Getting Out of our Comfort Zone in Response to COVID-19

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Getting Out of our Comfort Zone in Response to COVID-19
By: Ivan Rosales, Finance Director, North Star Fund

One of my principal roles as the Finance Director at North Star Fund is to ensure the financial health of the organization and to build and maintain financial reserves that allow the organization to continue our mission through difficult times. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages New York, we know that these are precisely those difficult times. Our commitment to supporting grassroots organizations led by communities of color is as essential as ever. 

After a fast-moving period of reflection and planning, our team decided to move an additional $1 million to our grantees in mid-March 2020. This means that last month we made grants to over 120 grantees totaling over $1.7 million. This was the biggest, fastest effort we have ever made in over 40 years of grantmaking. 

As a community foundation that is supported by individual donors committed to social justice and not an endowment, this was a significant decision. Our ability to make grants at any given time is directly related to how much we are able to fundraise. 

Our additional $1 million dollar commitment would be a small amount for many of our peers in philanthropy. For us, it represents 30% of our cash reserve. 

We hope to offset this commitment through additional fundraising, but we’re ready to take on this expense now, in a time of uncertainty because these difficult times call for us to move outside our comfort zone.

Here are some things we considered in making this decision:

  • The need is now. Our grantees are grassroots organizations who generally operate with budgets under $600,000. They are facing a significant level of risk in their operations at this moment. We need to do what we can to make sure they are able to survive this moment. Our grantees represent communities that are disproportionately at risk in times of crisis. 
  • We need to support long-term work even as we address immediate needs. The policy moves that governments will undertake over the next year will be responsive to the powerful. We need to support communities who are building the power to hold governments accountable to their needs.
  • We will identify ways to cover this new commitment. We have multiple plans for offsetting this expense, and are ready to explore all of our options! Our development team has increased its fundraising goals and across our organization, we are looking at our individual and team budgets to see where we can cut back on expenses (without impacting our staff, contractors, vendors, etc.) to redirect savings to this effort. 

We don’t enter into this commitment lightly. As the city heads into the hardest hit we’ve seen in generations, we’re going to position ourselves well outside our comfort zone to support the communities that we have committed to for the long haul.

What does your foundation’s ability to go outside your comfort zone look like? What are the implications for you, compared to your grantees? Reach out to me or my colleagues if you want a thought partner as philanthropic budget managers to look at how we’re going to move money with multiple crises facing communities across the state. 

As we continue to make difficult decisions, one thing that keeps me grounded is remembering that these extraordinary efforts we’re all making are meant to protect the most vulnerable among us. We’ll have the most impact when we take action together, and take action now.