How can philanthropists and foundations meaningfully and effectively coordinate COVID-19 response?


Cassie Robinson


This is clearly a time for philanthropy and foundations to be proactive in how they support civil society. There is so much that is needed right now, from emergency response funding, efforts to do the coordination and analysis of needs, intelligence about where to direct resources, and for some foundations to also take a long view – about what will be needed in 3 months, in 6, and over the next few years. Rather than do a summary of what is needed, though you can read 40 interviews The National Lottery Community Fund did over a week to understand what civil society organisations are facing right now, I wanted to offer something more practical. 

There are some brilliant initiatives of foundations coming together around the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK London Funders has over 100 foundations signed up who are essentially saying that together they have civil society’s back. At the moment one more practical manifestation of this work is a shared fund for London’s civil society.  Last week I was on a Zoom with 90 other foundations that the Association for Charitable Foundations had convened and I know that was just the start of what they are planning to do. 

However, I’m interested in what would help move some of these conversations, statements and pooled funds into more strategic and practical action. One way of this happening would be for philanthropists and foundations to better understand and then define what each of them in a coordinated effort should prioritise in relation to each other – what role should they each take in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Perhaps philanthropists and foundations already have smart ways of doing this, but I have often felt like coordination of effort is rarely designed. So much is either taken for granted and assumed, or conversely, these kinds of coordinated efforts get drowned in endless relational activity and navel-gazing. In addition, whilst being able to access data on something like 360Giving may help philanthropists and foundations identify gaps, it doesn’t help with the follow on from that – the negotiation, understanding and definition of roles that ensures a coordinated, collective funding response. 

I have designed a blueprint that I hope can help, whether now during the COVID-19 crisis or in any future efforts where it is vital for philanthropists and foundations to take a more coordinated and collective approach. You can find the blank canvas available here. 

It’s also worth remembering that any coordinated effort can only work effectively if the group commits to some common information infrastructure – in the context of COVID-19 that may be a national needs analysis. This will ensure there is a higher chance that investment follows need rather than simply relying on existing grantees and existing networks.

How can each funder play their most impactful and valuable role?
The purpose of going through these questions is to better understand and then define what each funder in a coordinated effort should prioritise in relation to each other – what role can you each take?

Time frames

  • Immediate (now)
  • Short-term (next 3 months)
  • Medium-term (3-9 months)
  • Long-term (9 months and beyond)



Operational ability

  • Agility – how quickly can the organisation respond and act?
  • Governance – what kind of decision-making processes does any release of funds need to go through?
  • How much staff capacity is there to do this well?
  • How much staff capability is there to do this well?

  • Giving grants
  • Resourcing infrastructure – data, communications, coordination functions
  • Expertise and networks within particular issues, systems, audiences
  • Support – coaching, additional expertise
  • Learning – providing resource and capacity to do learning and create content
  • Convening, mobilising, advocacy, voice
  • Providing trusted information
Framing – what is the narrative each organisation wants to lead on?

  • Emergency
  • Stabilising/ continuity
  • Renewal
  • Rebuilding
  • Equity
  • Demonstrating and sustaining a new normal





Types of delivery and impact

  • Through individual
  • Through individual organisations
  • Through networks, federations, collaborations and movements
  • Through formal infrastructure
  • Through anchor organisations
  • Through partnerships with local government and private sector

  • Micro grants under 5K
  • Small grants under 25K
  • Medium grants under £150K
  • Large grants under £500K
  • Significant grants under £2 Million



  • UK wide
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland
  • Wales
  • England
  • City
  • Town
  • Neighbourhood
  • Rural

Cassie Robinson is Senior Head of UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund

Tagged in: Covid-19 Funding practice

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