Philanthropic organizations such as local and community foundations, in collaboration with governments and businesses, are creating COVID-19 response funds in order to address the wide-ranging economic impacts of coronavirus on their communities. Several examples have emerged of such funds, with most of them trying to rapidly deploy resources to vulnerable and adversely impacted population segments in the community. United Way Worldwide is supporting several such local and regional funds through local United Ways.

The Seattle Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund represents the combined efforts of philanthropists, government, and businesses. The Fund will provide resources to community-based organizations working alongside populations in the Puget Sound region most impacted by coronavirus. With over $12 million in contributions to date, the Fund will provide one-time grants to organizations such as those advocating for gig economy workers and individuals without health insurance. The first round of grants will address “the economic impact of reduced and lost work due to the coronavirus outbreak,” “immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations caused by closures and cancellations related to COVID-19,” “increased demand for medical information and support,” and “fear and confusion about the outbreak among the region’s most vulnerable residents.”

In Kentucky, philanthropists, government, and businesses are partnering via the Coronavirus Response Fund to provide grants to community-based organizations in the Central and Appalachia regions. Grants will be provided to organizations with a focus on supporting access to food, medicine, and other basic needs.

In the Pittsburgh area, four foundations have joined forces to create the Emergency Action Fund, with initial resources of $4 million. The local Allegheny Department of Human Services, County Health Department, United Way, and community leaders will be consulted to determine which organizations focused on providing communities with human services, health care access, and economic support will receive funding.

The Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund, with $16.5 million in initial donations, will quickly and efficiently provide community organizations with funds to combat the short- and long-term economic impacts of coronavirus.

The Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund will partner with the City of Boston to provide one-time grants to organizations with a focus on serving elders and other adversely impacted populations.

The Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund will award operating grants to Cuyahoga, Lake, and Geauga County nonprofit organizations, with initial funding of $3.95 million. The Fund “will also advocate for scaling public sector action that promotes robust and timely public sector financial investment and needed regulatory, administrative and/or program adaptations to address this crisis, including issues surrounding evictions and utility shut-offs, unemployment benefits and lapses in health insurance coverage for children and those supported by Medicaid.”

The Rhode Island Foundation and United Way of Rhode Island have launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, with approximately $2.8 million in contributions to date. Local nonprofit organizations are encouraged to share their experiences with the Fund in order to inform the Fund’s response efforts.

Aside from targeted response funds, community foundations and philanthropic organizations are examining ways to ease or modify grant requirements, extend deadlines, and respond quickly to emerging community needs.

Role of economic development organizations:

1. What can EDOs do to help organizations access response fund resources?

Response funds are working to distribute grants quickly and efficiently, sometimes without formal application processes. EDOs can share broadly with eligible local nonprofits about availability of funds, especially with organizations that support economically vulnerable communities such as gig economy workers and individuals without health insurance. EDOs should consider that the priorities of response funds may change from addressing acute needs to more long-term considerations over time.

2. Stay up to date with the grants awarded by response funds

EDOs often act as a conduit for information to the business community. Knowing which organizations in the community have been able to access rapid response funds, and for what services, will help EDOs direct businesses and vulnerable populations to the correct resources quickly. EDOs themselves may be eligible for funds depending on their mission.

3. What can EDOs do to support response funds?

EDOs can connect with large employers in the region to raise additional funds. For example, businesses such as Amazon and Costco have contributed to the Seattle Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund.


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