Jennifer M. Mason/shutterstock
Jennifer M. Mason/shutterstock

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.

Although COVID-19 situation is affecting every state across the nation, New York continues to be the place hardest hit by this virus, along with neighboring New Jersey and, to a lesser extent, Connecticut. The daily diagnosis and death numbers here are staggering and reflect population density, race disparities, and other factors. This is a region where serious emergency resources are needed and will be for a very long time. Fortunately, New York and the greater Tri-State region are among the most philanthropic places in the entire world and have more foundations, individual donors, and corporate givers than anywhere else. Many have been stepping up in this moment of crisis.

As part of our ongoing investigation of how funders are responding to the pandemic in different regions in U.S., today we take a look at philanthropy’s response to COVID-19 in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Community Foundations Take the Lead

Not surprisingly, one of the most significant COVID-19 responses in the state is coming from the New York Community Trust (NYCT). This leading community foundation launched the NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund on March 20 with 18 lead funders that pooled together $75 million. That fund has since grown to more than $95 million with the help of over 500 foundations, individuals and corporations. So far, more than 20 of those donors have given a million dollars or more. Major players involved include the Ford Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. A list of participating donors can be viewed here.

This funder collaborative hasn’t wasted any time, either. It has already awarded $44 million in grants and loans to 276 NYC-based nonprofits working in the areas of social services and arts and culture. Most of these grant recipients are small and mid-size nonprofits, with between $8,000 to $250,000 per grant and between $100,000 and $3 million per loan.

The Brooklyn Community Foundation also has an emergency relief fund, which as of April 13, had raised $1.8 million. In addition, it has committed $700,000 from its endowment. Explaining the focus of the fund’s grantmaking so far, CEO Cecilia Clarke wrote recently: “People of color make up almost 70% of Brooklyn’s population, with economic, social, and health inequities deeply rooted along racial lines. So from the start, we knew that our Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund would need to prioritize the impact on communities of color.”

It’s not just New York City that is struggling to contain COVID-19, as other parts of the Tri-State area are being hit hard as well. Westchester County, New York has some of the highest infection rates in the nation, especially early on in the spread of the virus in the community of New Rochelle. Meanwhile, the New Jersey counties of Hudson, Bergen, Passaic and Union have alarmingly high rates of confirmed positives just across the border from NYC.

In response to local needs, the Westchester Community Foundation (WCF) created a COVID-19 response fund and also is making grants thanks to a $1 million contribution by RXR Realty to the RXR Building Community Fund at WCF. Like others in the region, this fund is flexible, but it is only open to human services nonprofits at this time. An unnamed donor is matching contributions up to $1 million for the WCF fund. In late March, the Long Island Community Foundation announced the launch of its COVID-19 Long Island Philanthropic Response Fund.

In Connecticut, the Fairfield Community Foundation established a resiliency fund with seed funding from founding partners that include Bank of America, Diane and Andreas Halvorsen, the Ritter Family Foundation, NBC Sports Group and the Perrin Fund for Youth Voice. These and other founding partners have contributed at least $25,000 each to the fund, which is addresses issues in housing, employment, education and health, especially for immigrants, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations.

Urgent needs funding is underway beyond the city limits too, thanks to the Northern New York Community Foundation, Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region, Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan and other regional funders.

Other emergency response efforts in the greater Tri-State area include the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, hosted by the Community Foundation of New Jersey—a statewide effort that raised more than $20 million in donations within three weeks of its launch. Donors include major private and corporate foundations like the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Pfizer Foundation, as well as wealthy individuals in the state.

The Community Foundation of South Jersey, Northern New Jersey Community Foundation, and the Connecticut Community Foundation, and other community foundations in Connecticut have also mobilized to address the pandemic crisis.

Private Foundations

A long list of private foundations across the Tri-State area have taken actions in response to COVID-19. Many have contributed to emergency local relief funds and have also changed their grantmaking processes to better support their grantees. In addition, some have set aside funding for dedicated grantmaking for relief. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed $5 million for relief efforts in the funder’s home state of New Jersey. This is part of a larger foundation commitment of $50 million for broader national, tribal and local populations. Several foundations of living donors, most notably the Open Society Foundations, have also put up significant funds for local relief (see below.)

