When the pandemic first hit back in March of 2020, the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley was quick to react.
They sprang into action creating the Mahoning Valley Community Response Fund. The purpose: to make financial assistance immediately available to members of the community who were most in need.
As we all know, 2020 was a challenging year on multiple fronts. The Foundation’s annual report outlines some of the great work that was accomplished and outlines the direction staff expect to take in the year to come.
Three major highlights stand out:
Taking a more collaborative approach to grant-making
Last year the Foundation changed the way things have traditionally been done. Rather than separate grants, applications and cycles for each fund and funding source underneath their umbrella, in 2020 they decided to pool collective resources. “We did away with our traditional grant-making cycles and everybody shifted to being more responsive around the needs of Covid and the more immediate needs of the communities,” explains Shari Harrell, President.
They continue to do grant-making on a more frequent and regular basis, leveraging dollars from all of their sources together. This allows each individual dollar to go further and to get out faster, which is a big shift in the way things have typically been done.
“The other thing we did immediately was to create the Mahoning Valley Community Response Fund. That fund was built with contributions from local civic groups, corporations, individuals and foundations. We were able to raise over $780,000 right when everything hit the fan last year and we've granted over $500,000 of that back out to the community as part of that collaborative grant-making process,” she says.
There were some other changes as well. The Foundation worked with The Raymond John Wean Foundation and The Youngstown Foundation in a different way last year. Together, the three created a common application called the COVID-19 Response and Stabilization Application. Requests were reviewed jointly, again in the hopes of better leveraging dollars. Through the end of 2020, the three foundations together invested more than $2.4 million spread across 150 grants—a significant amount indeed.
Building racial equity
Prior to Covid, the Foundation had begun to do some work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. “We really started to think about how we as a foundation sometimes contribute to problems and the opportunities we have to change the way things work. Of course, that all became accelerated at an escalated rate in 2020 with the atrocities that we all witnessed, one piling on top of the other,” says Harrell. “So we really have lifted up racial equity as a focus in our work. We know that philanthropy is one of those systems or institutions that perpetuates problems, contributes to the issues, and so we're working really hard to figure out how to disrupt that.”
To start, they’re looking within. By closely examining the Foundation itself—including what they do and how they do it—they’ll apply lessons learned to how charities are identified and supported, the way resources are managed, to connect diverse groups for the benefit of the community, and how they approach their grant-making process.
“We’ve contracted with the consultants ThirdSpace Action Lab out of Cleveland to work with us doing a racial equity assessment, really helping us analyze all our internal operations and systems. They’ll identify gaps, problems, opportunities, strengths and we’ll be integrating that into an updated strategic plan as we move forward this year,” says Harrell.
Continuing the success of the Healthy Community Partnership
The Foundation is proud that the Healthy Community Partnership is still going strong. Even though 2020 meant the usual face-to-face and boots-on-the-ground kind of work was disrupted, partners and members continued to work effectively virtually.
Healthy Community Partnership leadership finalized and adopted what they call Bold Goals to guide the Partnership in its work to improve health, wellbeing and health equity in the Valley. They added Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley as a funding partner in 2020, and the members continued project collaboration despite the challenges.
For instance, the Partnership worked with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and Help Network of Northeast Ohio to develop the Mahoning Valley Food Access Resource Map (MV FARM). Laying out the local food pantries and grocery stores, the MV FARM proved to be an important tool as food insecurity tops the list of negative impacts of the pandemic.
“They’ve really done a good job learning together and building value in this kind of cross-sector collaboration. They’ve really been able to lean on one another through this time,” says Harrell.
The president is particularly proud of the team at the Foundation: the staff, committee members and the board of directors. “Everybody made a personal commitment to be there, to do what needed to be done, to provide flexibility for us to work remotely. The board gave staff more authority to get grants out the door quicker. It was an all-hands-on-deck approach, as we came up with a new way of doing grant-making,” she says.
For everyone, adjusting to the remote work environment took time and energy. Technology had to be figured out. Everyone responded and adapted and worked extremely hard. Says Harrell, “I think that’s probably true for many organizations, but this group has done a particularly good job.”
The Foundation partners with more than 140 individuals, families, businesses and non-profits who together create charitable funds that benefit the Mahoning Valley. This family of funds and donors has given more than $32 million to hundreds of local charitable and educational institutions since 2000. With their three supporting organizations, they are stewards of $85 million.
For more information, visit the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.