Inside MCF

THE URGENCY TO MEET THE MOMENT: Lessons on Rapid Response Grant Making

April 15, 2020

Joe Burris
By Joe Burris
Program Officer, South
Co-Authored By
Elizabeth Posey Program Officer, West, Tom Vásquez Program Officer, Southwest,

t’s been over a month since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our lives. For families who have historically lacked stable employment and access to affordable health care — specifically Black and Indigenous communities, immigrants, and people of color — the disruption has proven to be disastrous. At Marguerite Casey Foundation, we decided to respond to this moment with the full weight of our resources and leadership.

Our grant recipients and partners continue to be on the forefront of supporting families and fighting for equitable access to health care, worker protections, and justice. As program officers at the Foundation, we wanted to take a moment to share what we have learned about our practices during the pandemic and how our grantee partners have responded:


Over the last two weeks, Marguerite Casey Foundation provided nearly $3 million in emergency grants to grassroots organizing groups in places such as Louisiana, Texas, California, and Illinois. This is in addition to our ongoing multi-year general operating support grants. We met daily to review and approve grants, ensuring grant recipients received immediate support. Grant requests were processed and paid out within 24 to 48 hours. More than 111 grants were made nationally.


Our grant recipients and partners are overwhelmingly led by people of color and membership-based organizing groups on the frontlines of this crisis. They are focused on the needs of their base, their staff, and the inadequate government response. We trust our grant recipients and updated our funding process to respond to the urgency of the moment. We asked for requests in short emails and eliminated reporting requirements. We also offered the option of verbal submissions in seven-minute phone calls to ensure money went to organizations working with disproportionately impacted communities.


While grassroots groups led by people of color are under-resourced by traditional philanthropy, they have been the focus of our grantmaking. These organizations are responding quickly and creatively to the needs of families across the country. For some organizations that means fighting for policies that would help workers left out of recovery programs. This group includes undocumented immigrants, domestic workers, agricultural workers, and gig economy workers where Black, Indigenous, and immigrant workers are disproportionately represented. Many organizations moved quickly to launch funds that provide emergency money to those hit especially hard by the nationwide shutdown. Many of our grant recipients have quickly shifted to organizing online and have adapted to meet the needs of families at the center of our mission.

Structural racism and income inequality drive the ongoing environmental, political, and economic crises experienced by low-income communities of color. Grassroots organizations have been nimble and adaptive in their responses. Louisiana, for example, has had more than a half dozen hurricanes since Hurricane Katrina, and Florida is still grappling with the effects of Hurricanes Michael and Irma on low-income Black and Brown communities. With each crisis, our grant recipients mobilized to assist low-income families with access to shelter food, and supplies, while mobilizing families through legal action and advocacy to demand inclusion in emergency relief efforts. Organizations serving immigrant populations, notably along the U.S.-Mexico border, have had to respond to rapidly changing local and federal policies endangering the safety of immigrants. Grassroots organizing groups understand our current crisis exists in a broader context of battles they are already fighting, and this has positioned them to rapidly respond to this moment.

Foundations exist to be in service to grant recipients and we cannot exist without them. We continually learn how to be nimble and responsive as a philanthropic organization, just as our grant recipients have learned to be nimble and responsive to the families in their communities. Our grant recipients are on the frontlines organizing and supporting communities, and they deserve a response from funders that is fast, flexible, and substantial.

THE URGENCY TO MEET THE MOMENT: Lessons on Rapid Response Grant Making