The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 5

How Foundations and Nonprofits Are Evolving Through the Crisis with Tracy Kaufman

In this Episode:

How have funders responded to COVID-19? What should nonprofits do in turn? And how has this pandemic changed the field in the near and long terms?

As the Programs Manager at Candid, Tracy Kaufman has a front-row seat to the challenges that grantmakers and nonprofits are experiencing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. What’s working, what isn’t, and what’s next?

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:04.310] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the fifth episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m so excited to have my guest today is Tracy Kaufman from Candid. If you’re watching us on video, I’m excited to announce that the audio version of this show, the podcast, is now available on iTunes, on Stitcher on Spotify and basically most of your major platforms, and we hope to be on all of them within the next few days. So please, please, go seek us out over there. Subscribe, download, listen, and of course, share your thoughts whether you leave a public review. Very happy for those. Or a private one, if you want to send me a note. Anything is appreciated and any constructive criticism is always welcome because that’s how we grow and develop. So yeah, go check us out and without any further ado…

[00:01:07.890] – Boris
Let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. Tracy Kaufman is the Programs Manager at Candid. Candid is a recently formed, or renamed organization from the merger of Foundation Center and GuideStar. And now at Candid, Tracy is their Programs Manager and the main instructor of all things. Basically grant writing, communicating with funders, and she’s also currently working on a lot of their curriculum development. She is a pretty fantastic person in general, she’s a great resource. Very excited to have her, and without any further ado, let’s just go ahead and bring her on. Hi, Tracy. Good morning.

[00:01:47.130] – Tracy Kaufman
Hey, good morning. Happy to be here.

[00:01:49.590] – Boris
Thank you so much for joining us. So I hope that was an adequate introduction. But please, tell us more about your story and your nonprofit superhero superpower. In other words, how you help nonprofits get more heroes for their cause.

[00:02:05.670] – Tracy Kaufman
All right. I’ll start with the superpower just so that I don’t forget what it is. I would say my superpower would be the power of information. A lot of this is because my background was originally as a librarian, and anyone who knows any librarians knows we’re all about information and the power behind access to information. I have been working for Candid, formerly known as Foundation Center and GuideStar. I’ve been with the Foundation Center half of Candid for almost 13 years now. I started working with them back in 2007, originally in their Library. Candid is all about data and research on foundations and nonprofits and how you can use that information to be a little stronger in the work that you do for your cause. Both for foundations to do stronger work in terms of how they can fund things by knowing a little bit more about what’s going on out there in the world of foundation funding, and so that nonprofit organizations can be more well informed about what they can do to work more effectively.

[00:03:20.430] – Boris
That is awesome, and you and I have collaborated on things, you’ve brought me into Candid, to Foundation Center, and I’ve brought you on to Webinars in the past. I know you have a lot of tremendous valuable knowledge that you can share at any given time on a whole range of subjects. So let’s dive in to what you’re seeing right now. What’s going on in terms of the grant making and grant receiving space that you’re seeing?

[00:03:49.710] – Tracy Kaufman
All right. So as we all know, we are in the middle of a pandemic right now. So what has been happening with COVID-19 has been having, obviously, a massive impact. Not just on health, but also on the economy and on nonprofit organizations. They are all dealing with a lot right now. My organization, Candid, has been tracking a lot of data on what’s been going on in terms of foundation funding at this time, and I’d like to just talk a little bit about what foundation funding means at a time like this right now. So at this moment, since mid March, I believe $10.6 billion so far has been committed to funding related to Coronavirus relief. In some cases this has to do with, like, straight up towards the virus, health related issues. In many cases, this is talking about the economic crisis related to it and a lot of things really related to basic needs, food and shelter, unemployment, things like that.

[00:05:02.130] – Tracy Kaufman
But there’s been a tremendous amount of funding going up, and it’s been rising dramatically. The last time I spoke publicly on something like this, I believe we had a little over $4 billion that had been given out. That was in early April. Now that we are in May, we’re at $10.6 billion. A lot of that funding that’s floating around out there is corporate. The early rush of funding from foundations for COVID Relief was about 75% corporate. Now it’s about two thirds corporate, with more of the independent and family foundations beginning to catch up a bit. So when it comes to foundation funding right now, keep in mind, under normal circumstances, foundation funding is a pretty modest piece of how nonprofits are supporting themselves.

