FY21 presented its fair share of challenges, but it also offered opportunities to collaborate for the good of our communities. Despite COVID-19’s impact on the rhythms of their personal and professional lives, our grantmaking team rallied and continued to steward partnerships with new and existing grantees. This culminated in a banner year of philanthropy, with the Foundation evaluating over 400 grants and releasing more than $31 million in support.
We asked our staff to share their thoughts on the unparalleled circumstances that continue to impact the way we approach giving. This first installment of the two-part series features reflections from Senior Advisor Michael Tarwater, Senior Program Associate Gina Ringelberg, and Program Associate Dianna Beaty (as seen in order of appearance below).
TLLF: How did the pandemic change the nature of your work?
Michael: One obvious change required by public health mandates and common sense was the discontinuation of in-person meetings. While we all love to go out and visit with our partners from time to time, we were simply unable to do so. Having video conferencing capabilities was critical. It allowed us to stay in touch with leaders in the community, our long-time grant recipients, and organizations new to us with relative ease.
I wouldn’t say it was ideal, but it was the next best thing. At least we could see smiles without the masks, even if it was over a virtual connection. Now the technology is woven into the fabric of everyday life at work (and home), not as a substitute for in-person interaction but as an additional tool to supplement our communication ability.
TLLF: What changes to your review process, if any, will you continue implementing moving forward?
Gina: I have more consciously postured myself to learn from our Grantees, recognizing that the organizations are experts in their field, and I should be taking advantage of every opportunity to be educated by these thought leaders. This has been particularly important for our expansion areas where there is still so much to learn. Each community is unique, and each conversation helps build my knowledge base on the continuum and community priorities/initiatives, which in turn makes me a more informed grantmaker.
It also has better positioned me to facilitate introductions between agencies that are doing similar work and could benefit from connecting and sharing information. I believe that this work is becoming more collaborative and private philanthropy has a role to play as a convener.
“I believe that this work is becoming more collaborative and private philanthropy has a role to play as a convener.” -GR
TLLF: What are you proudest of when you consider the past year’s impact on your mission area/grantees?
Gina: There are so many amazing agencies that have stepped up in a big way to help the community get through these tough times – running towards the problem when so many others had to shutter. I am truly in awe of the creativity our Grantees have deployed to keep their doors open, doing whatever it takes to reach our most vulnerable neighbors. I get really excited when I am reading the news or listening to NPR and one our Grantees is spotlighted for the work they’re doing and the impact they’re making.
As an example, just this morning, Camino was commended for its work in vaccinating the Latinx population in the Charlotte area – a community that has doubled its vaccination rate but is still vastly under-vaccinated (find the full story here). COVID seems to have increased the community awareness of many of our partners and the nonprofit sector is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves for the role it plays in addressing a host of community needs.
“COVID seems to have increased the community awareness of many of our partners and the nonprofit sector is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves for the role it plays in addressing a host of community needs.” -GR
Nonprofits are oftentimes leading the charge and deserve a seat at every table where community decisions are being made. It makes me proud that TLLF partners with such a range of organizations and enables them to fulfill their mission. Knowing that I have played a small part in this makes this work very fulfilling.
TLLF: What is something you learned during these COVID-19 grantmaking cycles that will stay with you?
Dianna: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” I heard this phrase many times while talking with partners over the past year – and it was encouraging to hear that optimism in light of an extremely tough year. Nonprofits were innovative in approaches to pivoting to virtual operations, fundraising online, etc. while dealing with increased community needs in many cases. Many of our partners, across all mission areas, used COVID as an opportunity to do things they weren’t able to before, which was truly amazing to witness.
“Many of our partners, across all mission areas, used COVID as an opportunity to do things they weren’t able to before, which was truly amazing to witness.” -DB
TLLF: What surprised you most in watching our community respond to COVID-19?
Dianna: In Charlotte, an incredible $23.5M was raised to establish the COVID-19 Response Fund, which helped thousands of our neighbors in need. It represents who we are as a community, and it makes me proud to be a part of it. Many communities that we serve created similar funds and it was amazing and inspiring to see how people came together to support one another and nonprofits.
To learn more about The Leon Levine Foundation, click here.
To read our tips for nonprofit crisis management, click here.