April 18, 2022

Agile & Resilient Grantmaking: 3 Responses to the Pandemic

COVID-19 brought dramatic changes across industries and organizations. This holds true of grantmakers as well, including those in government agencies, universities, foundations, and corporations. Being agile and resilient enabled the grantmakers we work with to create and sustain grant programs that had a positive impact across their communities.


When we look back at the last two years and consider how our clients dealt with the challenges posed by the pandemic, we’ve recognized three distinct approaches to grantmaking:

  1. Organizations made temporary adjustments to existing grant programs.
  2. Organizations created new temporary grant programs.
  3. Organizations created new permanent grant programs.

Looking at some examples, we find that the trials and tests of these last two years can provide some insights into the benefits of agility and resilience for grant programs in any season. Here’s what we saw:

1. Organizations Made Temporary Adjustments to Existing Programs

Some grantmakers found that business as usual wouldn’t suffice for their programs during the pandemic. The Tampa Bay Lightning, a National Hockey League team, was one of those organizations.

For 10 years, the team has operated a Community Heroes program that has distributed $24 million and supported more than 600 nonprofits in the Tampa area. Each Hero is given $50,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. A significant part of the program took place at all  Lightning home games. At each game thousands of fans would welcome Community Heroes onto the ice for recognition that resulted in a standing ovation. 

During the pandemic, the Lightning played games in empty arenas with no fans. To continue to honor their heroes, the team had to adjust. As part of a recent webinar, the Lightning’s Sarah Costello described how they pivoted to making site visits to recognize Community Heroes. They leveraged local media outlets and social media to promote the visits, the heroes, and the program. 

Perhaps equally important is to note that not all program adjustments in these last two years were pandemic driven but, instead, were the result of the desire of the leadership to continue to evolve as opportunities present themselves. To that end, the Lightning program implemented changes recently that enabled them to increase team engagement and provide nonprofits an opportunity to directly apply for participation in the program.

2. Organizations Created New Temporary Grant Programs

Municipal governments faced a heavy responsibility to respond to financial needs in their communities when the pandemic started. One response was to use existing funds, and then subsequently Federally provided funds, to create new temporary grant programs designed to sustain businesses as long as COVID-19 continued to affect the economy.

In Virginia, Loudoun County Economic Development launched a grant program in April 2020. The program initially granted $1.25 million to local businesses, but the process was resource-intensive. It required 25 staff members and 50 volunteers for administration of the program using Excel spreadsheets and folders for the organization. This quickly became unsustainable.

“At that point, we went looking for a grants management system,” said Colleen Kardasz, assistant director of Loudoun County Economic Development. “In that original round, we had realized very, very quickly that we needed to be more efficient and we needed to be more nimble and that the chances were that this was going to be a long-term program for our department as our priorities continue to shift.… We needed to automate; that was mission-critical.”

So, they replaced their Excel spreadsheets and folders with Zengine™, which greatly decreased the number of people required to run the program. Over the past 18 months, the organization has been able to run the grant program with the support of just three staff members – including its most recent grant, and final relief grant, of $4.3 million. 

3. Organizations Created New Permanent Grant Programs

Some corporations also took action as the pandemic started affecting day-to-day life. WizeHive welcomed new clients who recognized the need to create employee assistance or hardship programs; not just to respond to challenges resulting from COVID-19, but also to meet future needs. These programs generally take one of three approaches:

  1. Direct company giving.
  2. Employee giving facilitated by the company.
  3. A hybrid of direct company giving and employee giving.

Utilizing a flexible and secure platform, companies that implement these programs are able to gather and verify important data. As part of the application process they can: 

  • Verify employment.
  • Understand the individual need and its financial impact.
  • Request required documentation.
  • Gather bank information for deposits or tying funds to payroll.

The pandemic taught employers and employees alike that unexpected circumstances can have devastating financial consequences. Knowing your company is there for such a time can provide a tremendous peace of mind. It is encouraging to know programs like this will outlast Covid. 

WizeHive can help your organization create an agile, resilient grant program that’s built for the unexpected needs of the future. Schedule a demo today.

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