[00:05:54.810] – Tracy Kaufman
Like the most recent information was that about 18% of the private support that goes to nonprofits is coming from foundations, just 18%, compared to almost 70% coming from individual donors. However, at a time like this, foundation funding has a little bit more stability to it, relatively speaking, compared to individual donors. I read in a Chronicle of Philanthropy recently that the percentage of Americans giving to charity has dropped to, I think, an all time low of, like 73%. And a lot of this is because people don’t have the money to spare right now. Individual people don’t have the money to spare right now.

[00:06:40.110] – Boris
Are they worried about their long term financial prospects? And so they’re trying to save and allocate as thriftily as possible right now?

[00:06:47.790] – Tracy Kaufman
Exactly. Even if they’re not suffering financially at this moment, the uncertainty makes them more cautious about what they’re going to do with their money. But foundations don’t have that option to give or not give. Foundations are required by law to give out at least 5% of their assets per year. That alone leads to a little bit more stability as a funding source for an organization. At a time like this, foundations also often have certain, kind of, built in shock absorbers that help them to be a little more stable in their giving compared to other sources. I’m not going to say that it’s easy to get foundation funding or that foundation funding will not be affected by this crisis because it will, and it is, but a lot of foundations do what we call asset averaging, which leads them to give a little bit less than it seems like they should when times are good, but it leads them to give a little bit more during a rainy day. And right now we’re on a rainy day situation.

[00:07:50.550] – Boris
We’re in a rainy year situation.

[00:07:52.710] – Tracy Kaufman
Yes, and so because of this, about roughly a third of foundations do asset averaging, so that when they’re portioning out their 5% payout rate, instead of making it be just on their most recent fiscal year, they average it out over the past few years. So that if they’ve had some good years in the past, this means sometimes their payout is a little lower during good times. But it means that when times are rough, if it’s averaged out this way, they’re giving a little bit more. So that’s cool as well.

[00:08:24.870] – Boris
That’s awesome news, of course, for all of us in the nonprofit space. How can, I guess, nonprofits take advantage? I know that at least initially the response from foundations, and I think you just alluded to this, too, is to the most urgent of needs to the nonprofits out there that are handling. Marion Stern was on the show last week, and we were talking about the Maslow’s Hierarchy, and foundations were focused on nonprofits handling the most critical needs on that hierarchy. But all things are necessary in that hierarchy, they’re all needs. So is the funding now expanding to more types of organizations, or are most foundations still focused on those most integral needs of, like, food and shelter?

[00:09:16.570] – Tracy Kaufman
I would say a lot of the new funding initiatives that are coming out right now are going to be heavily focused towards basic needs, food and shelter. And that is important, especially because social services organizations, I think, are being hurt almost most of all, at a time like this. They have the thinnest margins and the smallest operating reserves of all nonprofits, and so it is important.

[00:09:42.010] – Tracy Kaufman
However, if, for instance, you have existing funders that already have been given to you, foundation priorities are foundation priorities. Those don’t tend to change over time. When foundations choose, these are the subjects that we want to give towards, that is a relatively stable thing. If you’re an arts organization, your arts funder is still an arts funder, for instance. I would say it’s probably more important than ever to focus most heavily on the funders you already have. You can chase down new funders, but as they say, it’s cheaper to keep them. Go for the people who know you and like your work the best first and steward them.

[00:10:29.530] – Boris
Absolutely, right on. So speaking of that, what is working and what’s not working for nonprofits these days with seeking foundational funding?

[00:10:39.910] – Tracy Kaufman
I think the most effective technique is to double down on what you do best. What are the critical needs that you serve and how you do it effectively? Some of these things are true, not just in a crisis, but at all times, but they become truer than ever right now. Focusing not just on the fact that your organization is suffering right now. Most organizations are suffering right now, but putting a little more emphasis on the urgency of the work you are doing, what is the critical social value that you provide right now? Why is it important that this work gets funded? What they call the case for support, strengthening that case for support and making sure that you can clearly articulate. Whether it’s to foundations, or to individuals, or whoever, that this is important work that needs to exist. That question of why do you exist? Why do you do the work that you do every day? Being able to communicate that in a crisp, clear, persuasive way is going to take you very far.

