Community Foundation “takes a step forward” to fight racial inequalities and COVID-19


Sylvan Lebrun, collaborating photographer

Since the start of the new year, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has started implementing its $ 26 million “Stepping Forward” philanthropic initiative targeting the dual impact of racism and the pandemic.

Over the next three years, the Community Foundation plans to distribute $ 15 million of these funds to local nonprofits through reactive grants as part of the “Moving Forward” initiative. The remaining $ 11 million is used to establish three permanent, problem-focused endowments – the Basic Needs Fund, the Racial Equity Fund, and the Civic Engagement and Awareness Fund. In addition, the Community Foundation created two new grant programs to support BIPOC leaders in the arts and not-for-profit sectors.

“In 2020, we were reflecting on the impact of the pandemic and our response to it,” said Christina Ciociola, senior vice president of grants and strategy at the Community Foundation. “The pandemic has really brought racial disparities to light and exacerbated them in a very unfortunate way. We started to think differently about our work, about how we could be more deliberate in advancing racial equity and addressing the lasting impacts of COVID-19. “

When the pandemic began early last year, the Community Foundation had to refocus its efforts on immediate relief, by speeding up the distribution of its funds. Each year, the foundation typically allocates 5% of its endowment toward grant-making, according to Matthew Higbee, responsible for content and engagement for the Community Foundation. However, due to increased pandemic needs, annual grant resources for 2020 were exhausted in early June.

According to Community Foundation CEO William Ginsberg, he and other members of the foundation then realized that much more money was needed to effectively tackle the devastation caused by the pandemic.

In the summer of 2020, the foundation drew up plans to restructure its resources, focusing on the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on communities of color and the crisis the pandemic has created for the financial situation of many organizations across the country. non-profit.

“We basically targeted the unallocated endowment money, which we could then borrow against and repay that loan with those unrestricted funds over three years,” Higbee told The News.

The loan generated more than $ 11 million of the $ 26 million in additional funds, with the balance coming from other foundation assets and donor contributions. Stepping Forward was officially launched in early 2021.

The three permanent endowments created under Stepping Forward are in the process of forming advisory boards and accepting donations. The Basic Needs Fund will meet urgent community needs for health care, food and shelter. The Racial Equity Fund will support black leadership and advocacy in New Haven. Finally, the Civic Engagement and Awareness Fund will fund nonprofit journalism, like the New Haven Independent, and civic education.

In a typical year, the Community Foundation receives between 120 and 140 grant applications, of which it can only fund about half. Higbee told the News that this year, with the additional $ 15 million in the grant pool, they hope to accept a much larger portion of applicants, if not nearly all of them. Applications for the foundation’s existing small grants program opened on January 4, and grants began to flow as they went.

“We are looking for organizations that work to advance … what we call the social and structural determinants of equity, which include access to health, access to housing, civic awareness,” Ciociola told News .

As part of Stepping Forward, the Community Foundation has also established two new grant programs, which will fund specific community projects and individuals rather than organizations.

The “Racial Equity + Creative Healing Through the Arts” grant is in partnership with the New Haven Arts Council. It will focus on funding artists and arts organizations in projects that fight racism and support the collective healing of communities of color. Applications opened on February 1 and will be reviewed progressively by an external panel of artists, patrons and arts administrators.

The ‘BIPOC-Led Leadership Cohort’ grant is expected to be open for applications by mid-March and is intended to support people of color working in leadership positions in nonprofit organizations. It will include both a nine-month training program for those selected and a grant of $ 30,000 for each participant’s affiliate organization.

Through this project, the Community Foundation is also trying to keep itself at a higher level on issues of racial and economic prejudice in New Haven.

“Philanthropy has been criticized both as a symptom and as a cause of inequality,” Higbee said. “Our funds are there today because of wealth inequality, because people were able to amass enough wealth to create funds. Our endowment is now $ 600 million. And so there is a criticism that, why does this money stay there when there is all the need in the community?

In addition to increasing grant spending through Stepping Forward, the Community Foundation is also expanding its internal scholarship program to fight stigma. According to Ciociola, they are looking to hire at least one new member in a pipeline for a permanent role within the foundation. This fellow will focus specifically on “healing and reconciliation” within the foundation, researching the foundation’s history around issues of racial inequality and creating an action plan for the organization.

Patricia Melton, executive director of New Haven Promise, expressed her optimism about Stepping Forward. His organization offers college scholarships and academic support to young people in the region. They operated within the Community Foundation until 2016 and continue to receive significant funding from them.

“The Community Foundation has led with leadership and foresight, realizing that we will need more investment at this critical time to sustain and succeed so that we are stronger than ever as a nonprofit community,” said Melton to the News.

Melton told the News that she expects funding for New Haven Promise and similar organizations promoting equitable access to education and workforce opportunities to increase as part of Stepping Forward.

As part of Stepping Forward, the Community Foundation will continue to work with United Way of Greater New Haven on its joint COVID-19 community fund and plans to invest in small and minority-owned businesses through their Mission Investments Company. .

“We can’t do it on our own, and the philanthropic sector cannot do it on their own, and the nonprofit sector cannot do it on their own,” Ginsberg said. “It’s about government, grassroots organizations and individual leaders of color. These are the major institutions of the city, including [Yale] and the hospital. This is the business sector, the Chamber of Commerce. It’s about helping the community respond to COVID and seize the opportunity for greater racial equity. “

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven was established in 1928. It is the largest funder in New Haven and surrounding cities.

Sylvan lebrun | [email protected]

Correction, February 27: The loan used to help fund Stepping Forward generated over $ 11 million of the $ 26 million, but not all of the $ 26 million. Additionally, Higbee initially told The News that the Foundation’s endowment was valued at $ 600 million. Higbee later clarified that the number is actually over $ 720 million. The story has been updated.


Sylvan Lebrun reports on the town hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a second year student at Pauli Murray College majoring in English.


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