When COVID-19 began devastating our region of the South, we asked our partners how the pandemic was affecting their work and how we could be most helpful. They described overwhelming demand for their services due to the spike in hardship and woefully insufficient government action. They told us about how they have been forced to cancel vital fundraising events and outreach activities central to their missions in the most important political year of our lifetimes. They reported having to rethink the ways they work to meet people’s emergency needs, support families with lost income, and prevent bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, and deportations.

Our partners have been coming up with new and creative ways to engage their communities, register and educate voters, plan for redistricting, and hold leaders accountable — all while keeping their doors open, meeting payroll, and supporting employees’ mental health and family care needs. And they’re doing all this while their prospects for future funding are unclear at best.

These trusting relationships, and the networks and infrastructure our partners have built, enabled MRBF to act quickly. Our immediate response included:

  • Providing an immediate $10,000 to all board-approved grantee partners for short-term needs
  • Extending most grants by one year — and frontloading those payments
  • Contributing to place-based responses across the South, including mutual aid programs and rapid-response funds targeted to immigrants and refugees left out of government relief programs
  • Bolstering community development financial institutions by eliminating interest on program-related investments and converting 20 percent of them to grants
  • Coordinating with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to redeploy $4 million to hard-hit Southern communities

We see these as just the initial steps of our response, as the ramifications of COVID-19 will likely last for the foreseeable future. Our Board has approved increased spending for the next five years to meet needs as they arise. These grants will also be flexible so our partners can adapt as the ground continues to shift under their feet.

Restrictive grant dollars make it much harder for organizations to adapt and maximize their effectiveness during unforeseen emergencies. Providing sustained general operating support not only best serves grantees, but helps us funders, too, by allowing our program staff to spend more time listening and learning.  Providing this type of support is an ongoing demonstration of abiding trust in the experts who know best what their communities need. As Maxson says in Making the Case, “To address complicated and systemic challenges, particularly in the South, organizations need access to flexible resources that allow them to grow their capacity.”

We do not want to return to normal; we are demanding a better, more equitable normal.

History has taught us how change happens — at the speed of trust, with patience and persistence, from the ground up. We are at a tipping point that presents an opportunity to dismantle the white supremacy and structural racism exacerbating our current crises.

Read the full article about seeding a more equitable normal by Susanna Hegner at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.