Few moments in recent history have caused the level of societal upheaval that occurred when COVID-19 shut the country down in March 2020. In those chaotic early days of the pandemic, it felt a bit like the world had shifted on its axis. Streets emptied. Schools shuttered. Theater marquees went dark. People stayed home – and stayed apart.

The unprecedented moment required an unprecedented response across sectors –government, private, nonprofit and charitable – as we collectively struggled to educate our children, sustain our livelihoods and ensure those in need could access basic necessities from food to personal protective equipment.

As the scale of the crisis became clear, the Walton Family Foundation created a $35-million relief fund to help those closest to the problems created by the pandemic – our grantees – respond.

The fund supported organizations across all three of the foundation’s program areas, including schools transitioning students to online instruction, environment organizations ensuring we have clean and abundant water, and arts and community groups improving quality of life in our Home Region.

For some grantees, particularly small organizations, COVID-19 posed an existential challenge to their operations. For all, it risked impairing the essential work they do to create opportunity for the people and communities they serve.

In every case, they needed help. Fast.

For the foundation, the distribution of $35 million in emergency grants posed some unique challenges. We believe in strategic philanthropy that seeks to set clear goals, and then collect evidence that helps us learn, adapt and continuously improve as grantmakers and community partners. The foundation has provided emergency grants in the past, following catastrophic events like hurricanes, but the scale of this emergency required us to adapt our grantmaking to meet a very different moment.

So, how did it go?

The foundation’s Strategy, Learning, and Evaluation Department (SLED) engaged Public Profit, an evaluation and strategy firm, to conduct a retrospective evaluation to assess the relief fund’s impact, help us learn what went well and understand how to improve in the future.

Read the full article about challenges for organizations during COVID-19 by  Matthew Carr and Johanna Morariu at PEAK Grantmaking.