Lessons learned: COVID-19 response funding

Part two of a two-part series

Lessons learned: COVID-19 response fundingFoundations, individuals, corporations, faith organizations, and government are responding to the impacts of COVID-19. In this column we share lessons learned from the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. Here’s a few things to know. This fund is a community-wide response with funds are distributed under guidance from an Advisory Council that is 50% African American/Black and 50% Caucasian. In 12 weeks, they raised just over $4 million and supported 91 organizations through grants ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 based on the agencies’ needs and the scope of their work.  In order to move resources now – and have resources for recovery and resiliency – they allocated 60% of funds to immediate needs and saved 40% for the near future. The largest grant was $500,000 from the PepsiCo Foundation, specifically to aid Black and Latino communities.

The Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund is administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis (CFGM), and for this series we talked with Bob Fockler, President and Sutton Mora Hayes, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.


  1. What have you learned about how COVID-19 is impacting Memphis residents?

The inequalities in our society are deeply-set. And they have only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak. So many in our community are one emergency away from financial crisis. While the presence of our inequalities did not come as a surprise, the coronavirus crisis did elevate community consciousness around those disparities and reinforced our commitment to strengthening organizations that are dedicated to lessening the burden of those inequalities both now and in the future.

  1. How are recipients of the fund selected?

Crisis philanthropy recognizes the need to provide immediate resources for triage, as well as the importance of recovery resources to ensure community resilience. Our first, rapid-relief phase did not rely on a formal application process but rather feedback provided by 300+ nonprofits and information-gathering by Advisory Committee members.

  1. Did your grantmaking change through this process?

We committed to acting quickly and learned that it is alright to balance out speed with rigorous review. Responsible grantmaking takes several forms, and it is fine to act fast and to base decisions on trust rather than outcomes. Success has meant timeliness and it has meant impact. We have trusted ourselves to be grantmakers in a new way, and we have trusted grantees to carry out their work in the best ways they saw fit, without burdensome application and reporting processes.

  1. Lessons learned: COVID-19 response fundingWhat challenges have you experienced?

Our ability to provide relief was directly tied to our fundraising efforts in real time. Simply put, we did not have money to give out if people did not donate to the fund. This stark reality has led to our intention to craft a more deliberate approach for the future, setting aside dollars for the next time we are called upon to lead a community response.

  1. What will Phase Two grantmaking look like?

In the second phase, our Advisory Committee will make some direct allocations to agencies we believe, after our months of work and evaluation, are best positioned to serve nonprofits from all sectors that are trying rebuild and restructure in this new society.

We are also looking at some programming and consulting that we can provide to nonprofits so that when we ask them to rebuild and restructure, we are helping to provide the tools they need.

And most significantly, we will invite any nonprofit in West Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, or northern Mississippi directly responding to those most impacted by this pandemic to apply for up to $50,000 in general operating funds to continue to provide and enhance services to those populations.

  1. How does this fund tie to the foundation’s mission and vision?

Our vision says that we will create a just and equitable region where all individuals and groups receive the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential, and where identity and geography do not determine their outcomes. We will build a community where everyone is welcome, valued, resourced, and informed; one where people can easily access opportunities to contribute and thrive.

That is the charge that drove us to lead the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, which focuses on serving our most vulnerable neighbors—particularly our neighbors of color—in this crisis.

  1. Where exactly did the money come from?
    1. Individuals – $250,900
    2. Businesses – $1,014,640
    3. Government – $100,000
    4. Foundations – $1,408,000
    5. Donor advised funds at CFGM – $1,237,310
    6. Total – $4,010,850

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

Read Part One 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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