Firetree Philanthropy -Covid-19 Response

Nicky Wilkinson
Mar 18, 2020 · 4 min read

These are such turbulent and unsettling times — for everyone. For many of our partners they are at the frontline of the impact of the Covid-19 — and supporting people and communities that are the most vulnerable to its impact.

Every one of our partners is stepping up to do the best for their staff and the communities they work with. We must do our best to support them — in fact, we must ensure we help get it done. Our job (and frankly any funders’) is always much easier than that of any non-profits — we should remember that now more than ever.

CEOs and leaders of our partners and of many other non-profits we speak to are juggling (among many other things) the best ways to reassure and protect their teams, how to respond and support vulnerable communities, especially if they can’t go out into certain areas due to travel constrains or because there are strict lock-down measures in place, how to protect their own families.

That’s just on the implementation side : many are also extremely worried about cash flow, long-term funding implications and, where the bulk of their funding is restricted, hamstrung by ‘deliverables’ that have now often become inapplicable. Even worse, funding restrictions now mean that they don’t have the flexibility to respond to the unfolding crisis in front of them.

As funders we must all step up.

At Firetree, our response has been:

  1. To remind partners that all our funding is, and always has been, unrestricted and reassure them that we stand with them. To reassure them that they can use the money as they need to respond to the crisis. They don’t need to ‘clear it’ with us first. Our message has been; ‘ if it’s urgent, do what you and your teams feel is best and we will stand with your decision.’ We back the partners we have because we fundamentally trust their leaders and teams — and believe that they know far better than we do what the best responses are. That trust has never been more important than now.

As part of this, we are delighted to sign the Philanthropy Pledge setting out a series of principles for how we and all funders who sign it, will behave during this crisis.

For us, these principles have always been fundamental to our approach and to how we work.

We actively encourage other funders in Asia and globally to sign this and make these vital changes to how you operate in order to better support non-profits during this crisis.

Our hope is that these principles become the new norms for how funders behave, not just during the Covid-19 pandemic.

2. To state that if there are any emergency needs that arise and that they don’t have funding for, to speak to us directly.

3. To accelerate and bring forward where needed upcoming funding disbursal amounts to aid with cashflow — and provide emergency funding where needed. As an example of we have just committed up to US$1 million in flexible, emergency funding to one our partners.

4. To make our decision process more flexible and rapid, as possible. This involves the buy-in of Board members , management and all staff.

4. To reassure partners that it’s fine to adapt their plans as new realities unfold in front of their and our eyes.

5. Advocacy with other funders. We have been in touch with other funders to try to a) push for them to un-restrict their funding and, for grantees that are in the final year of their grant, advocate for a 1 year extension and b) look at scope for a more coordinated response.

As part of this, we have been talking with a number of other funders in Asia and also with networks like AVPN to try to lobby and accelerate shifts in funder behaviour in Asia towards adopting the principles and behaviours outlined in the Philanthropy Pledge. If there are funders out there who are exploring moving to unrestricted and would like to discuss this with another funder, please do reach out to me.

6. And most importantly to let them know that we will not let their organizations fail and their teams go unpaid. Governments are providing subsidies to many employees around the world but in the countries in which we operate none has offered to support NGO employees, yet.

We have witnessed the people we work with and fund really stepping up — as we knew and trusted that they would. We must not let their trust in us down.

Photo by Gallery DS on Unsplash

Firetree Philanthropy