Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of posts that look at the response of funders in different regions of the U.S. to the coronavirus pandemic.

Compared to elsewhere in the country, some southern states and jurisdictions were slower to issue shelter-in-place orders and resistant to closing local businesses as COVID-19 emerged as a threat last month. Now, there are growing moves across the region to loosen restrictions, with Georgia’s governor allowing many businesses to reopen this week—a move that’s been strongly criticized by public health experts and some mayors in the state.

But while opinions vastly differ and tensions run high in the region, philanthropic foundations, individual donors and corporations with local connections are stepping up to help the people most affected by the virus. The Southeastern Council on Foundations (SECF) has been a key player in this action, with a dedicated page on its website about the various rapid response funds, resources for foundations and opportunities for funders to get involved. A few weeks ago, over 150 SECF members gathered online for a virtual town hall meeting to learn more about the pandemic-related work being done in the region and how they can help.

It’s All About Collaboration

Powered by historic wealth creation, philanthropy in the Southeast has boomed in recent years, as we’ve often reported. New funders have arrived on the scene while long-time players have stepped up their grantmaking. And here, as in other parts of the country, foundations have been moving towards collaborative strategies for quite some time. Now all this work is paying off as the region faces a profound emergency. We are seeing unprecedented collaborations in the response to COVID-19, not only among grantmakers but also efforts that aim to put foundations, public officials, nonprofits, business, and the media on the same page in mounting an effective response to a crisis that threatens both health and livelihoods at the same time.

Janine Lee, President and CEO of SECF said that cooperation and collaboration have been the hallmarks of the Southeast’s philanthropic response to this pandemic. Lee told Inside Philanthropy about some of the specific efforts that are representative of the work that is happening all over the region.

In Kentucky, she pointed to the One Louisville Fund, which was quickly launched through a partnership between the mayor, the Community Foundation of Louisville, the James Graham Brown Foundation and Humana, the giant health insurance company which is headquartered in the city. That effort has now raised more than $4 million. Lee also spotlighted the One SC Fund, which was created in 2015 and is now focused on COVID-19 relief, “supporting those affected all over South Carolina,” according to Lee. The key players in this effort are the South Carolina Grantmakers Network, Together SC, the United Way and the Central Carolina Community Foundation. Lee said that the critical work of the One SC Fund “would have not happened without years of connecting and community-building by Southern foundations and SECF. It is inspiring to see Southern philanthropy come together when our people and our communities need it the most.”

A Growing Number of Rapid Relief Funds

As we’ve been seeing across the U.S., community foundations are really leading philanthropy’s charge against COVID-19 in the Southeast. Dozens of foundations in the region have created rapid relief funds with the support of local private foundations.

For example, the Blue Grass Community Foundation in Kentucky, Community Foundation for Mississippi and the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama all have their own relief funds set up. In Florida, there’s the Coronavirus: Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund, Southwest Florida Emergency Relief Fund and the Miami Foundation’s Community Recovery Fund. Georgia has the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and funds set up by the community foundation in South Georgia, Central Georgia and Coastal Georgia. Efforts in the Carolinas include partnership funds at the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and the Foundation for the Carolinas that have gotten big commitments from private foundations and corporations. The West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation and East Tennessee Foundation have set up funds in their home state. Meanwhile, the Community Foundation of North Louisiana and the Greater New Orleans Foundation are active in Louisiana, and the Arkansas Community Foundation is leading the way in Arkansas.

Overall, the big focus of these funds is on nonprofit efforts that address the needs of marginalized populations who are most at risk from the pandemic. In Georgia alone, a million people have filed for unemployment in the past month. Many other workers, including undocumented immigrants and gig workers, have also been devastated but aren’t showing up in the official data. With food banks swamped and vast numbers of people unable to pay rent or meet mortgage payments, funders are scrambling to meet emergency needs. Meanwhile, other relief funds are more targeted and support specific areas, such as the arts.

Across all these various states of the Southeast, the goal of philanthropy’s emergency response is largely the same: to provide critical help to local nonprofits whose immediate services and long-term recovery are being affected by COVID-19. View a list of current rapid response funds here.

Contributions from Private Foundations

Through contributions to community foundation funds, big money has been flowing from private foundations in the Southeast. However, almost all of these private donations are being filtered through community and health foundations rather than being awarded directly by the private funders themselves.

Private foundations, like the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, are addressing COVID-19 by joining the various community foundation efforts and really amplifying the funds’ giving power. This particular Atlanta-based funder contributed $5 million to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, $1 million of which went to a collaborative fund that has already distributed at least $8.7 million to 44 organizations.

Another one of the biggest regional commitments so far has come from the Duke Endowment, which recently awarded $2.5 million for COVID-19 relief in the Carolinas. A portion of the money is being disbursed through the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation and another portion through the Central Carolina Community Foundation’s One SC Fund. The Duke Energy Foundation and the Charlotte Hornets Foundation recently gave donations to the Central Carolinas Foundation and the local United Way chapter to disburse grants through a collaborative COVID-19 fund. Another example is the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation that teamed up with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to launch a COVID-19 response initiative to address the needs of Sarasota, Florida-based groups. In South Carolina, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation took the unprecedented step of doubling its payout of grants to better support its current grantees in this moment of overwhelming needs. It sent each of them a $10,000 grant to be each used in any way they want, with no proposals or reporting requirements attached. Many other foundations across the region have signed on to a pledge to loosen restrictions on grants and take other steps to bolster nonprofits in jeopardy.

