Building a Process for Rapid Response

The Community Foundation serves the Greater Mercer region, which crosses county and state lines and includes all of Mercer County, the southern portions of Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, Northern Burlington County, and Eastern Bucks County. When the Community Foundation began to mobilize, the outpouring of support was immense and immediate. The Community Foundation raised over $1 million in a few days. The amount would soon double to more than $2 million.

Rapid response was the first and foremost goal of the COVID-19 Fund. But rapid response was not the typical funding process. Like many foundations, the Community Foundation’s core grantmaking process is intentional, deliberative – and typically about six months long. How could the team compress the timeline for review without losing the benefits of that robust process?

A team of Community Foundation staff and community leaders came together to develop a new process for an unprecedented situation. They looked to philanthropic colleagues for resources, as well as the existing processes and framework of the Community Impact Grants program.

The Community Foundation streamlined the COVID-19 Fund application, with the goal of freeing up nonprofit staff resources to focus on serving people. Questions were removed, pro forma attachments were waived, and the application was designed knowing that many nonprofit colleagues were at home without access to all of their files.

A core team of volunteer reviewers was selected, chaired by Community Foundation Trustee Eleanor Horne. This team of eight reviewers – made up of stakeholders from the private sector, government, philanthropy, and Community Foundation staff – began to meet twice a week, every week, to discuss and deliberate on the applications for funding that had been received in the preceding days. The review team would typically meet for two hours each session, often starting as early as 7:00 in the morning. A decision was issued to most applicants within a week of their proposal’s submission.


This post was developed by Ann Ritter, consultant to The Burke Foundation. It is based on a series of interviews conducted with leaders involved in the creation and launch of the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund.