Meeting the Moment: Our COVID-19 Response

Meeting the Moment: Our COVID-19 Response

My uncle David Glover had a saying that he used quite a bit. He said, “It’s never as good as it looks or as bad as it seems, but it always gets better.” Lately, I’ve found myself turning to my elders for wisdom, and today, I am carrying Uncle David’s words in my heart.

Now, I am not sure if he made it up, but I’ve always loved how the sentiment often helps me find grounding, motivation, and humility.

These are such challenging times, and there is a lot of pain throughout our communities, yet I am encouraged by what I am seeing all around me. Our community, our donors, and our grantees are pulling together to try to help. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, we knew we needed to act quickly to get money back into the community. We established the SFF COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support small nonprofits that are working on housing, food security, job loss, and to address people targeted by racism as a result of the pandemic. We have been inundated with proposals; as of today, 522 have been submitted, totaling more than $11.8 million in requests. Faced with such an overwhelming need, we opted to give out more grants at lower funding levels since our fund is one of the few focusing on smaller grassroots organizations and is open for any nonprofit organization to apply. The fund is also responsive to the needs that have arisen over the past weeks, providing grants in emerging areas of need such as domestic violence.

So far, our donors and other funders have contributed nearly $3 million for this fund, and we are getting that money into the community as fast as we can. We know the need is so much greater than this total, so we’re working hard to get the word out about how people can help.

We’re also supporting other efforts. We’re hosting the City of San Francisco’s $5 million emergency fund, and our donors created the Keep Oakland Housed Emergency Fund with $1 million to specifically support rental assistance to address the housing crisis in Oakland brought on by the pandemic.

Our board approved $1.6 million from our endowment and operating reserve to fund additional emergency grants to service providers and others. We’ll be announcing those grants soon.

With the passage of the federal CARES Act and the possibilities of forgivable loans for nonprofits, we hosted a series of clinics by FMA, Fiscal Strength for Nonprofits, to help our grantees determine whether they should apply, and what they can expect from the process. We are following up with other support for our grantees as well that will be rolled out in the coming weeks. Additionally, we have compiled a running list of resources like these for nonprofits here.

Later this spring we’ll be announcing a round of grants from our Open Cycle. The Open Cycle is the annual process in which organizations can apply for funding through our website, which began before the pandemic. We plan to provide additional funding to a group of about 40 organizations that we believe are critical to advancing racial and economic equity in the Bay Area. The grants to these organizations will be at a minimum of $100,000 a year, and many of them will be multi-year grants.

I provide this update and a look inside our numbers not to brag about our work. To the contrary, the intensity and scale of the need at this moment makes these efforts seem like a drop in the ocean. But each of us must contribute our own drop to the best of our ability and hope that all of it together will provide some relief to those who are hurting at this moment.

The reality is that this crisis has brought to the forefront the existing inequities in our systems and institutions. And this fact begs us to acknowledge both the challenge and opportunity of this moment. As COVID-19 response efforts expand to include both relief and recovery, those of us concerned about and working towards greater equity must meet the moment. If recovery efforts stay focused on how we get back to business as usual as soon as possible, we will have missed an opportunity.

Given the scope of the crisis, no amount of money will fix this without addressing the underlying policy issues that exacerbate inequity. We need to go beyond grantmaking and responding to crises, even though we know we need to respond right now. In addition to our grantmaking dollars, we are using our power to convene the community, our relationships with decision makers, and our own voice to address the underlying policy issues that deepen inequity. Policy is where we can get the scale we need to make real change.

As you can expect, this is a lot, but we’re really focused on the goal—serving people who deserve more than they have gotten for so long.

After almost two months into a new way of working together and responding to a crisis the likes of which none of has experienced, I find myself particularly inspired by our staff, which is made up of people who have dedicated their lives to making this region more equitable. When the crisis hit, our staff knew who would be most affected—people who have been underpaid for far too long, people who are unhoused, immigrants, and so many more. At the San Francisco Foundation, we’re doing what we can to try to support the community and ensure that racial equity and economic inclusion is at the center of efforts to respond to the crisis. Our work is grounded by our values that everyone deserves to be able to make a good living and leave a nest egg for the next generation, to have an affordable place to call home, and to use their voice to shape the decisions that affect their lives.

Our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund is designed to provide fast funding for small organizations. The application takes only a few minutes, the funds can be used for any purpose, and there aren’t any required reports. You don’t have to be a grantee of the foundation to apply, and once we receive the application, our goal is to cut a check within two weeks. We also made a decision to support as many organizations as possible. So far, the checks have ranged from about $5,000 to $10,000. It’s not a lot of money, but to a small organization struggling to pay their rent, meet payroll, serve meals, among many other essential tasks, it matters.

Philanthropy has come under the spotlight a lot lately, as well it should. We think that we have a responsibility as a public trust to say what we’re doing, share what we’re learning, and do everything we can to make a difference.

For those of us lucky enough to have a job and a roof over our heads, it’s time to count our blessings. And it’s also time to step up. Someday, when my kids have kids and they ask me about this challenging time and what it was like, I hope to be able to tell them that Uncle David was right—it got better—thanks to the hard work, generosity, and deep compassion of a community that did the right thing.