A view of Boston's historic Pilot House from the harbor

Matt Conti

A Message to Our Grantees on COVID-19

Barr’s plans and commitments in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

One of Barr’s principles is to serve as a constructive partner with our grantees. In this unprecedented time where social distancing must be the norm, communication with and support for our many partners becomes even more paramount. In that spirit, I wanted to share this important update on what steps we have taken at the Barr Foundation in light of COVID-19.

Our Operations will Continue Uninterrupted

Effective Friday, March 13, and for the foreseeable future, we have shifted the Foundation’s operations to all-remote work, and our offices at 2 Atlantic Avenue are closed to visitors. We have done this in order to adhere to the advice of public health experts to promote and support social distancing. For now, we have also cancelled all in-person events hosted at our office or convened by us through at least mid-April, and we have prohibited business travel for that period of time as well.

In spite of this, and with thanks to our talented IT team, we are able to continue to do our work and to support our many partners in their work. My colleagues and I are all available to you, and we commit to responding to your messages and outreach. We have the technology for videoconferencing, and every colleague has the capacity to set up conference calls. I will provide ongoing updates on our website as circumstances evolve regarding our operations.

We’re Extending Support and Flexibility to Our Grantees

We are fully cognizant of the major implications that COVID-19 is having on the organizations we support, their own staff teams, and the people they serve. We also know that we are only starting to understand the longer-term implications.

We aim to be flexible and responsive to our grantees’ needs, and at this time, we commit to the following steps in order to provide as much flexibility and support as we can to all of our grantees:

  • We welcome a conversation about revisiting with you any grant objectives, timelines, and terms, in order to ensure that you can focus on more emergent needs at this time. We are open to exploring alternatives when the most prudent course is to delay or postpone plans altogether.

  • We will be flexible with deadlines for grant reports or other deliverables. We are also open to alternative formats for such reports, such as taking them verbally, by phone or video conference.

  • We commit to the timely release of grant payments given that our business operations are well-positioned to carry out those commitments.

  • We can entertain requests to augment or accelerate approved grant payments, based on your individual circumstances.

  • We understand that events and other large meetings or convenings that may be part of your grant with us are likely to be postponed or cancelled; we can work with you to explore implications, including how Barr funds allocated for those purposes can be used.

In all of this, your program officer serves as your main point of contact. You should reach out directly to that individual on any of these matters or others you may want to bring to our attention. We aim to serve as a constructive partner to you and to demonstrate the measure of flexibility and responsiveness that this moment demands of all of us.

Our Commitments are Unchanged

Our trustees approved a $95 million grantmaking budget for 2020. While our finances have undoubtedly changed significantly since that decision, we are committed to sustaining that level of grant support in 2020. Obviously, Barr’s specific plans for the use of those resources may evolve in view of COVID-19 and the implications for our partners, and we will keep you apprised. The key message we want to convey right now is our commitment to continue the level of support we had intended.

We are Engaging in Collective Efforts

We are staying closely connected to the emerging efforts to support the important steps being taken by our public sector partners and to explore ways that collaborative philanthropic activity can more efficiently and quickly direct resources to the most vulnerable amongst us. These discussions are occurring as I write this. As we learn more, and as we make decisions about our role in such partnerships, I will communicate those plans.

We are Committed to Taking Care of Each Other

As we live through this experience together, we do well to focus on those people who will face major challenges in this moment: populations with higher risk of exposure to COVID-19; our fellow citizens and residents whose livelihood are seriously compromised by this economic dislocation; and members of communities being vilified and targeted by racist actions, just to name a few.

My friend and colleague, Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, wrote a typically thoughtful and moving blog post about the effects of COVID-19 in his community. It included this observation:

“A moment like this can rob us of our sense of agency and power. However, I would argue that the path forward is to realize that we do have power, even in the face of something that makes us feel incredibly small, and that it lies where it always has—in remembering that we are in this thing together and in finding ways to embrace our collective responsibility and accountability to each other.”

We at the Barr Foundation embrace this sense of responsibility and accountability to all of our partners, and, through our collective work, we aim to demonstrate the best of ourselves.


Many of our colleagues have assembled helpful resources. We recommend (suggested additions welcome and we will update):

For Nonprofits:

General Public Health Resources:

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