[00:11:54.970] – Boris
So we’ve been talking a bunch on this show and really, everyone that I’ve been talking to in general, about how to refocus your mission and within your mission, find new ways to achieve it, to serve your community. I know that individual donors, specifically, are responding to it. So if you have been primarily fulfilling your mission in one way and it’s been more person to person direct contact, and now you’re shifting to programs that are more online based or that are helping people specifically in the situation that we’re all in right now. But it’s something slightly new, something slightly different still, though, based on your mission. A lot of individual donors are responding. They appreciate that you are still trying to serve your community, that you’re filling these important needs, that you are pivoting and involving as needed to keep serving. Are funders interested in new ways that you’re doing your work, or are they mostly interested in the long term programs that you’ve already had in the past?

[00:13:03.370] – Tracy Kaufman
As long as whatever pivot you’re making for your programs make sense for who you are and who you serve and what you do, then, I believe funders are going to be very receptive to that. Funders are people the same way regular donors are people, and they understand that times are complicated right now. As long as you loop your funders in to what is going on, don’t surprise them with whatever changes are taking place internally at your organization. Talk to them right now, if you haven’t already, about changes that you’re making in your program. Because things are different, we are taking this program and reconfiguring it to this new virtual format in order to still keep serving people and getting such and such positive outcomes. Just talk to them openly and honestly about it.

[00:13:56.890] – Tracy Kaufman
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to talk openly and honestly with your funders. Do not surprise them, and also just to make sure that you’re getting them on board with things as they are happening, and they can either opt in or opt out. But they’re much more likely to opt into what you’re doing if you’re completely on the level with them at all times and having open human conversations with them.

[00:14:23.470] – Boris
Sure, keeping them feeling like a partner in the work that you’re doing, right?

[00:14:26.770] – Tracy Kaufman
Exactly, because they are a partner.

[00:14:28.990] – Boris
Absolutely, and a lot of storytelling definitely comes into play in that, where it’s, how do you tell the story of the community that you’re serving the way that they’re being impacted right now and the ways that you’re pivoting, adjusting to serve them. But absolutely, as you said, staying true to your mission and the goals of the programs in the first place, rather than all of a sudden, you see a need that’s unrelated and launching something completely new.

[00:14:56.530] – Tracy Kaufman
Yeah. You don’t want to do mission drift at a time like is.

[00:14:59.350] – Boris
Yeah, mission drift, mission creep. Absolutely. We’ve hit the initial crush, if you will, of emotion, of response, of changes in the way that we all not just our organizations operate, but we all kind of see the world in society right now. Things that change really rapidly. Some nonprofits were great at adjusting. Some took a little longer or are still on that path. But now that we see this new reality, if you will, that we’re going to be in for at least the next few months, maybe years. Maybe some changes are probably permanent in their lasting effects. What should nonprofits be looking at now and thinking about in terms of their sustainability post pandemic, post COVID?

[00:15:50.330] – Tracy Kaufman
There are two main pieces of what nonprofits are going to need to be thinking about. They’ll need to think about what do their programs look like? Long term now, and to what extent do you even know the long term? A lot depends on what your subject area is, what you do, what your programs currently look like. Some things more easily adapt to these modified new formats than others, but just being careful that for some things, it might not go back to normal. It might if we’re very fortunate, but coming up with maybe a few plans of what the future might look like so that you can be adaptable. Like trying to be proactive rather than reactive to the situation. Which is difficult, and it’s going to be difficult for everyone, but having an idea of what does, for instance, this time next year look like? How much will be back to normal and how much might not be, and how can you be ready for either outcome?

