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

Matt Conti

Investing Resources and Offering Flexibility

How the Barr Foundation continues to respond to COVID-19.

In my previous post, I outlined Barr’s shift to remote operations, new flexibilities we were immediately offering our current partners, and our commitment, at a minimum, to sustain our grantmaking at $95 million for 2020.

Today, we are announcing grants of $2.6 million for emergency response and outlining ways in which we are adapting our work to offer greater flexibility to our partners.

COVID-19 Emergency Response

We are committed to ensuring resources are available in communities across the Commonwealth, given the enormous needs the crisis is creating in our home state. In an effort to get resources to work as quickly as possible, we have decided to partner with a set of community foundations across Massachusetts, given the in-depth knowledge they possess about their local communities. We believe the leaders working in greatest proximity to communities deserve our trust, support, and investment.

We believe the leaders working in greatest proximity to communities deserve our trust, support, and investment.

We are fortunate that, through our Arts & Creativity program, Barr has already built a deep partnership with five community foundations – investing significant resources in them through the Creative Commonwealth initiative. We will be providing additional support to these five partners, and will also invest in six additional Massachusetts community foundations to ensure that resources are available in other parts of the state.

All of these grants will support the respective emergency response funds established by each of these community foundations. Many have already begun to award grants for urgent community needs, and Barr’s grant will enable them to broaden this support.

Barr has committed $250,000 to each of our Creative Commonwealth partners:

  • Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts
  • Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts
  • Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
  • Essex County Community Foundation
  • Greater Worcester Community Foundation

In addition, Barr has committed $100,000 to each of the following:

  • The Cape Cod Foundation
  • Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts
  • Greater Lowell Community Foundation
  • Foundation for MetroWest
  • Community Foundation for Nantucket
  • Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard

While the bulk of these grants focus outside of Boston, we have also awarded a $500,000 grant to the Boston Resiliency Fund, established by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh earlier this month. This fund focuses on providing food for Boston’s children and seniors, technology for Boston Public School students, and support for first responders and health care workers to do their critical jobs. In its first 10 days, the Fund exceeded its goal of $20 million, with over 1,800 donations – with more coming in every day. The fund has already allocated over $5 million in grants.

And Barr has also committed $250,000 to the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which is providing general operating support grants to organizations addressing the basic needs of vulnerable populations during the pandemic.

As we engage in grantmaking we had not planned for this year, we remain committed to our existing partners, and to Barr’s core programs of Arts & Creativity, Climate, and Education. The bulk of our resources will remain dedicated to these partnerships. Yet, we know that the content and focus of this support will need to adapt and be informed by how our partners are experiencing and responding to the pandemic.

Greater Flexibility

We also realize that many of our current grantees are facing a changed landscape for their work. Accordingly, for these partners, our trustees have authorized program staff to:

  • Convert restricted or project-based grants to general operating support, based on organizational circumstances.
  • Waive contingencies and alter other terms of grants as helpful in this new environment.
  • Modify reporting requirements and methods and – where appropriate – waive them entirely.

Over the past few weeks, my colleagues have been in direct contact with our grantees, to understand their needs and to share these decisions. We will continue to reach out proactively, but you should also feel free to reach out to us, if exploring these options would be helpful at this time.

We will continue to reach out proactively, but you should also feel free to reach out to us.

Streamlining Proposal Review

For organizations that are (or will be) in active discussions with Barr’s program staff about grant proposals, our team is working to implement a much-streamlined process for developing, reviewing, and approving them. Our aim is to reduce the work required of our partners at this time, while also accelerating the review and approval time on our end. We want to move as swiftly as we can in response to urgent needs in this challenging time.

Finally, the Barr Foundation Board of Trustees approved grants totaling nearly $19 million, in addition to $5.5 million approved since our December board meeting. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, we are not issuing our typical grants announcement. You can, however, learn more about these grants via the chart below, or by visiting our Grants Database. Each of these partners is contending with challenges few of us could have anticipated only months ago.

These are challenging times. We know that the news over the next few weeks, in particular, will be difficult, but we also know that we will emerge from this. We at Barr are so very grateful to our partners who are dealing with extraordinary circumstances right now and doing so with commitment, determination, and grace. We aim to emulate the same, and I will continue to update you here on decisions we are making to ensure we step up to these times.

First Quarter 2020 Grants


Click on the diagram sections for information specific to each of our program areas listed below.

View all grant data

Sector Effectiveness

In Sector Effectiveness, Barr awarded two grants totaling $1,500,000.
View all Sector Effectiveness grants


In Education, Barr awarded twelve grants totaling $8.1 million.
View all Education grants


In Climate, Barr awarded twenty-five grants totaling $10.8 million.
View all Climate grants


This category includes organizational development grants, dues for Memberships & Sponsorships, and employee gift matching.

Arts & Creativity

In Arts & Creativity, Barr awarded five grants totaling over $2.6 million.
View all Arts & Creativity grants

Special Initiatives

Through its Special Initiatives program, Barr awarded two grants totaling $1 million.
View all Special Initiative grants
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