International, national, state, and local governments and nonprofits are responding to the threat of the novel coronavirus and the disease that it causes, COVID-19. During this time, Dr. Laurie Paarlberg, Charles Stewart Mott Chair on Community Foundations and professor of philanthropic studies, is gathering information about community responses and they hope to help nonprofits, individuals, and families in their community.
What are community foundations and United Ways doing in response to the virus? Have they, and if so, how quickly, have they pulled together with other funders together in responding?
A number of community foundations and United Ways have quickly established new funds or activated existing emergency response funds to be able to respond to long-term and short-term community needs. Many of these efforts are collaborative efforts between local community foundations, United Ways, and other community partners. A great example is United Way of Central Indiana, which quickly established a fund in partnership with Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Central Indiana Community Foundation, and several other local philanthropies. By mid-March, they had publicly announced the creation of the fund. By March 24, they had announced the first round of grantmaking from the fund.
Giving Compass and the National Center for Family Philanthropy are working together to catalog the rapidly growing list of COVID-19 funds.
How can community foundations or other organizations proactively respond to needs in their communities? If so, how are they collecting data and information about the organizations they want to support?
All communities will take a different approach to identifying needs; that is one of the strengths of community philanthropy. Some communities are prioritizing keeping nonprofits on the front lines of response afloat. Other funds are looking to provide charitable relief to vulnerable populations that are affected by the crisis. These responses reflect local context and need. For example, the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County has prioritized developing temporary residential programs for at-risk individuals who are currently unsheltered or living in congregate settings.
The New York Community Trust is prioritizing nonprofits that are responding to the health and economic effects of COVID-19. It is also prioritizing arts and culture organizations because of the important role that cultural organizations play in the life and economy of NYC.
Community philanthropy plays an important role in being able to understand their local communities’ unique needs and being able to quickly and flexibly respond.
What are the benefits to proactive approaches when it comes to helping communities during this time?
As many funds describe, the crisis hit quickly and sharply. People and organizations are quickly feeling the pain. Philanthropy can respond quickly and flexibly. Over 370 private and community foundations have responded to the crisis by responding to a pledge of action. This pledge of action commits foundations to change “practices in institutional philanthropy.” While the pledge can be viewed on the Council of Foundations website, some of the highlights include loosening restrictions on current grants and reducing the restrictions on new grants, reducing reporting requirements, improving communication about grantmaking, listening to partners, particularly from underrepresented communities, and advocating for public health policy changes. Although there is a great deal of emergency response occurring right now, there seems to be some call for large shifts in practices that emphasize structural changes in grantmaking and attention to policy issues that reflect greater inclusion and attention to equity.
How can nonprofits collaborate or partner with these community leaders?
Right now, local nonprofits are in crisis mode for a variety of reasons, including being on the front line of response, losing revenue because they are closed and/or have canceled fundraising events, or responding to increased need for social services. There are a lot of nonprofit support organizations that are trying to provide good information about how to manage staff and finances in a crisis. As an example, the Nonprofit Finance Fund has a growing set of resources compiled about what nonprofits and foundations can do right now.
There was a good article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the “new new normal.” Although we see a great deal of immediate crisis response right now, I think that we can expect that soon local philanthropic leaders and nonprofit leaders will be coming together to think about recovery, and then what can be done to create community resilience. But few communities are at that point right now.