[00:16:52.190] – Tracy Kaufman
But then there’s the fundraising question. I think there’s a little more control over what the question of fundraising will look like compared to the question of what your programs might look like. Now, fundraising is hard and it always has been, and it will continue to be difficult. I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture of what foundation funding looks like right now because it’s never been easy to get a grant, and it’s not going to be easy to get a grant, and it shouldn’t be. Grants are given to organizations who merit the grant funding, the case for support. So there is the foundation piece. There’s also figuring out what does the piece of individual donations look like for your organization? Because the share of donors is shrinking.

[00:17:44.690] – Tracy Kaufman
As I was reading that fewer people are giving to charity right now, and what’s that going to look like over time? They’re saying that lower income donors have shrunk the most, whereas the higher income donors have been affected the least. Donor advised funds, meanwhile, this is kind of a bright spot. Giving from donor advised funds has gone up something like, what is it? 58%. I wrote it down. Donor advised fund grant making is up 58% between March and April, compared to what those numbers were like this time last year. That’s a big deal, and that is a good thing to keep in mind. It’s not incredibly easy to access donor advised funds if you haven’t already, but these are basically high income donors, so cultivating them a little bit better.

[00:18:33.950] – Tracy Kaufman
With someone who has a DAF, the thing is, this is money that has already been committed to charity. It’s already there. So you may as well ask, you may as well cultivate those major donors more than ever. But this all leads back into a major thing of what nonprofits need to do to become more sustainable over time, which is reexamine your funding streams, make sure they are diversified. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of organizations that were overly dependent on one or two funding streams. Whether it’s individual donors, whether it’s government support, it’s very risky to be overly dependent on government support. Making sure that you are looking at ways to diversify as much as possible, so that when there’s a crisis, you are more protected, you’ve hedged your bets a bit more. So I think that’s going to be one major major piece of it.

[00:19:29.870] – Boris
Very similar to an investment strategy, right? That if you’re an investor, you want to have a diverse portfolio, because if you’re all in the stock market, the stock market went down pretty sharply over the last few months. Right? And most of your wealth could have been wiped out. Similarly, from the other perspective. As a nonprofit, you want to have multiple revenue and funding streams so that if one goes south, temporarily or long term, you can still keep going along with some of the others and supplement in different ways. Right?

[00:20:02.690] – Tracy Kaufman
Yep, and I mean, nonprofits tend to have been very vulnerable during crises like this, financially speaking. Even in the best of times, nonprofits have very slim margins and not that much money saved up in reserves for a rainy day. And then when something like this happens and you lose a critical funding stream, that is when disaster strikes. So it’s going to be more important than ever to think through finances and operations more carefully than ever to be protected.

[00:20:34.490] – Tracy Kaufman
But at the same time, keep getting out there and hustling to make the case for the importance of your work because you exist for a reason. The work you do is important and essential for a reason. And just learning how to put that into clear, jargon free wording that will get people excited, whether it’s a foundation, whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s an individual. Getting people excited about, “Oh, my money will make results. People’s lives will be better with this money” and learning how to tell that story as vividly as you can. Doing that along with that risk averse financial planning, I think, will be incredibly important.

[00:21:15.170] – Tracy Kaufman
And then there’s going to be one other thing which is learning how to collaborate with your fellow organizations more than ever. It’s been a lot of lip service about the importance of collaboration over the years, and I think at a time like now, collaboration is going to be more important than ever when it comes to being able to sustain yourselves. Sometimes it might be a more informal collaboration. Maybe people share office space at some point, assuming we all get back to physical offices at some point in the future, or it might be something as major as a merger. Some organizations will find that they’ll be able to thrive better if they merge and starting to think about that a little bit more carefully. Consolidating resources so that you’re not replicating the same services as another organization. And I think that will help people thrive considerably.

[00:22:09.470] – Boris
Finding efficiencies and synergies. In terms of office space, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and I think the coworking model is probably going to shift, and nonprofits can take advantage of it, too. Where everybody doesn’t have to be in the office all the time. Multiple teams can essentially share the same space on different days or different hours, whatever it might be. So that you have a home-base, if you need to go in and have a conference, have an all-hands-on-deck meeting, hands on meeting, whatever that term is. And the other days, you’re all working from home and you’re fine with Zoom or other remote methodologies. So I did want to, though, come back to donor advised funds for a second. Are they very different than, say, a regular family foundation? Do they also have to donate a certain percentage or distribute a certain percentage of their funding in any given year?

