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COVID-19: Changes to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Author: Tracy Sawicki

Just about every website you visit these days has a popover window, a banner, or some other techie web-gizmo to make sure you know about the host organization’s COVID-19 response. Time to add our response to the mix.

With a number of currently running grants and an upcoming grant deadline, we’ve tried to slow down and think through how we can best support the organizations working so hard to help the people the Foundation aims to serve and their surrounding communities. After countless calls and (virtual) meetings among the staff; our Trustees; past, current, and prospective grant partners; and other funders, here’s where we’ve landed:

We are canceling all of our regular grant cycles for the balance of 2020. That means we are not taking applications for any of our regular grant opportunities this April or August. All of the funds that we would normally award and send out this year will be redirected to our COVID-19 response.

Our response will take two forms:

First, we will contribute to pooled community response funds. The WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund is a collaborative effort among several regional funders to pool resources and distribute them to best meet critical needs across Western New York’s eight counties. In Massachusetts, the Essex County Community Foundation, the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, and the Community Foundation for Nantucket have created similar funds to meet those communities’ needs. Likewise, the Cape Cod Foundation is hard at work with other regional funders to build its response. Our contributions to these funds will be unrestricted; now is not the time to adopt a parochial mindset or to insist on controlling how our dollars are used.

Second, we will support our grant partners. Where it makes sense to both grant partner and the Foundation, current grant partners will:

  • have restrictions removed on any dollars from the Foundation currently in-hand;
  • have any scheduled 2020 disbursements released as soon as possible and all restrictions on their use removed;
  • have reporting requirements substantially relaxed; and
  • hear from their Program Officer about scheduling a time to discuss their grant’s and their organization’s future needs.

In addition to supporting current grant partners, these funds will go to agencies within the Foundation’s funding geography (Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, and Nantucket Counties in Massachusetts; Erie and Niagara Counties in New York State) providing critical services to the populations the Foundation hopes to serve (children, adolescents, and young adults — and their families — affected by intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health, and/or substance use disorders). We’re still working out the details of what that will look like, so please stay tuned.

In deciding how to respond, we looked to our peers in philanthropy as well as asking many of our current and recent grant partners how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting their organizations, their staff, and the people they serve. If you’d like to see a sampling of what we heard from those grant partners, please take a look at this blog post.

In any event, we know that this news will disappoint many organizations that have been eager to seek grants for projects they know will make huge differences for the people they serve. We share that disappointment, but we also see that the pandemic has created what can be called, without exaggeration, an existential crisis for many organizations serving some of our most vulnerable populations. We can’t ignore that crisis.

We hope you are staying healthy (and staying home, if you can). This is an extraordinarily trying time, and it’s easy to focus on the negative. Instead, we choose to focus on the fact that times like this let us see people at their very best.

Stay safe and be well.