The Impact of COVID-19 on Grant Writing

November 16, 2021


While many articles about fundraising during the pandemic have focused on record-breaking philanthropy from foundations, we know that emergency pandemic funding required some record-breaking grant writing and fundraising as well.

On behalf of roughly 80 of our nonprofit clients, Elevate drafted and submitted more than 400 requests for dedicated COVID-19 emergency response funds. Below is an analysis from our Data Team about what we have learned since March 2020.

Elevate’s nonprofit clients saw their grant requests sky-rocket, increasing 71% over the previous year. Elevate’s clients drafted 758 fundraising deliverables in the Spring of 2020, compared to 442 in Spring 2019. These deliverables included both letters of inquiry and detailed applications.

And, this happened fast: by the end of March, clients had submitted 10% of their COVID-19 emergency response requests. By the end of June, 60% of their rapid response solicitations were already in funders’ hands.

Bar chart of grant applications submitted in 2019 and 2020

Elevate’s nonprofit clients won 58% of all COVID-19 grants.

This aligns closely to Elevate’s standard win rate, which has ranged between 58% and 62% over the last five years. This illustrates how our clients worked hard to avoid leaving money on the table, with our support. We were able to quickly identify pandemic-related needs with our clients in order to pursue emergency response funding that wasn’t always a “sure thing” in order to mitigate short-term financial concerns at the beginning of the pandemic. From a closer look at Elevate’s specific data set, we also found that: 

Organizations in the health and human services sector received the majority of COVID-19 response funds.

Since March 2020, health, human services, and housing clients secured $3.9 million in COVID-19 response funding, which represents almost 58% of total COVID-19 funding awarded to Elevate clients. This trends slightly above the percentage COVID-19 response funding distributed nationwide to health and human services nonprofits (54%) according to data compiled by CANDID and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. 

Additionally, Elevate’s clients secured more COVID-19 response funding for advocacy and systems change organizations than was typical of national trends.

According to Philanthropy and COVID-19, published by CANDID and Center for Disaster Philanthropy in 2021, 9% of COVID-19 response dollars addressed advocacy and systems change. At Elevate, our policy advocacy and grassroots organizing nonprofits secured 20% of all COVID-19 response funding¹. 

Pie chart showing sector applications

As of today, we are past the peak of COVID-19 recovery funding.

The number of COVID-19 opportunities per quarter dropped from 79 in the first year of the pandemic to 14 submitted and planned in the second year. 

Nevertheless: Elevate and our clients are still reporting on the many COVID-related funds!

COVID-19 response reporting was at its highest in the last quarter of 2020 (October – December), but we are still averaging 19 reports per quarter through the first quarter of 2022. The good news is that it’s clear that funders are waiving many of the reporting requirements on COVID-19 response funding: there are far fewer reports than there are proposals tied to this specific funding stream. 

While this data demonstrates our clients’ success during the peak of COVID-19 funding opportunities, it’s also important to interpret what the data is indicating for future planning — particularly when nonprofits aren’t necessarily back to business as usual and many foundations have returned to pre-pandemic funding practices. We look forward to continuing to share our thoughts about what all of this means for fundraising strategy moving forward.


Written by Kelsey Neilson and Rachel Saint-Firmin

About the Authors:

Rachel Saint-Firmin