[00:23:08.030] – Tracy Kaufman
No. So donor advised funds are kind of a little bit like an individual donor and a little bit like a foundation. A donor advised fund is when a person or a family or what have you, takes a chunk of their wealth, it could be in some places, it’s as small as, like $5,000, in other cases it might be a million dollars. They vary. And they’re invested in a donor advised fund, which means this money, it is technically committed to go to charity at some point, but it is invested. The money grows over time, and whenever the person wants to take a piece of this money and give it away to an organization, they’re able to do that. But there’s not a ton of regulation on donor advised funds.

[00:23:55.310] – Tracy Kaufman
While foundations are required to give out at least 5% of their assets each year, a donor advised fund can go a whole year and give away nothing. So there’s been a lot of controversy about this over time. However, it is a very good sign that right now, donor advised fund giving is up, because a lot of money is going there. A lot of the people who used to set up a family foundation are instead using their money for a donor advised fund because it’s much easier to operate than operating a foundation. It’s a lot of work to run a family foundation, but it’s very simple and straightforward to run a donor advised fund.

[00:24:34.190] – Boris
Do you guys track that at Candid as well? And at GuideStar and Foundation Center sides of it?

[00:24:39.290] – Tracy Kaufman
We try to collect what information is available on them, but there is a lot of secrecy around donor advised funds. A lot of the giving is anonymous, and that’s what people often like about using a donor advised fund as well. They like being anonymous. They like not having every nonprofit in town knocking on their doors at all times. I find it most helpful to think of a donor advised fund the same way as an individual donor, because in some ways they are. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, where behind the curtain of all that money and that structure, there’s just a person with a lot of money.

[00:25:14.030] – Tracy Kaufman
So you might cultivate a donor advised fund holder the same way that you would cultivate a high net worth donor. So getting to know people in spheres of wealth and influence, we’re all trying to cultivate that for our donor basis in some ways, I guess. A lot of people who have a lot of wealth, it turns out, even if you did not know it originally, that they do their giving through a donor advised fund. So I would say talk to them the same way you would talk to an individual high net worth donor. That is going to be the most successful way to do it.

[00:25:51.170] – Boris
So you guys can only collect as much information as you can collect because it’s not all publicly available. They don’t need to file 990s or any kind of documentation, really, that’s public. For the stuff that you guys do track, is there a tool you think nonprofits should be looking at, especially right now or in general?

[00:26:13.370] – Tracy Kaufman
There’s a lot. If you’re interested in COVID-specific information, we do have a pop-up site that our data and research staffers have been working on. Funding for Coronavirus pop-up site is tracking how much funding is going on out there and who are the top funders? Where’s the money going? We’ve been tracking tons of information, doing a lot of write ups and analysis on what that funding looks like right now. That would be a great resource. And just for general information, if you’re looking for foundation funding, you can always use the foundation directory online, which is our database of over 150,000 different grant making foundations. That will be a very helpful resource for researching foundations.

[00:26:56.630] – Tracy Kaufman
If you’re looking to research nonprofits and the type of work that a nonprofit organization is doing, GuideStar will be a terrific resource for doing that. And if you’re just looking for kind of tools for how to strengthen your organization overall, I would suggest This is where we put a lot of our training classes, our webinars. You can access our Online Librarian Service there. Whenever you have a question about anything, ask our Online Librarians, and they’re very knowledgeable and helpful. So those will probably be the major resources.

[00:27:31.490] – Boris
Those are all great, and we’re going to make sure to link to all of those in the show notes for this episode. If someone does reach out to a librarian, is there a chance they’re going to hit you? Are you still doing any librarian services or are you fully out of that?

[00:27:43.970] – Tracy Kaufman
I used to be one of the Online Librarians, but we’ve got a whole team all over the country of people who are doing it right now.

[00:27:51.170] – Boris
So what should people do if they want to follow you? Connect with you further and learn more about the stuff that you’re doing over at Candid?