Among local health legacy foundations, the huge and relatively new Mother Cabrini Health Foundation recently opened up its online portal and is accepting letters of inquiry for its statewide grants program. This program is accepting proposals for COVID-19 related projects, and this comes after the foundation dedicated $50 million in funding specifically to support the needs of New Yorkers in the face of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the New York Foundation has compiled a useful list of resources from its grantee partner community and funder colleagues that links to emergency grant opportunities, grantee partners’ calls to action, and efforts outside the city in Greater New York State. The Robin Hood Foundation also provides a comprehensive list of community resources on its website, as well as the NYS Health Foundation.

The Role of Grantmakers Associations

Regional grantmakers’ associations in the Tri-State area are playing an important role in coordinating COVID-19 relief efforts among their members. Philanthropy New York, which is made up of around 300 grantmaking organizations, has been hosting weekly Zoom webinars and encouraging its members to share what steps they are doing to support grantees during this time.

A big theme that has emerged from this feedback is a stronger show of operational support that is paired with more technical assistance, better ongoing communication with grantees about their needs and rapid deployment of funds to reach the people most affected. An increasing number of New York funders are converting project-based grants to general operating grants, simplifying their application processes and offering more flexibility with disbursements and deadlines. Local funders are also starting to get involved in more advocacy efforts by leveraging relationships with state and city officials and supporting relief packages.

The Connecticut Council on Philanthropy manages a hub of information for funders and nonprofits about COVID-19 funding efforts and related grantmaking practices, as well as hosting check-in calls with its members. The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers has created a similar resource, including tracking data of giving in response to the pandemic.

Women’s Philanthropy Response

Women’s philanthropy groups are also stepping up to address COVID-19. The New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) created the 2020 Resilience NYC: COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund and invited current and past grantee partners to apply for six-month grants up to $25,000. This is important because COVID-19 has worsened the vulnerability of the most marginalized low-income women, girls, and communities of color and created disproportionate effects on these populations’ health and safety.

With so many emerging women’s philanthropy groups and giving circles across the country these days, NYWF’s efforts are serving as a model for how to take a very targeted approach to grantmaking and shift it based on urgent needs. NYWF’s relief effort priorities are Chinese and East Asian communities, LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, undocumented immigrants, gender-based violence survivors, older adults, incarcerated people, small business owners and single women heads of households.

In Connecticut, the Women’s Giving Circle Rapid Response Fund to COVID-19 at the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation is focused on relief in the Greater Hartford area. It’s offering grants focused on needs such as food insecurity, shelter, childcare, health and safety and educational loss “caused by COVID-19 as they particularly impact women and girls.”

Local Corporate Support

Since there are so many major corporations headquartered in New York City in the Tri-State area, it’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of corporate foundation giving for COVID-19. A great many companies have contributed to local emergency funds in the region and some other engaged in additional local grantmaking. MetLife recently provided $1 million in grants to New York City-based nonprofits through its foundation, which is part of a bigger $25 million commitment to the global COVID-19 response. Other recent corporate efforts that at least partially address the needs in New York include the Allergan Foundation’s $2 million commitment, the Coca-Cola Foundation’s $2 million commitment and Tiffany & Co. Foundation’s $1 million commitment. As we’ve reported, most major banks have also rolled out efforts in response to COVID-19, with some of this funding focused on New York and the Tri-State region.

Matching gifts continue to be a primary funding vehicle by which corporation givers provide pandemic-related support while encouraging broader community giving.

Individual Donors Step Up

New York and the Tri-State area is also home to many individual living donors who might not necessarily have well-established local grantmaking programs set up but who come out of the woodwork in times of crisis.

The Ford Foundation is overseeing an emergency relief effort that will channel $20 million to restaurant workers in New York City. The funds are being contributed by an anonymous donor; Ford is paying program and administration costs to get money out the door.

Salesforce founder Marc Benioff is a Silicon Valley leader in the relief effort but has also been working to source more personal protective equipment in New York. George Soros has directed $130 million in funding through his Open Society Foundations, which includes $37 million in relief for New York City. Meanwhile, billionaires Michael Bloomberg, Jon Stryker and Ken Griffin have all donated to the New York Community Trust’s COVID-19 fund to support local NYC nonprofits, along with other individual donors just as Laurie Tisch and Jennifer and Jonathan Soros. Popular television host Ryan Seacrest has given $1 million to aid relief efforts in NYC and Los Angeles.

The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund has received significant gifts Ray Chambers, Laura and John Overdeck and David Tepper’s Foundation. Barbara and Ray Dalio and their Dalio Philanthropies have also kept their focus local on their home state of Connecticut and announced a $4 million commitment to assist statewide hospital workers and immediate food needs.

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