As Nonprofits Struggle, “Progressive Stimulus” Will Back Fundraising Innovations

Holly Hall

Originally printed in Inside Philanthropy

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, more than a dozen foundations have established the Progressive Stimulus Project, a new fund with a goal of raising $15 million to address fundraising challenges presented by the health crisis and resulting economic recession. The new initiative serves as a coronavirus-era expansion of previous work by the Progressive Multiplier Fund, which has provided nearly $2 million in financial and technical support for revenue-generating projects.

“Canvassing, galas and house parties are all off the table now,” said Linda Wood, senior director of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, one of the foundations contributing to the Progressive Stimulus Project. Haas is known for its commitment to improving fundraising among charitable organizations.  

“Nonprofits need to innovate really quickly,” said Wood, who serves on the Progressive Multiplier board. “Now is a time for funders to step forward and invest in nonprofit groups finding new ways of raising revenue.”

To date, the Progressive Stimulus Project has raised some $4.5 million from grantmakers, including the JPB Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and others. The earliest and largest amounts of money for the Progressive Stimulus Project were given by the JPB Foundation and Wallace Global Fund.

“Philanthropy should be giving more, not less, in this time of crisis,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund. “Creative new fundraising strategies are vital to a sustainable future for progressive organizations.”

With a three-year goal of making grants totaling $5 million annually, starting this year, the Progressive Stimulus Project is confident about raising the rest of its $15 million goal over the next six months, said Phil Radford, the Progressive Multiplier Fund’s founder and executive director, and former executive director of Greenpeace USA. “Nonprofits need this support today,” Radford said. “That’s why we are launching now instead of later in the year once we reach our goal.”

The Progressive Stimulus Project will offer two types of payouts. The first type: outright grants that average $25,000 to help progressive groups test or refine fundraising techniques they have launched or pivoted to in meeting the challenge of the coronavirus-changed environment. An economic justice organization making a fundraising appeal to support work advocating for a higher minimum wage, for example, might want to test whether donors would respond to a new solicitation seeking emergency relief for workers impacted by the pandemic. An LGBTQ rights organization that has had to cancel its fundraising galas could test virtual events to replace lost revenue.

The second type of payment is a “recoverable grant” of up to $120,000 to help progressive organizations substantially increase a fundraising program with proven results. Organizations repay the grant out of the proceeds, but are not obligated to repay the full amount if a project does not meet its fundraising goal. If an organization has a successful donor-acquisition program that will lose funds because of budget cuts prompted by the recession, for example, a recoverable grant could be used to keep the program fully supported. 

While economic downturn often leads to reduced grantmaking budgets, a number of funders are responding to the current crisis by seeking out ways to increase their support for a hurting nonprofit sector. Two funders of the Progressive Stimulus Project, the Ford Foundation and Wallace Global Fund, are notable examples. Ford recently organized a group of foundations to commit to substantially increased spending by issuing long-term bonds. Wallace Global announced it would pay out 20% of its assets in 2020 (most foundations give closer to the 5% legal minimum), making it one of several smaller funders that have decided to spend more aggressively from their endowments to meet the challenge.

The Progressive Stimulus Project will begin accepting applications for both types of assistance in July. For more information, email Mina Devadas at mdevadas [at] progressivemultiplier.fund.