[00:27:58.490] – Tracy Kaufman
Well, if you want to follow me personally, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to connect and answer any questions you have. You can also find me through a lot of the trainings that take place over on Grant Space, so definitely follow Grant Space. If you get on their newsletter list, you’ll be able to keep up with what are the new classes, webinars, what have you that are coming up in the future and my team and I are always happy to be of service there.

[00:28:23.870] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you so much, Tracy. You’re always so generous with all the knowledge and information that you have. So much of it stored up in your head over all these years that you’ve accumulated. I really appreciate it. I’m sure that people will be following up with you on LinkedIn and checking out Grant Space and all the other great resources that you mentioned. Any parting words that you’d like to share with the audience before we sign off?

[00:28:49.250] – Tracy Kaufman
Stay strong and remember to talk to your funders. Call them up today.

[00:28:54.350] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you so much, Tracy. And thank you, everybody, for joining us today for episode five of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Do check us out on YouTube, on Facebook, on all of the major podcast streaming platforms. Let us know what you think, share your thoughts. Subscribe, download, I don’t know. Do anything that you like to do with a podcast these days. Talk to you all very soon. I’m sure. Bye-bye.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Candid’s focus on data and research allows foundations and nonprofits to use that information to strengthen their organization. (2:47)
  • COVID Relief funding saw a dramatic increase of nearly $6.6 billion from April to May. Initially, the rush of funding was corporate, but has since evolved to include more independent and family foundations. (5:02)
  • Of the private support going to nonprofits, only 18% comes from foundations, compared to nearly 70% coming from individual donors. (5:54)
  • Organizations gain stability in funding from the law requiring foundations to donate a minimum of 5% of their assets yearly. (7:00)
  • Asset averaging is common for foundations because during ideal times, it allows the foundation to give less than their assumed amount, however, during unfortunate times, leads the foundation to give a bit more. (7:34)
  • Right now, many funding initiatives are focusing on basic needs. But many established pre-pandemic funders remain consistent with their areas of focus. (9:03)
  • The most effective technique for nonprofits to seek funding right now is to focus on the urgency of their work, not the struggle of the pandemic. (10:30)
  • For nonprofits making pandemic-related pivots, it’s essential to stay true to their missions and communicate significant changes to their funders. (11:54)
  • It is crucial to talk openly and honestly with your funders. Don’t surprise them – instead, keep them involved as changes are happening so they can choose whether they would like to opt in or out. (13:56)
  • Be proactive rather than reactive – plan ahead of time what your organization may look like in the future. (16:24)
  • Funding is, and always has been difficult. It’s not easy to get a grant, and it never will be. As it should, because grants are only given to organizations who merit grant funding. (17:04)
  • When compared to last year’s numbers, giving from donor advised funds, grant making increased by an impressive 58%. (18:10)
  • There is one major thing that nonprofits need to do in order to become more sustainable over time and that is re-examining funding streams and ensuring they are diversified. (18:46)
  • It is essential to have multiple sources of revenue as a nonprofit. If one source becomes unavailable, whether it is temporary or long-term, you can comfortably supplement your additional sources in different ways. (19:46)
    • Even in ideal circumstances, nonprofits have very slim margins and do not have large amounts in savings for unfortunate circumstances. It is during these circumstances, such as losing a critical funding stream, that disaster can strike.
  • In current times, it is more crucial than ever to collaborate in order to remain sustainable. (21:46)
  • Many people who once set up a family foundation are now, instead, using their money for a donor advised fund due to its ease of operation when compared to operating a foundation. (24:17)

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About this week’s guest

Tracy Kaufman

Tracy Kaufman

Programs Manager

Tracy Kaufman is the Programs Manager at Candid. Tracy is responsible for building out Candid’s public and education programming, including stakeholder and networking events for New York City’s social sector at both professional and community-based levels. She is a Lead Instructor for Candid’s three-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp and teaches a popular workshop on Outcomes and Measurement. As one of Candid’s training experts, webinar instructors, and a frequent public speaker, she has spoken at conferences, most notably the United Nations, and has represented Candid on numerous panel discussions. Previously, Tracy held positions with the Association of American Publishers and New York Public Library. Tracy earned her Bachelors of Arts from John Hopkins University.

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