The Upside of Remote Work for Foundations and Nonprofits

When foundations and nonprofits shifted to remote work in 2020, most did so reactively. All of a sudden, they had to fit old processes into new workflows and make adjustments on the fly. For many, the transition had a steep learning curve. But the upside was that teams became very intentional about how they made decisions and the tools they used. It was a goodbye to “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” reasoning. 

As organization leaders look ahead, many are considering how remote work fits into their future for the long term. In reality, remote work has a huge upside and can help strengthen teams. 

1. Hybrid/remote work supports employee acquisition and happiness

Offering remote or hybrid working options is a benefit that many potential hires look for. Research by McKinsey found that, when given the opportunity to work remotely, 87% of people surveyed said they would take the offer. This signals that remote or hybrid working is a popular option for job seekers—no matter the industry. 

Nonprofits are often competing with businesses to attract and retain top talent. Since it can be difficult to go toe-to-toe with a corporate budget, nonprofits have to distinguish themselves in other ways. By offering remote work as a benefit, nonprofits widen their candidate pool and attract previously inaccessible talent. They also save on lengthy, expensive office leases, office supplies, workplace insurance, and energy bills.

By offering a flexible, remote-first policy, nonprofits open themselves up to improving employee happiness. After all, no one wants to spend two hours a day commuting when this time could be spent on other leisure activities that help boost well-being, which in turn impacts employee performance and productivity. 

Implementing hybrid working models—where employees are expected to come into the office for two or three days a week—means that when teams do get together for brainstorming sessions, collaboration, and bonding, their work is more intentional, purposeful, and productive. 

2. Remote work leads to innovation

To support remote work, many teams adopted new technology such as grant management software (GMS) for foundations. As essential as a GMS solution was for remote work, teams realized that this software would also greatly improve workflows and workloads of an in-person team too. In essence, going remote forced nonprofits and foundations to innovate in ways that would benefit them over the long term. 

According to the Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG) State of Philanthropy in Tech report, 77% of grantmaking organizations plan to be hybrid/remote in 2023 and beyond, and 63% of small private foundations plan to be fully remote. This signals huge opportunities for digital transformation—as long as organizations have the right tools and processes in place to leverage the innovation remote work brings to a nonprofit organization. And luckily, large numbers of organizations are open to exploring new ways of using technology to do more.

In the State of Philanthropy in Tech report, 76% of respondents said they had adopted collaboration tools such as Slack or Teams to facilitate such a remote workplace model, and 85% of respondents have adopted non-collaboration tools such as meeting scheduling platforms, virtual receptions, and desk booking tools. 

The pivot to remote work means that teams have been forced to explore new ways of working, and this includes examining old systems to find solutions that match a distributed workforce. For example, traditionally, fundraising has relied on face-face communication. However, remote work has proven that staff can achieve donations from their own home through video conferencing and still build meaningful connections anywhere, anytime. 

Additionally, organizations are exploring new ways to streamline grantmaking. Instead of collaborating in person or following long-winded email threads, organizations can be much more dynamic in how they create forms, review applications, and report and measure impact

3. Remote work offers greater cybersecurity

Yes, you read that right. Remote work has been touted as reducing the threat of cybersecurity breaches. According to the aforementioned TAG report, remote work has helped to close security loopholes and mitigate data breaches and risk—only 12% of foundations reported a security breach in the past two years, down significantly from 22% in 2020.

Community foundations reported the fewest breaches at (9%), a significant improvement over 2020 (20%), and family foundations reported the highest breach rate (14%), followed by private foundations (10%).

4. Remote work creates a more inclusive workplace

According to CultureAmp, a diverse workforce encourages new perspectives, bolsters innovation, and enhances employee performance. This is particularly important for nonprofits and foundations, which have struggled to attract and retain diverse talent in the past. 

Carmen Marshall, Chief Equity Officer at Maryland Nonprofits, says that for people of color, remote work has been a respite from hostile work environments. “If you are black, brown, other, if you’re outside of the power structure, there’s always been a consequence for you to work in an environment where you don’t have any control over your comings and goings, your ability to speak out, the demand for you to keep quiet,” she said. “Remote work allows you to experience less [discrimination] because you are not in the presence of it.”

By leveraging the power of remote work, nonprofit organizations can limit in-person microaggressions that make life more difficult for people of color, LGBTQ2+ people, and disabled people. 

Additionally, remote work creates greater opportunities for folks with disabilities. For example, hard-of-hearing people might benefit from Zoom calls where they can actively read live captions, and neurodivergent employees could find value in a quiet, calm home office vs. a loud bustling communal workspace. Research by McKinsey into hybrid work and diversity found that:

  • Employees with disabilities were 11% more likely to prefer a hybrid work model than employees without disabilities.
  • More than 70% of men and women expressed strong preferences for hybrid work, but nonbinary employees were 14% more likely to prefer it.
  • LGBTQ2+ employees were 13% more likely to prefer hybrid work than their heterosexual peers.

Building for a more resilient future

When it comes to remote work, every organization has to determine what makes the most sense for their team and their community. But whether you’re committing to remote work for the long-term, shifting to a hybrid model, or even returning to the office, it’s essential to move away from a “the way we’ve always done it” mentality. 

To be resilient for the future, every team should be equipped for remote work, even if that’s not their day-to-day reality. Nonprofits and foundations need to continually revisit how they approach their work. They should be proactive about adopting new technology and intentional about attracting and retaining diverse talent. Often, the two go hand in hand.

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Laura Steele

Laura Steele is a social impact writer and editor at Submittable focused on the world of grantmaking and corporate giving. Her work often explores the connection between technology, equity, and social good. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. You can read some of her stories and essays at