How are you responding? That is the question so many of us in philanthropy are getting these days.
And while it is a little uncomfortable to turn the focus inward during this time, we also feel it is important to be transparent.
The COVID-19 pandemic is becoming the defining moment of our time. And so too will the response. Leading the charge are front-line medical providers, along with individuals across a spectrum of essential services, all putting their health at risk for those of us who depend upon them. Collectively, they are redefining what it is to be heroic. Our gratitude is endless; we are humbled by the service of those whose focus is being present in communities.
Coming through to the other side will take the collective effort of all sectors – including philanthropy – both in the now and in the rebuilding that will follow. The devastating impacts of this disaster will provide opportunity to rebuild our society in a way that benefits everyone. System and policy-level changes to address and eliminate disparities and inequities within our communities will come forward as part of the recovery. We commit to supporting these and encourage others to join us.
And while we work toward these more ambitious undertakings, we are also focused on meeting immediate needs of our communities and our grantees. In thinking through where we can be most effective, we have taken the following initial steps as an organization.
Adapting to change
Like many, as the crisis unfolded we quickly moved to remote operations. We’re staying home, but we’re staying committed to working with grantees and new partners to respond and rebuild.
Lessening burden on current and future grantees
With community-based and community-facing organizations being tested now more than ever before, we’ve taken steps to not add to their stress. This includes eliminating reporting requirements on existing grants, reducing documentation and streamlining the application process for new grants, and expediting payment processing.
Deploying rapid response funding
As we learned of the first few cases in North Carolina, our board approved a $2 million authorization to immediately fund pandemic-related efforts. These dollars are being deployed by staff to support grantees and stakeholders working within our focus areas.
A few early examples include:
- Supporting current grantees with small, unrestricted operating grants to be used as they see fit. There are no proposals or reporting requirements for these grants.
- Bolstering essential reporting by NC Health News and Carolina Public Press to both increase coverage of the pandemic and expand reach into areas with limited local news sources.
- Contributing to a relief fund at the Child Care Services Association to support child care centers’ ability to meet enhanced health and safety standards to keep children and employees safe.
- Supporting NC Child and NC Alliance for Health to partner with others to create shared policy agendas that address weakness in the childcare and food systems highlighted as result of COVID-19.
- Engaging statewide leaders in food and food systems in gathering data and stories that highlight food system fractures made more visible by COVID-19 and identifying solutions for system-level changes to create a more equitable food system.
- Investing in grassroots and other smaller organizations working within communities and with populations most at risk during this time.
Adjusting to a new reality
COVID-19 has made even more visible the significant holes in our safety net and the disproportionate distribution of social supports in our communities. Many of our systems are stressed, even crumbling, under the strain being put upon them. This new reality is one in which our work for the foreseeable future will be related to the pandemic or its wide-reaching effects. Already, the implications on the four areas of our work, are striking:
- In early childhood, there are devastating impacts on the child care infrastructure, widespread school and learning interruption, and untold Adverse Childhood Experiences that will result.
- There is massive disruption in how food is distributed, in particular for those whose food security relies heavily on schools and other community settings and for local farmers whose customer base – which includes schools, restaurants, and other larger purchasers – are not purchasing as much, if at all.
- Oral health is limited to emergency care, and an extended shutdown of normal practice operations will likely exacerbate the state’s existing oral health access problems.
- Communities – already stretched beyond capacity – are responding to the needs of their neighbors and further testing their resilience.
As a result, our pandemic-related response will extend well beyond our initial $2 million authorization yet will remain focused within these four main areas. We’re also moving ahead with adding staff capacity to work within – and elevate the voice of – communities during a time when community-voice is most needed.
Understanding this is just the beginning
We are inspired by the response we are seeing among our grantees to rise-up and meet these challenges, as well as come together in creative and collaborative ways. We know this is indicative of much more to come.
We also know it will be a while before we understand the full impact of the pandemic throughout our state. As a result, it is essential that we all remain focused on increasing equity, be willing to learn and adapt, and commit to promoting change at the systems and policy level.
For two decades we have invested in the people and places of North Carolina. Today, those people and places are hurting. However, this state is resilient, and no doubt can emerge stronger than ever. We applaud the efforts of those leading this charge and embrace the opportunity to be a part of the next chapter of the place we all call home.