The TPW Community in 2020: Rising to Meet Extraordinary Challenges

Approximately six months into one of the greatest crises in a generation, TPW reached out to our members for insight into responses and reactions to the current global landscape. In a survey conducted during August and September 2020, we solicited feedback on how their giving had changed, what barriers they faced, and what has brought them joy over the last few months. We received nearly 60 responses from which the following themes emerged.

By the Numbers

TPW asked members whether either their strategy for giving or amount of giving had changed this year. Nearly all members surveyed—over 93%—reported actively responding to emergent challenges with either a strategic shift or increased giving. In fact, 60% of respondents are doing both. Where additional information was shared, TPW members had increased their giving anywhere from 10% to 50% or in some cases doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled their giving. Many respondents who reported increased giving also mentioned accelerated timelines for existing grantees or dipping into next year’s budget to meet this year’s needs.

Racial Equity & Justice

The most frequently recurring thematic response was a focus on racial equity and justice. Some respondents mentioned supporting organizations working directly in this area while others have introduced an equity lens to their existing funding. One respondent highlighted this dynamic:

We have started assessing all grantmaking with a more explicit social justice lens (even causes that are not explicitly about social justice). We have done a deeper dive into our own family history as it relates to social justice issues.

When asked about barriers or challenges, many TPW members mentioned obstacles blocking more progress in this area:

  • Family foundation trustees are wedded to “metrics” and traditional methods of proposal submission and reporting. It makes it hard to act nimbly and to experiment with non-traditional giving and BIPOC organizations that often don’t have the resources to comply with standard philanthropic practices.
  • [A challenge is] convincing my colleagues and board to be more racially justice-centered.

And yet other respondents mentioned this as an area of success:

  • [It brought me joy] seeing a board that I serve on imagining how they will take a racial justice viewpoint on everything they (and the organization) does.

Racial equity and justice appeared in answers to nearly every question in the survey whether as an area of funding, a lens to be applied, a barrier to greater progress, or a cause for hope. It is clear that the call to action launched by global mass movements this summer has permeated deeply for some TPW members, as noted in one response:

I feel that there is a much greater awareness of inequity and racial injustice that felt more academic only a year or so ago. Today, it feels visceral. And the forces pushing to maintain the status quo or even move backwards are on stark display. It’s unnerving, but the clarity it brings may be an effective catalyst for change.


Second only to racial equity and justice was the reaction to the onslaught of COVID-19. Some TPW members are funding direct efforts in public health such as PPE, telehealth, therapies and treatment. However, even more respondents have noted that their response to the crisis has taken them into more local, direct services and emergency funding. In many cases this includes food insecurity, homelessness, individual financial burdens, technology for students, support for health and essential workers, and local economic needs.

Interestingly, respondents framed these shifts in strategy through different lenses. Some TPW members presented this pivot as necessary but less strategic than they’d prefer:

  • [We’ve] departed from our focus on root causes
  • [I am] deploying resources quickly but not thoughtfully
  • [I] feel less inclined to seek out giving opportunities [and we are] more in response mode [with] even less strategy in our giving
  • We have been [a] ‘band-aid’ solution as opposed to more strategic […] as the first response to the needs on the ground
  • Our ‘strategic’ giving budget stayed the same, but our ‘reactive’ giving increased in response to COVID
  • My concerns now are mostly short-term because I think we’re at an inflection point. It’s very clear that I will need a large re-assess in early to mid 2021.

Other respondents appear to have found value in their pivot:

  • [Giving] more based on trust of already vetted organizations [and focus] less due diligence on metrics […] but more on mission
  • Making more and varied-size grants to organizations based on need [but still] being strategic in terms of making sure our grants are being used for “upstream” change
  • I have made some decisions much more quickly and have relied on pooled funds in issue areas I don’t know much about

At TPW, we’re encouraged to see our members embracing trust-based processes, accelerated timelines, flexible funding, grassroots support, and equity-centered investing at a time when these practices and mindsets are needed most. We know that strategy does not retreat in a crisis. Many best practices in funding are not only well-suited for rapid response but are in fact essential for effective action. We expect that many of the positive shifts in behavior born from this moment of necessity will prove to be lasting changes in practice.

Policy & Democracy

While the pivot to community-based, local, and direct service efforts is evident, responses also show that TPW members are looking to pull all levers of social change. This includes funding for research, movement building, advocacy, resiliency, and more. Many respondents (particularly those in the United States), specifically referenced funding democracy efforts such as voter registration and voter education. One respondent captured the urgency of active political participation at this time:

The political situation in the US has greatly exacerbated economic, health & racial challenges, so I’ve shifted my giving even more toward policy and political change in advance of the election.

Another respondent shared:

We increased giving by about 40%, all directed to two areas: (1) emergency funding to address Covid-19 […] and (2) US electoral politics. We treat both as emergencies.

Maintaining the Course

In addition to the dominant (and timely) focus on racial equity, public health, and the infrastructure of democracy, it’s clear that TPW members have not lost focus of the wide breadth of issues to which they’re dedicated. Mentions of climate change, support for the arts, global women’s rights, inequality and social mobility, education, media and misinformation, immigration, incarceration, and more all appeared in member responses. Far from abandoning other priorities, members are finding the intersectionality between issues and examining effective ways to respond to acute crises while continuing to fight for longterm progress.

Finding the Joy

We all know by now that even in the hardest times there are moments of joy. Our members reported finding joy in seeing impact in action. Whether funding quality research, scaling a new initiative, running pilot programs, launching a new intervention, or helping a business survive, there was no shortage of “wins” to report. Some respondents found joy in getting actively involved on the ground, whether joining marchers in the street or volunteering their time. Others shared their joy in seeing their children step up and take a lead in the family’s giving.

By far the most recurring theme for what brought joy to our respondents was collaboration. Members found joy working alongside like-minded funders, impactful organizations, social change leaders, and family members. (A few even called out TPW for helping them connect and collaborate…we thank you!) In moments of hardship or challenge, we seek joy in our connections with others.

So in the end, we give the final word to a TPW member who captured the essence of how we can all derive joy in this work: Giving other folks money to do what they do well, and trusting them to do it.

TPW thanks everyone who participated in the survey and provided rich and meaningful insight into your experiences over this past year.

By: Rachel Simon, TPW Staff

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