Grantmaking during a crisis



Hear from Celia McKeon, Chief Executive, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, as she discusses how the grantmaking organisation has adapted to the crisis.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is one of the many grantmaking organisations that have supported charities through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their initial response to the crisis focused on supporting community-led organisations that would make a direct difference to people's lives. Alongside this they set up a Organisational Support Fund to help charities deliver services digitally during lockdown.

Like all charitable organisations, the crisis has forced the trust to re-evaluate their plans for this year, including how they manage their finances. We spoke to Celia McKeon, Chief Executive, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation to find out more about this. Watch the videos below to hear Celia explain more as she answers:

Each video is supported by a transcript.

How did the trust respond to the COVID-19 crisis?

Celia on keeping true to their mission:

“Our mission is to address the root causes of conflict and injustice so we support a lot of long term work which is looking at the systemic causes of some of the problems that we see in society. Whether that’s to do with race and migration, power and accountability or peace and security or opportunities to build a more sustainable economy”.

“There may be new opportunities for change arising from the current context, and I think the challenge for us as always is to make sure we’re getting our money to the people who can use it most effectively to bring about change for their communities and our wider society.”

  • Video transcript

    Firstly, we recognised that this is a humanitarian crisis on a scale that none of us had ever lived through in this country and in our recent lifetimes. Any response we need to make, needs to be felt at community level and make a difference to people’s lives.

    We immediately made two large grants of a hundred thousand pounds each to community foundations that we as a trust have a long-standing relationship with.

    We also recognise that for many of our grantees – the organisations to whom we give funding – that this was going to be a particularly difficult time and that there would be a lot of costs associated with adapting to remote working.

    We set up an organisational support fund immediately to provide small grants to a number of our grant holders for things like purchasing laptops, digital equipment, moving training resources and materials online, staff support and welfare that sort of thing.

    We created a fund that people could access additional funding over a two-week period just to help smooth that process of moving to a different way of working.


How have you managed your finances during this period?

Celia on the trust's investment policy:

“Our investment strategy has been quite successful. It is a responsible investment strategy. We aim to invest in companies that have a good track record and take issues of governance and environmental protection and sustainability seriously”

“In the future we’ll be looking more to make the connections between the work that grantees are doing for social justice and change and the companies that we’re investing in through our fund managers.”

  • Video transcript

    So as we’ve moved our systems online we’ve obviously had to change our ways of working financially.

    We’ve found that despite the need to adjust our processes internally that the quality of the online banking provision that we get from CAF Bank has made it extremely easy for us to continue to make the payments that we need to make to our grantees. There’s been business as usual on that front which has been fantastic to be able to rely on the service.

    Where we’ve come up against more complex problems so where we’ve needed to make overseas payments which would normally require us to use a fax and be in the office CAF Bank have been fantastic at coming up with innovative solutions that have helped us again just ensure that we can get our money out the door in an efficient way to people who are going to spend it really well.


How has the crisis changed your plans for the rest of the year?

  • Video transcript

    We then decided we’d have an extraordinary board meeting a month later to look at what we could do between April and the rest of 2020. At that point the trustees decided that as an endowed foundation we experienced this crisis from an incredibly privileged position.

    We felt it was an important moment to exercise those privileges as generously as we could so the trustees decided to increase our grant expenditure from £10.7 million a year by up to another £5 million this year in response to the crisis.

    We developed a number of mechanisms to enable us to spend that money well. Firstly, emergency grants for organisations that we’re currently supporting who might experience severe financial deficit as a result of the crisis.

    Secondly, we offered 12-month additional grant extensions to any grantee whose funding was going to run out over the next 12 months to give them additional financial security.

    Thirdly, we’ve also offered adaptation grants to any organisations within our community of grantees who is facing unexpected costs arising from the need to work in a different way.


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Explore more actions to survive, tools to adapt and strategies to thrive during and after the Covid-19 crisis. Use the links below or get an overview of the resources available now

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