Stepping Up

Stepping Up

To my community foundation colleagues, 

On February 27, my mother passed away after living with dementia for more than 15 years. Thankfully, my siblings and I were able to be by her side almost continuously for her last week. It was a deeply moving experience — the ultimate expression of love for someone who stood by me through every stage of life — and it provided me with great solace.

I am sobered by the thought that so many families now are enduring similar losses without having the same opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones in person. Navigating through this COVID-19 pandemic and its necessary quarantines can be particularly painful, disorienting, and emotionally exhausting to caregivers as well as those requiring our care.

Managing in the Crisis

As community foundation leaders, you, like all of us, are experiencing an emotional toll caused by COVID-19. It is a frightening time for everyone, and our collective mental health is strained. At the same time, you are managing enormous new demands on your organizations:

  • You are adjusting to working from home, redefining work-life balance, and supporting your office to work from home as well. 
  • You are working to ensure your colleagues have the equipment they need and the flexibility required as schools close and businesses shutter. 
  • You are rethinking your HR and sick leave policies, recognizing the reality that one or more of your staff could fall ill and need time off. 
  • You are developing contingency budgets and work plans while monitoring the volatile stock market. 
  • And you are managing the fear and the uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. 

All of these operational issues are extremely challenging on their own, but you are also assessing how to be helpful to your community under these rapidly changing circumstances. Community needs have suddenly skyrocketed, not-for-profits are facing unprecedented stress, businesses are laying off workers at a rate unseen before, and the public sector is addressing a public health crisis that is evolving minute-by-minute.


In these extraordinary times, community foundations must step up. Our communities, our country, need you to bring everything you have to this challenge.

The Critical Role of Community Foundations 

In these extraordinary times, community foundations must step up. Our communities, our country, need you to bring everything you have to this challenge — and you’ve already started. Tracking from Candid and Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative shows that hundreds of you have created COVID-19 response funds, often in partnership with other funders. The grants you are making in your communities are a critically important first step, and charities on the front line of this work —  as well as other not-for-profits experiencing devastating losses to revenues and programs — need you to be flexible, supportive and fast. The Council on Foundations’ pledge of action lays out important recommendations for supporting your non-profit partners, and we are encouraged that so many community foundations have already signed on.  

But we must recognize that community foundation and private foundation resources, while necessary, are insufficient for this time. The frayed parts of the social fabric and weaker parts of economic infrastructure are being exposed, both in our communities and in our country. The size and scope of this challenge are going to take a completely new rethinking of our systems and policies, and you need to be a part of that conversation.

Now is the time for community foundations to be community leaders, and you are perfectly positioned to do this work: 

  • You already have relationships with local leaders – both those in traditional positions of power like public officials and those who don’t have titles after their names but know the aspirations and needs of their neighbors well. 
  • You are fundamentally committed and organized to support broad community betterment. 
  • You are in it for the long haul, thanks to your permanent endowments. Those endowments certainly have been on a roller coaster in recent weeks, but they will survive and they allow you to take the long view. 
  • You are public charities, which gives you more flexibility than private funders to shape the policies of the public sector. 

Community foundations are uniquely privileged institutions in the civic landscape, with the opportunity to come to the table as community problem-solvers and as clear and powerful voices on behalf of the most vulnerable.

You are known best for your financial assets, but you also have a wealth of knowledgeable, talented and enthusiastic staff members, donors and others eager to step up and contribute to the COVID-19 response. Their enthusiasm and passion for your community will supercharge your work in this difficult time.

Community foundations are uniquely privileged institutions in the civic landscape, with the opportunity to come to the table as community problem-solvers and as clear and powerful voices on behalf of the most vulnerable. Public officials are rapidly making enormous decisions that affect everyone in your community. You need to be there to help ensure that they have good information, reliable resources and the right voices at the table to guide their decision-making. At the same time, humility and an ability to listen are critical to navigating uncertainty. Embracing this role is needed now, as we fight through the peak of this crisis, and also in the months and years to come as we begin to recover and rebuild.

I hope you take some comfort in knowing that you are far from alone. Community foundations across the globe are facing similar circumstances and are stepping up to address this pandemic. This means the power of peer learning in the community foundation field has the potential to be greater now than ever before.  

Working Together

CFLeads is here to help.  As your national network of community foundations, we are:  

  • Hosting weekly Community Connection in Times of Crisis webinars to provide a space for community foundation leaders to come together and share their COVID-19 responses from a community leadership perspective and to connect each other to resources.  
  • Adjusting our once-in-a-decade Igniting the Future of Community Foundations project to acknowledge the unique time we are in and the long-term effects this pandemic will have for our country and our field. 
  • Checking in on community foundations across the country to hear about your plans, needs and aspirations and to determine how we can help.
  • Creating virtual alumni groups for those who have participated in our Executive Leadership Institute to provide CEOs and VPs a chance to connect with their peers and discuss challenges, struggles and solutions in a small group setting. 
  • Connecting with community foundations from around the world to hear how they are coping, responding and acting and to learn from the experience of others beyond our borders.

While our in-person programming may now be virtual, we will continue to create spaces for you to connect and learn from each other, while also keeping our ear to the ground and listening to what the field needs most in these demanding times.

More than ever before, as a network of community foundations, we are going to need to rely on each other, learn from each other, see what is working and run with it. There may be no playbook for a time we are in now but there is plenty of experience, know-how and innovation in our field. We must be there for our communities. We will certainly be better together.

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