The Role of Health Legacy Foundations

Over the last couple decades, the Southeast has emerged as a philanthropic hot spot for health legacy foundations that have been created upon the sale of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit entities. Given the nature of our current crisis, it’s not surprising to see these types of funders taking on a major role in COVID-19 relief.

For example, the relatively new Dogwood Health Trust has partnered with the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina to provide relief in 18 local counties. These funders are awarding some proactive grants and also using a simple, expedited process for nonprofits to access funds on a rolling basis. The Cone Health Foundation has been working with a day center for the homeless to find safe places to stay for people recently released from the hospital and with serious health problems. Also, a $2.1 million commitment recently came from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation to address critical short-term needs like food and shelter, as well as long-term needs like care navigation and economic recovery in Louisiana.

Individual Donors Are Stepping Up, Too

However, community foundations are not the only ones getting involved in COVID-19 relief efforts in the Southeast. We have been seeing an increasing number of individual donors and couples emerge to support nonprofits in their area that are on the front lines. While solid data is hard to come by, there are reports of a huge surge in gifts across the U.S. from donor-advised funds in response to COVID-19. As we’ve reported, DAFs providers in the Southeast have seen huge growth in recent years and we’ll be interested to see how much of this money is now being tapped by donors during this emergency to support local nonprofits.

Prominent local philanthropists have also made moves. For example, David and Melanie Couchman have been raising money through Sandy Springs Together, an affordable housing advocacy group, and the Couchman Noble Foundation to provide funds for emergency food and living expenses in Georgia.

The Couchman couple is matching donations made to the Community Assistance Center, which is a strategy that is catching on among many local donors. Another example is in Palm Beach, Florida, where resident couples Sally and Bill Soter and Susan and Bob Wright announced matching gifts of $25,000 each to help Palm Beach County residents cope with the effects of COVID-19. Sherry and Tom Barrat, Julie and Peter Cummings and Susan and Peter Brockway are other local couples who have been supporting Palm Beach recovery through donations to their local community foundation’s response fund. We could cite many other examples.

Corporations Are Getting Creative

The long list of companies with local connections in the Southeast that have joined COVID-19 response funds include the Coca-Cola Company, Global Payments and Wells Fargo. With strong ties to the city of Atlanta, these companies have contributed to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

Yet not all corporate support is coming in the form of monetary grants, especially as company operations become idled and employees out of work. In Alabama, for example, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing is coordinating a donation of COVID-19 tests to be used in Montgomery and the surrounding counties in collaboration with the Montgomery’s mayor. Also with ties to the automotive industry, Toyota’s Huntsville, Alabama plant has been producing safety glasses and protective face shields for local hospitals, in addition to its $25,000 donation to the United Way of Madison County for COVID-19 relief.

A Focus on Equity

A key trait of philanthropy’s response across the region to COVID-19, said Janine Lee at SECF, has been an almost instinctual focus on equity from the very beginning. This is significant because the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many longstanding inequities in the region. Data shows that it’s affected African Americans, immigrants and low-wealth individuals the most.

“We have already seen that the disease itself is hitting black communities especially hard due to inequities relating to health, wealth and access to affordable care,” Lee said. “The economic impacts have disproportionately affected jobs in the service sector and low-wage earners. The philanthropic work we are seeing, however, has recognized this from the start. Foundations have quickly identified nonprofit partners that work in these communities and are giving them the support they need. Philanthropy alone does not have the resources to address a crisis of this magnitude, but through our work and leadership we can help draw more support to where it’s most needed.”

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg has committed to using an equity lens to its approach, and the Robins Foundation launched a Family Crisis Fund with the City of Richmond to mitigate the impact on the area’s most vulnerable children and families. Also noteworthy, the Southern Education Foundation published a document titled “Digital Learning During COVID-19: 7 Equity Considerations for Schools and Districts” and issued a statement urging policymakers to keep equity in mind when making decisions affecting local schools

Another trend that Lee at SECF pointed out is innovation because this crisis has required foundations to get creative, and to do so quickly. The SECF team has seen foundations completely change their approaches to grantmaking, increase payouts and eliminate reporting requirements for nonprofits working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

“In Richmond, the Robins Foundation quickly established a partnership that allowed them to provide money directly to vulnerable families so that they could pay rent and keep food on the table,” Lee said. “In Hilton Head, the Watterson Family Foundation has worked with the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry to establish a voucher program that helps small businesses, their employees and families facing food insecurity all at once. These are only two examples of the many ways foundations are setting aside the normal way of doing things so they can respond effectively.”

As the philanthropic sector continues to respond to COVID-19 in the Southeast, we will continue to follow these local relief efforts and funding trends in the region. Keep up with Southeast funding news and learn more about who’s giving locally in the region right here at IP.

Share with cohorts