would say is, ‘Philanthropy, this is not a trend.’”

The first report in CEP’s series, released in November, considers how 2020’s crises are shaping the thinking and actions of U.S. foundations; the third, to be released later this month, will look at how foundations are being more flexible and responsive. CEP plans to follow up on this research in 2021 by surveying and interviewing foundations about the changes they began making this year.

The Ford Foundation provided funding to support this research, along with Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Weingart Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The report is available for free download on CEP’s website.


The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, publications, programming, and assessments and advisory services, visit

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