How Ford Responded To The COVID-19 Crisis With Innovative Grantmaking

In-person volunteering came to a halt in 2020, but Ford Philanthropy found a way to support their community partners. Learn how they pivoted and adapted their annual volunteer month to flexible general operating support grants.



Continue supporting nonprofits when volunteering isn’t possible

Ford Philanthropy, the charitable arm of Ford Motor Company, has a long history of supporting nonprofit partners in more than 50 global markets where the company operates, both with grants and employee volunteer hours. Every year, Ford Philanthropy provides support to nonprofit partners for in-person volunteer projects. During the Global Month of Caring in September 2019, 17,000 Ford employee participants volunteered with more than 1,400 global projects.

But in 2020, faced with the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ford Philanthropy knew they would not be able to host in-person volunteer events. Yet, they recognized that many of their nonprofit partners were counting on their support and facing a challenging year with staff shortages, fundraising limitations, and tight budgets.


General operating support grants that put organizations’ needs first

Ford Philanthropy took an innovative approach to the pandemic’s challenges, redirecting their volunteer project budget into 80 general operating support grants of $5,000 each to their global community partners through GlobalGiving. General operating support grants fund a nonprofit organization’s mission rather than specific programs or services and provide the working capital needed to sustain daily operations.

Instead of receiving project-based grants to support in-person Ford volunteering events this year, participating nonprofits can apply the funding to their urgent needs—whatever they are.

“We trust our partners to use the funding as they see fit in order to move their important work forward during this time of limited funding happening around the world. We value our partnerships and understand the importance of their sustainability in order to make a difference in our communities,” said Benna Deese, Manager of Global Initiatives at Ford Philanthropy.


Critical funding for 80 nonprofits around the world

By offering general operating support grants during times of crisis, Ford Philanthropy and GlobalGiving created a program that would:

    1. Provide flexibility.

    Many Ford nonprofit partners run their organizations on very slim budgets. During challenging economic times, they may not be able to sustain fundraising at the same level. By providing open-ended grants, Ford and GlobalGiving are empowering organizations to use the funding to manage expenses as they see fit. That could mean paying rent, keeping staff on contract, or investing in technology and infrastructure.

    2. Respond quickly.

    By funding general operations instead of projects this year, the Ford Global Gratitude Grant application process will be much quicker, with less paperwork to complete and fewer requirements for the participating organizations to meet. The typical Ford grants process usually takes four to six weeks, but on average, general operating grants can be approved within one to two weeks. That will allow grantees to receive funding faster, scale up their operations as needed, and be as responsive as possible this year.

    3. Ensure sustainability.

    By providing general operating support, Ford is committed to helping their nonprofit partners improve strategic planning, program management, human resources, technology, and other capabilities that strengthen and sustain their organizations over time. It will also allow nonprofit leaders to focus on making their organizations the most effective they can be, once they know they have the financial resources to meet basic organizational needs.

    4. Demonstrate trust.

    By being sensitive to the needs of their nonprofit partners during times of disaster and crisis, Ford continues to build trust with their grantees. For a large majority of their partners, Ford has been a funder and dependable partner for many years. For Ford Philanthropy grantee the Greater Boston Food Bank, that trust is critical and mutual, according to the organization’s Senior Vice President of Advancement Arlene Fortunato. “We so appreciate the support during this challenging time,” she said.

Learn more about Ford Philanthropy’s innovative general operating grants by watching our webinar, “Innovative Grantmaking in Times of Crisis,” featuring a conversation with Ford Philanthropy team.

Watch the webinar recording.


Featured Photo: COVID-19 Relief by Ford grantee, Boys and Girls Club of the South Coast Area

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