Tips and Resources for Responding Globally to COVID-19

Making grants outside of the United States can be complicated even when there isn’t a global pandemic. COVID-19 impacts communities in different ways and while some countries have robust public health systems, others do not. Additionally, governments are responding to the outbreak in vastly different ways. Knowing what is happening and what is needed locally will be vital to any recovery effort.

Here are some tips and resources to help your foundation respond on a global scale during this crisis.

Understand the Legal Basics

Longtime global funders know that making grants to charitable organizations outside of the United States can be complicated. If you’re relatively new to global grantmaking, take time to familiarize yourself with the IRS regulations around making grants to foreign charities (you may have already heard of expenditure responsibility and equivalency determination). You’ll also need to make sure you have some staff trained in compliance, as making grants internationally can trigger concerns around sanctions, money laundering, and foreign bribery. You should also ensure that your efforts are not contrary to local government guidance on COVID-19. Our Country Notes resource, created in partnership with ICNL, is a great place to get familiar with country regulations, and our expanded notes for members provide contacts and peers who are working in the country.

Remember, there is a long list of international organizations that have been deemed the equivalent of 501(c)(3) public charities by executive order and do not require additional vetting.

Be Patient with Nonprofit Partners

This is a good rule of thumb no matter where you are operating! Take time to understand how they work, what they need, and what potential barriers they face in receiving your grant, implementing it, and reporting on it. This is especially true if you are funding healthcare organizations and hospitals, as they are busy dealing with a pandemic and shouldn’t be expected to respond to your requests within a day.

Use an Equivalency Determination If You Can

Speaking of flexibility: if you can, now is a good time to conduct an equivalency determination on your nonprofit partners. Since equivalency determinations allow you to provide general operating support grants, using an ED will make sure your nonprofit partner can operate in crisis mode effectively. NGOsource, a repository of ED certificates, can simplify this process.

If you do have to use expenditure responsibility (project funding), try to structure the agreement and reporting requirements in broad enough terms so that the money is still flexible. Many foundations are exploring what flexible funding looks like internationally and some (like Open Society Foundations) have been calling for this for some time.

Try to Limit the Paperwork

Whether it’s US-based requirements or recipient country bureaucracy, there’s often a lot of documentation in global grantmaking. Try to streamline your application and reporting processes as much as possible and consider waiving things that are “nice to have” and not absolute requirements. Still, we’ll always recommend you have all the necessary legal documents on hand, so try to find a balance that meets your needs and makes life a bit easier for your grantees.

Use Local Networks and Foundations for Support

It’s going to be rare that a US-based funder knows local context as well as local actors. Philanthropy of all kinds is growing across the world, which means more and more foundations and funder collectives are going to be present in the areas you support. Did you know that many countries have their own nonprofit or foundation networks? These groups are great sources of news and information, can help funders establish offices in the country, and can be extremely helpful in finding local partners for collaboration. We recommend WINGS' listing of their members worldwide to see which network might best suit your needs.

Get to know local funders (including community foundations) and consider coordinated grantmaking. While a pandemic isn’t the best time to build new partnerships, sometimes necessity makes it easier to do. Utilizing existing knowledge and infrastructure makes a rapid response more efficient and effective. You can use the networks mentioned above or explore the Community Foundation Atlas.

Consider an Intermediary

Intermediaries, in this context, are US-based 501(c)(3) organizations that can make grants at your request (typically for a fee). Giving through an intermediary relieves your team of handling nearly all administrative and legal tasks. These organizations range from some community foundations, issue-specific organizations, regionally focused funders, and some with global reach. Many of these organizations are well-respected global funders with deep expertise and many are also members of the Council. Some have created response funds and we are happy to provide contacts at any intermediary that fits your needs.

Think Long Term

Disaster response of any kind requires a long-term view. Recovery can be slow even in areas with a robust infrastructure. Make commitments to your grantees that funding will be multi-year and that you will provide general operating support, or at least make it clear that you’re in this for the long haul. Some organizations depend on funding from US philanthropy to survive, and the loss of these funds can be crippling. If possible, take time to help bring other funders to your grantees.

Approach Global Grantmaking with Humility

Try not to go into giving internationally with the mindset that what worked in one case will work in another. Context matters. There has been increasing momentum around movements like #ShiftThePower that advocate for funders giving locally, building trusting relationships with their partners, and encouraging local communities to have more say in funding decisions. Trust your grantees to tell you what they need.


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