Coronavirus pandemic spurring collaboration among Atlanta’s nonprofits
By Maria Saporta
The COVID-19 crisis has had at least one positive impact in Atlanta – an unprecedented level of cooperation among local nonprofits.
The best example is the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta. The two regional organizations created the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund in mid-March – and it quickly has emerged as a clearinghouse for giving to organizations in need.
But it’s not alone.
Around the same time, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta launched its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support organizations serving those affected by the global pandemic in metro Atlanta.
It quickly convened a coalition of Jewish organizations to launch one emergency response fund so they wouldn’t be competing against each other.
Such partnerships have formed all over town – whether it’s to provide food to those with food insecurities, support urban and rural funders, provide medical supplies to healthcare institutions, to help restaurant and hospitality workers or to address a myriad of social needs that have become more severe because of the Coronavirus and the disruption in our local economy.
“When an emergency presents itself, there is always the question of how we come together to respond,” said Bill Bolling, a nonprofit leader in Atlanta for four decades. “The Atlanta regional community of investors, providers, advocates and data collectors can feel proud of how we are coming together to work collaboratively in a way that we have never seen before.”
In several interviews with local nonprofit leaders, a common theme was how relationships that have been forged in recent years have been instrumental to the cooperation we are now witnessing.
On Wednesday, March 11, Atlanta United Way CEO Milton Little reached out to Alicia Philipp, CEO of the Atlanta Community Foundation who was spending time in Portugal with family, to explore how the two organizations should respond.
They quickly agreed that “whatever we do, we need to do it together.”
In less than a week, the Response and Recovery Fund was launched with a $1 million grant from the Community Foundation and $500,000 from United Way. It quickly became a vehicle for other foundations, individuals and corporations that wanted to chip in.
Among the first – the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which each gave $5 million to the Fund.
As of Thursday, the Fund had distributed $8.7 million in grants to dozens of nonprofits. It also has approved another $900,000 in grants, that will be announced early next week.
“I knew the community needed a unified response,” said Lita Ugarte Pardi, interim vice president of community for the Community Foundation. “We agreed this was something we ought to do. In normal times, we would not have gotten this far this quickly. The community needed us to respond this quickly.”
Pardi said that in addition to funds it has given away, it has $9.6 million left to award.
Among the other contributors have been the City of Atlanta, the Truist Foundation, the Goizueta Foundation, the Klump Family Foundation (each contributing $1 million each.
Wells Fargo and Global Payments each contributed $250,000, and the Sara Giles Moore Foundation contributed $100,000. The Primerica Foundation contributed $50,000. Several others have contributed $25,000 to the Fund.
“There is a community expectation that both our organizations were going to do something,” Little said. “I think the fact that the two of us did it together was exciting for our funders, our individual donors and our agencies.”
Little said they were able to put it together so quickly because of the relationship he had forged with Philipp in the 12 years he’s been at United Way.
“It’s easier if you have a history, a personal relationship,” Little said. “Traditionally these collaborations just don’t happen so quickly. It’s a lot about trust. We have a track record of getting things done.”
Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Federation, had a similar story about the convening of the many different partners in the Jewish community.
“It could have gone either way,” Robbins said of the collaboration. “We quickly convened and came together. We’ve spent the last few years building trust in the community, and that has really paid off. Donors are giving serious gifts to this fund.”
The Federation has been able to raise nearly $3 million, and it also has awarded $800,000. Also, the Atlanta Jewish Foundation has award another $3 million to organizations in need.
And these collaborations are only a few examples of the grassroots response from organizations.
“These partnerships have popped up all around metro Atlanta,” Little said. “To do something collaboratively sounds easy, but there are all sorts of things that can get in the way.”
A crisis can galvanize a community.
“This is clearly unprecedented,” said Jenna Kelly, Truist’s North Georgia regional president. “It really does warm your heart to see the community coming together.”
Bolling put it another way, saying: “In the long run, the key to our collective success in responding to the challenge will be the trust we have in each other built on years of relationship building, collaboration, and never worrying about who gets the credit.”
All the nonprofit leaders, however, said this is just the first phase. After the emergency has decreased, there will be a need for ongoing support to help nonprofits that have been uprooted because of the epidemic.
“In this crisis, I have a lot of hope for our community,” Pardi said. “My hope is that these issues that we are shining a light on, which are not new issues, that we are rallying and lifting the community. My hope is that this won’t end when this crisis ends.”