Setting Priorities

Even with tremendous fundraising success, it was clear from the start that the COVID-19 Fund could not support every application that was received. Knowing that the pandemic’s impact would be felt for months or even years, the Fund’s leadership decided to reserve funds for later phases of grantmaking that would be focused on nonprofit capacity-building and community rebuilding and recovery.

To date, over $1 million has been granted by the COVID-19 Fund, enabling nonprofits to meet acute needs.  Most funding has gone to address hunger, housing and shelter, social services and mental health support.

It is always hard to evaluate applications from worthy organizations knowing that there are not enough resources to fund them all. Many reviewers – even those who were very experienced in grantmaking – commented on how especially difficult it was to say “No” to nonprofits in the context of COVID-19.

Reviewers needed to feel confident and secure in their decisions – perhaps even more so during this crisis than in a typical grantmaking cycle. As a result, the review team relied heavily on Community Foundation staff and their own research to fill in the gaps and conduct due diligence beyond the text of the application. This process involved, in many cases, proactively seeking out additional information from each applicant.

Going the extra mile to understand the community’s needs was especially important and valuable, as conditions are constantly evolving. However, it also resulted in a heavier workload for Community Foundation staff and the volunteer reviewers. Especially when coupled with the compressed review timeline, it took strong leadership and a significant investment of time, effort and staff resources for the Community Foundation to successfully launch the new rapid-response COVID-19 Fund.


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.