Backlash emerges as NoVo Foundation cuts program and staff

Woman at Women's March in New York City.

Woman at Women's March in New York City. Steve Sanchez Photos/Shutterstock

One of the largest foundations dedicated to funding issues facing women and girls will now only offer one-year grants and has laid off half its staff, a move critics say will harm nonprofits helping vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

The NoVo Foundation, which was co-founded by Peter Buffett, the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, and his wife, Jennifer, is eliminating its grant-making program dedicated to funding initiatives opposing sex trafficking and domestic violence, and is transforming another program into a separate nonprofit.

“One thing that perhaps hasn’t been as clear externally,” the couple wrote in an email sent to partners, “is that NoVo’s annual budget is tied directly to the stock market rather than a percentage of an endowment, which means that economic uncertainty does not allow us to grant in our usual manner and we are operating – as everyone is – with a lot of unknowns.”

But at a time when funders are being encouraged to amplify giving in response to the health and economic crises, grantees and others in the nonprofit world criticized the foundation’s decision.

“They are doing literally the opposite of what all equitable, trust-based, decolonizing philanthropic practices tell us is right in this moment of crisis, by divesting from the lives and safety of women, girls and (gender-nonconforming) youth of color,” tweeted Alicia Sanchez Gill, director of the Emergent Fund.

Peter Buffett has pushed back on accusations that the foundation would be cutting back funding, though he did not clarify whether the foundation would continue to maintain its grant-making levels in the coming year. The foundation will review all grants, he said in a blog post, with plans to commit more than $300 million over the next three to five years. All previously committed grants will remain funded.

“Donors have the prerogative to change course quickly,” Yifat Susskind, executive director of MADRE, a current grantee of the foundation, told Inside Philanthropy. “It’s a major vulnerability of the nonprofit sector that we haven’t really solved for.”