The global health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has sparked urgency in philanthropy to change our traditional approach to giving and drastically increase our support of people and communities most severely affected by the coronavirus. The pandemic, coupled with the renewed public outcry for racial justice, has shone a spotlight on the pervasive racial inequities in philanthropy1 and sparked calls for action, like those outlined in the Donors of Color Inclusion Principles, challenging philanthropy to “allocate 30% of our overall budgets to communities of color and Indigenous communities.”

Many funders are answering this call, breaking from their norms and trying innovative approaches to moving their resources to adequately respond in this unprecedented moment. One example is the newly formed Atlanta Emergency Response Collaborative (AERC), a group of 20 family foundations that came together in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak to accelerate and simplify the grantmaking process to Metro Atlanta’s nonprofits providing direct services to vulnerable populations.

The collaborative uses JustFund’s common application system, which allows nonprofits to share their needs with all members of the collaborative at once, and allows funders to see which organizations are receiving funding, and at what levels. In just three months, the AERC has funded 157 organizations with $4,374,5002 to support urgent relief efforts including food insecurity, housing, and job loss. The collaborative is a great model for how family foundations can work together and move money quickly in a specific region.

I talked virtually with Amy Clarke, Program Director at The CF Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, and Staci Brill, the collaborative’s program manager and philanthropic and development consultant at The Eplan Group in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn more about the Atlanta Emergency Response Collaborative.

This unprecedented moment is a reminder that philanthropy has to think differently and long-term. How is the collaborative responding to that call?

Amy: The collaborative funding model [versus a pooled fund] allows the participating foundations to maintain their own identities in their separate grantmaking processes, but brings transparency into the collective process. We benefit from seeing each other’s recommendations and funding decisions, which allow us to expand our own grantee networks. Also, we love that groups don’t have to spend so much energy on multiple proposals, giving leaders more time to do their critical work in this moment.

Staci: JustFund’s platform has enabled a group of small-staffed family foundations to work collaboratively. Each of us are learning and adapting in this moment and it seems like there is a seismic change happening [in philanthropy]. Our intention is not just to  find new, effective organizations to fund, but to build lasting relationships that can lift up those in need. We encourage nonprofits to indicate their full needs and share their thoughts on long-term needs. JustFund allows organizations to update their proposals in real time so we can see how their needs are evolving as their circumstances change.

What is it that JustFund allows you and the collaborative to accomplish?

Amy: The idea to work collaboratively came from my Trustee at the CF Foundation, Lillian Giornelli, and longtime Tull Foundation Executive Director, Bobbi Cleveland. I looked for a common application model that would enable us all to be more effective in this unprecedented moment. Just Fund met those criteria and more.

Staci: Funders in our collaborative have formed a trusted peer network. The confidence in each other’s due diligence processes is translating into members making grants to organizations that were not familiar to them prior to the pandemic.

Does the collaborative stay connected beyond using the JustFund portal?

Amy: We meet regularly over Zoom and explore various issues, share wisdom, and gather peer insights. In our calls, we focus on a pressing issue and use the JustFund platform to look together at the organizations working in that field, the grants that funders have made, and use data as a jumping off point.

Tell me about your equity group that emerged after the collaborative was established.

Amy: We realized pretty early in the process that an invitation-only application was not going to lead to an equitable funding model since mostly white-led organizations are in our existing networks. We saw that the PPP funding was disproportionately not going to BIPOC-led organizations and that the smaller organizations would not have access to our collaborative’s rapid response funds, meaning that these critical groups would be fighting for their survival.

We created a smaller cohort in our collaborative that is focused on equity. That cohort is working with a consultant to help us process and understand, more fully, the issues of inequity and how philanthropy can effect change in more meaningful ways. We hope that the participating foundations will build authentic relationships and invest in grassroots organizations delivering critical services to Atlantans. We intend to continue beyond this rapid response moment.

Through our rapid response funding after COVID-19, we were able to create a collaborative atmosphere, build more trust with each other and work well together before we started the equity work. We laid the groundwork for bringing the equity work to the forefront and we all want to engage in deeper learning together and collaborative grantmaking. The average grant size we’re moving to POC-led groups is almost double the amount we are moving to white-led organizations here in Atlanta.

To set up your grantmaking process on JustFund, contact and we can set up your fund up within 48 hours.