Wondering how to help your family, friends, and neighbors cope with the impacts of COVID-19? Look to your local community foundation.
March 15, 2020
The United States is home to over 750 community foundations that collectively channel over $5 billion per year to nonprofits¹. At the same time, many community foundations serve as leaders and conveners – identifying critical issues and leveraging resources from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to support solutions.
As the world reels from the social, economic, and public health impacts of COVID-19, community foundations can help you navigate the turmoil and put your generosity to the highest use in this critical time of need.
Here are three reasons why.
1. Community foundations know where help is needed and how to get it there.
Your community foundation specializes in building long-term relationships with the most effective nonprofits in your community, and invests in helping those nonprofits grow capacity over time. Many of these organizations already serve those of your neighbors who will need the most help as the impacts of COVID-19 unfold: older adults, people with disabilities, socially isolated people, low-income families, school-aged children, and people who are unhoused, undocumented, or uninsured.
Community foundations know how to activate resources quickly using a broad toolbox that includes designated funds, donor-advised funds, scholarships, pass-through grants, low-interest loans, impact investments and more. Agile crisis response funds for COVID-19 are already up and running at community foundations all over the state.
When you give to one of these funds, you know your gift is going to the most well-run and impactful nonprofits in your community. You also know it’s being deployed in a way that meets the rapidly-changing needs of the nonprofits responding to local crises in real time.
2. Community foundations are public charities.
A community foundation is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt and passes the public support test as a public charity. It has an independent governing body representing the public interest, annual independent audits.
A community foundation can provide both grantmaking and charitable services. What does this mean? For one, if your community foundation does both of these, every dollar you give creates direct local impact in two ways: through the charity your gift supports, and through the foundation’s own community-serving programs. For example, fees that the Community Foundation for Monterey County charges to manage donor-advised funds allow it to run the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. At the Sacramento Region Community Foundation these fees support The Lab, a capacity-building program for nonprofit leaders. At the Kern Community Foundation they fund the Community Giving Guide and a quarterly showcase series for high-impact nonprofits.
Many community foundations are accredited through the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations via the Council on Foundations. National Standards are a rigorous evaluation process to demonstrate a community foundation’s commitment to accountability and excellence. Accredited foundations are re-certified every three years to confirm they continue to meet and exceed federal and state requirements.
3. Community foundations are built for this.
Community foundations are experts at identifying local needs, building trust with community changemakers, and deploying resources quickly and strategically. They are leaders, conveners, and connectors. They bring together ideas, partners, and resources from government, the private sector, individual donors, and civil society.
If you live in California your local community foundation has probably been preparing for COVID-19, deliberately or not, for a long time. Many community foundations in our state have, unfortunately, amassed a huge amount of experience in responding to crises ranging from earthquakes to wildfires to mass shootings. Any community foundation that’s more than 10 years old has certainly helped its region navigate a financial recession. Most have plans and partnerships in place to work with local authorities on public health and safety issues. Many design their grantmaking and programming around principles of equity and justice.
As a result, community foundations understand the full lifecycle of a robust crisis response – from deploying immediate relief aid to rebuilding/recovery to long-term community resilience work. This hard-won expertise is an invaluable asset to our communities as we navigate an uncertain future in the wake of COVID-19.
The community foundation model would not be a 100-year philanthropic success story without the support of so many kind, generous, committed donors. The real power of community philanthropy is about strength in numbers: like-minded people from all walks of life pooling resources to solve challenges, drive progress, and build wealth in their own communities.
Through calm times and chaotic ones, community foundations are the link between local giving and local impact. Find yours here.