How COVID-19 is reshaping grantmaking and what news organizations should know


Just when news organizations are feeling the weight of unprecedented audience urgency, the numbing sear of burnout, and the effects of cratering ad revenues, foundations are uncorking millions of dollars in support.

This is a precious moment of opportunity in a precarious time for our industry and the communities we serve. But there are substantial questions about how to make the most of these opportunities, and limited time for wading through grant applications or the intricacies of fiscal sponsorship.

My work includes funding news organizations, advocating for more foundation support of local news and information, and directly coaching for-profit and nonprofit news organizations. In these roles I’ve heard the evolving needs of news organizations, whether through teams I’m coaching or grantees of the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, and foundations of various sizes and focuses.

These accumulated conversations reveal emerging trends in funding and specific ways news organizations can focus their grant-seeking right now and in the coming weeks.

Like news organizations, foundations have been rocked by the unexpected arrival of this crisis, the depth of community need, and sudden changes in their programs, budgets and existing grantees. Funders are swamped with rounds of funding they’re already managing, and the new demands of our current work-from-home reality.

Regardless of their size, focus, or other characteristics, grantmakers are looking for projects and organizations that square with their governance, bylaws and funding restrictions, and serve their target populations. They’re looking for efforts that meet urgent community needs, and many are starting to think beyond their traditional scope.

In the current environment, three things are becoming clear: an expanded range of foundations are considering local news as part of their funding strategy; equity is becoming a forethought; and funders are focused on community impact.

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