In March 2020, when South Carolina schools and non-essential businesses shut down due to COVID-19, charitable organizations were also faced with daily decisions about how to move forward in a pandemic. Fortunately, Greenville County nonprofits and the grant makers who provide much of their funding each had an alliance that allowed them to navigate together the uncharted territory. Nonprofit leaders say coordination between those two groups improved their response to community needs, benefitting the populations they serve.
The members of Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy — public and private foundations and corporate sponsors — traditionally disburse funds following lengthy grant application and approval cycles. But that model was not well-suited to meet the pressing needs caused by COVID-19. So they changed, contributing millions of dollars to United Way of Greenville County’s COVID Relief Fund and directly to nonprofits.
“In some communities there’s rivalry between funders but here it was quickly pulled together in a coordinated effort,” says GPP facilitator Katy Smith. “Members also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan funding through CommunityWorks Carolina. This provided loan guarantees that helped many small businesses, including many owned by women and people of color, to withstand the storm.”
GPP joined together with Nonprofit Alliance to provide a series of webinars for members of both groups. Topics included how to apply for Paycheck Protection Program funding and ways to support employees. Experts covered planning in times of uncertainty and offered coaching sessions with a nonprofit consultant and a local accounting firm. The goal, says Catherine Puckett, NPA interim executive director, was to equip nonprofits so they could better help the public.
“Last year was such a learning curve for everyone. Nonprofit leaders were working hard; it was exhausting. People felt the need for a sense of community and NPA and GPP came together to offer that,” Puckett says. “There were opportunities for nonprofit executives to share what they were working on, support each other, and learn from one another.”
Dawn Dowden, COO of Homes of Hope, a local provider of affordable housing and workforce development, says having one place to turn for information and collaboration had a profound impact on nonprofits from direct service providers to arts organizations.
“We still had to do our work, and for nonprofits that deal with food and housing the work increased. Having a one-stop-shop to learn how to get resources like PPP loans, or how to take care of our staff, allowed us to make better use of our time,” says Dowden, who also serves as NPA board chair.
Last summer, NPA and GPP launched a 21 Day Equity Challenge and offered racial equity, diversity and inclusion coaching for their members. Recognizing the value of the education and collaboration the two groups were providing, members began coming to Puckett and Smith with ideas for future webinars, such as a series on board participation and productivity.
One topic they believe will shape the way forward for both funders and nonprofits was advocacy training. Those skills came in handy as NPA and GPP members led advocacy efforts related to Greenville County’s Coronavirus Relief Funds. County leaders found their case convincing, allocating $38 million of the county’s $91 million to community needs.
“This success reinforced how important it is for funders to partner with nonprofits and lend their voice to say that nonprofits should be included,” Smith says. “Nonprofit advocacy did amazing things: funding was allocated to cover power bills, rent, child care, and operating costs. Working together we were successful in helping people weather COVID-19, and hope we left some families in a better place.”
To learn more about the Nonprofit Alliance, visit npagreenville.org. To learn more about Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy, visit greenvillephilanthropy.org