After three years of closely collaborating with our nonprofit partners, we reflect on lessons learned and the importance of flexible funding for nonprofits and the people they serve. Given the current crisis with COVID-19, flexible and direct funding to those most impacted is needed now more than ever. The following was written prior to our current public knowledge of this crisis; however, we find that the reflections of our partners — which urge us to center and support our most vulnerable populations — remain true, and surface now as even more imperative.
We recognize the incredible privilege of asking individuals to share their stories with us. By listening to those most impacted by trauma, systemic inequities and economic injustice, we learned the importance of engaging with, listening to, and investing more meaningfully in our grantees in order to meet needs that were often overlooked or neglected.
In light of the Foundation’s sunset, several of our partners have come together to share what this partnership has meant to their organizations. More importantly, they highlight what this partnership has meant to the people they serve, and what others considering the creation of these types of partnerships might find helpful to know:
The people we serve are courageous, resilient and resourceful, yet they face many challenges that make financial crises more likely, more harmful, and more difficult to remedy or reverse. Many of us work with survivors of trauma, whether recent or in the past, which has both immediate and long term impacts on safety, health, employment, education, and many other factors that contribute to economic instability. People with insecure immigration statuses face multiple barriers to accessing resources due to fear of seeking help, as well as eligibility restrictions. Profiling due to race, particularly against single mothers and those whose first language is not English, is pervasive, and general stereotypes and assumptions about what causes unemployment, poverty, and homelessness persist.
Cash assistance programs (such as DTA) often restrict people from building any meaningful savings/assets, and programs that aid in housing security (such as RAFT) often require eviction notices before any assistance can be made. Insufficient help and assistance that requires displacement, often lead to unstable work and housing histories, legal and credit issues. This can then result in an inability to obtain necessary references from employers or landlords, or failed credit checks when seeking new, often limited, housing opportunities. Predatory lending practices, particularly within affordable housing searches, continue to target the most vulnerable, which further compounds this vicious cycle.
Letters Foundation grants were effective because they were 1) flexible to meet many types of needs (rent, utilities, medical bills, moving expenses, transportation, childcare, furniture, job training classes, and more), and 2) tailored to the person and the need. Each amount awarded was meaningful, because our constituents could honestly share what their needs were, and how specific financial support could help them avert or rebound from the financial crisis they were facing. These grants gave people some security and stability to allow them to focus on their futures, while allowing the services at our organizations to have a deeper and broader impact.
We believe several factors contributed to the success of the Community Partners Program. Letters Foundation was transparent about their goals in piloting the program, as well as their expectations of partners. Quarterly convenings were facilitated to maximize open and authentic dialogue, which created space for partners to voice their feedback and concerns. Mutual respect led to mutual trust, which resulted in the creation and co-design of a new grantmaking process for our constituents that was streamlined for staff, dignified for applicants, and effective overall. Events hosted by Letters Foundation also provided opportunities for our organizations to connect and network with each other, breaking down silos that are common in the nonprofit sector [silos perpetuated by the scarcity of and competition for support funding.]
The Community Partners Program highlighted the importance of building strong relationships. It has also demonstrated that flexibility in funding does not compromise, but rather amplifies, the integrity and the impact of giving, especially when the amount of assistance is determined in partnership with the person seeking assistance.
We must all work together to remove barriers to access for families seeking basic needs, and recognize that financial emergencies for people experiencing chronic poverty are rooted in systemic failures, not individual decision-making. We call on the funding, government, and nonprofit communities to proactively work together to create more sustainable funding streams for nonprofits, and more equitable policies for communities of color, low-income communities, and trauma survivors. Our partnership effort with Letters Foundation remains an important lesson in the power of collaborating across sectors.
Contributing authors represent the following four Community Partner organizations:
Tania Shabazz and Nadav David of Compass Working Capital; Karsten Cash of One Family, Inc.; Clare Namugga and Rebecca Britton-Anastas of Boston Area Rape Crisis Center; Joanne Timmons of Boston Medical Center’s Domestic Violence Program.
We urge you to take heed of this call to action in any or all of the following ways:
- Learn more about, and consider supporting, our participating Community Partners. A full list of all partner organizations, as well as more information about our Community Partners Program, can be found here.
- Get to know the Boston BullPen Project (BBP) and their nonprofit partners. BBP established a similar partnership model with nonprofits in Greater Boston. Their mission is to serve as the bridge that connects crisis and solution. They intend to mitigate in the short term and allow those in crisis to get back on their feet by providing necessary capital to address a particular need within a 24-48 hour period. The feedback BBP received over the years has provided their team with motivation as they aspire to directly support members of our greater community.
- Visit Philanthropy MA’s website to find a comprehensive list of Response and Relief Resources and Funds for those most acutely affected by COVID-19 across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- Find a state-by-state list of emergency relief funds here. All funds were established in the wake of COVID-19 hosted at U.S.-based foundations that serve nonprofits.