A community wide fundraising response to COVID-19

Part one of a two-part series

In this time of COVID-19 how does a community pool resources and make emergency, responsive grants?

We talk with Bob Fockler, President of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM) and Sutton Mora Hayes, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. CGFM is home to the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. They play a central role in bringing together local government, foundations, the United Way, businesses, and individuals. We share their story to inspire local communities as they respond to COVID-19 and help with rebuilding.

Bob Fockler

Robert Fockler, President, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis


What led to the formation of the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund?
It began with a March 15 call from City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen to our president, Bob Fockler. The Community Foundation had worked with both the City and the County on projects in the past, and we were equipped and enthusiastic about creating the relief fund, which we had up-and-running within the week. We administer grants in partnership with the City of Memphis, Shelby County Government, United Way of the Mid-South, and Momentum Nonprofit Partners/Mid-South Philanthropy Network. The response fund is the unified community relief initiative.

What makes this fund unique?
Because of our reach and relationships with local government, donors, other local and national funders, and nonprofits across our region, we hold a unique position in the community that is necessary for a successful collaborative effort like this. As an experienced convener and grantmaker, we could assemble the right advisory coalition to make funding decisions and we were able to rapidly deploy dollars when our neighbors were suffering most.

What are the fund’s priorities?
The first, 12-week phase focused on rapid-relief grants to organizations serving individuals who were hardest hit by the pandemic. The second is intended to stabilize nonprofit organizations that directly respond to the significant consequences of, and disparities exacerbated by, this public health crisis. We focus funding on priority populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic including the elderly and other high-risk populations; low-income families experiencing short-term financial crises related to COVID-19; residents who are food insecure, housing insecure, without medical insurance or uninsured, are Quarantined, or in extraordinary need of childcare; and immigrants and communities of color.

Sutton Mora Hayes

Sutton Mora Hayes, EVP and COO, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

How is diversity, equity, and inclusion integrated into the work of this fund?
As a tenet of our Community Investment Principles, the Community Foundation is committed to implementing processes where all community members’ voices can be heard, and decision-makers and participants reflect the demographics of communities being served. The Advisory Committee brought a diverse, knowledgeable set of voices and perspectives to the table for information-gathering, establishing priorities that focus on our most vulnerable populations, and making funding decisions.
Grants directly fund predominantly Black and Latinx communities, and place-based, often grassroots agencies and organizations led by people of color. We trust the stakeholders of our neighborhoods—not just in our neighborhoods—to identify needs and develop solutions to address them.

How were members of the advisory committee selected?
Prior experience had demonstrated that public/private partnership can make amazing things happen for our community.

Knowing that, the City and the County asked us to step up and manage this process. They would bring the guidance of the Health Department and other departments to the table through their representatives, so that we would know from their perspective how our community was dealing with the outbreak.

We wanted to help. We were uniquely positioned to do so. But we knew we couldn’t do it alone, even with the City and County at our side. We needed partners in the work.

Please share more about the partnerships you called on in creating this fund.
It was really a no-brainer to bring the United Way of the Mid-South and Momentum Nonprofit Partners to the table. Each organization has such deep knowledge of the nonprofits in our community, it didn’t make sense to move forward without their input and their advocacy for nonprofits in our region. Momentum Nonprofit Partners gathered feedback from 300+ nonprofits through a needs assessment survey. Without that, we would not be able to make the funding decisions that we have.

Beyond the help of the partners at the table each week, we had support from other local friends like the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, Jewish Community Partners, the Hyde Family Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and more. They may not have been on our weekly Zoom advisory calls, but they certainly provided guidance and fundraising support to make sure we were getting the most out of the fund.

You cannot respond to a community in crisis by yourself. Partnership is key. We knew to do this right, we had to do it together.

You can donate online at https://www.cfgm.org/COVID or mail a check to the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, 1900 Union Ave., Memphis TN 38104.

Continue to Part 2 of this series.

Don’t forget:

Copyright 2020 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you find your way through this unknown time. Video and phone conferencing services always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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