CalWellness celebrated for quickly helping movement groups, communities and other grantees respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other inequities.
WASHINGTON DC – At a time of great urgency, a foundation’s biggest help can be its ability to quickly distribute funds to those groups who can respond the fastest to impacted communities.
That’s one of the reasons why the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) is honoring the California Wellness Foundation with its 2021 “Get, Up Stand Up” Impact Award for Rapid Response Grantmaking. The foundation is being celebrated for their exemplary and rapid response to the COVID-19 epidemic, their dedication to communicating effectively with movement groups and grant partners and their early support for health equity especially as it relates to race-based inequities.
Judy Belk, President & CEO of the California Wellness Foundation credits the staff and community members for leading the organization’s efforts through the unprecedented crisis.
“What an honor it is to receive this award, especially from our colleagues at NCRP, who we view as committed allies in the fight for social justice,” said Belk. “It’s an important recognition of the hard work that our team, our board and our grantees have tirelessly put in to respond to a global pandemic which has taken so many lives and highlighted the health and racial disparities Cal Wellness and our community partners have been addressing for years. We strive to both support and follow the lead of community organizations that continue to demonstrate that they have the social capital, the know-how, and most importantly, the trust of the communities they serve.”
The California Wellness Foundation is one of four grantmakers that will be honored tomorrow, Wednesday, October 27th, at the 2021 NCRP Impact Awards. The virtual ceremony is one of many events that are taking place as part of CHANGE PHILANTHROPY’s UNITY Summit, an annual gathering of top philanthropic and nonprofit leaders dedicated to exploring, examining and expanding their individual and institutional practices in order to advance equity with an intersectional lens, and with community at the center of their efforts.
URGENT CHALLENGES REQUIRES RAPID LEADERSHIP & COMMUNITY TRUST
Even before the current pandemic, California had been hit regularly with a series of natural disasters that had become all too common: fires of unprecedented magnitude; floods and mudslides; and earthquakes. In the wake of these incidents, Cal Wellness became increasingly aware of how under-resourced communities were additionally burdened with recovery challenges with groups like the undocumented being unable to access FEMA and SBA relief dollars.
As a result, Belk said that the foundation chose to step up their rapid response grantmaking capacity by reaching out to community leaders, local philanthropists and others who could provide guidance and perspective.
“Our strategy focused primarily on flexible, core support funding and regranting,” said Belk. “We believed that community foundations or other regional pooled funds often had the best handle on local needs.”
What they learned from these experiences informed their work with COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.
“We saw COVID-19 devastate communities we had been investing in,” said Belk. “Skyrocketing infection rates among communities of color, economic hits resulting from the shutdown, and disparities in the capacity of local organizations to respond to the crisis combined to create a crisis that demanded an immediate response.”
So, they started making proactive, core support grants to current grantee partners prioritizing organizations that provided services and relief to communities of color, undocumented individuals, seniors, and those ineligible for government relief. They eliminated much of the upfront work typically asked for from partners such as filling out an application and accelerated the review process to get grants out quickly. They also eased or eliminated reporting requirements.
“We wanted organizations to apply their energy to important community responses, not unnecessary paperwork,” said Belk.
They also recognized the need to provide funding in areas that fell outside their traditional “Advancing Wellness” framework. Housing support became a priority.
“This is critical in California, where housing security for low-income folks was already at crisis level”, said Belk.
Overall, Cal Wellness made more than $16 million in grants in response to COVID, including some “big bets,” such as a $2 million grant to Public Health Institute (PHI) to run the Together Toward Health Initiative (TTH). This was the largest COVID response grant they made and the largest made under Advancing Wellness. TTH has leveraged state funds and raised nearly $28 million from over 20 foundations, reaching 442 community-based organizations. TTH’s original intent was to support contact tracing efforts and bridge local health departments and community organizations. They have successfully pivoted to address the pandemic at every phase. A major TTH value-add has been relationship-brokering with local health departments. During the pandemic, community organizations have demonstrated they have the social capital, the know-how, and most importantly, the trust of the communities they serve.
Cal Wellness also made grants to support ethnic media, a key source of trusted information, allowing them to address emerging issues such as anti-Asian hate.
SEEDING RECOVERY BEYOND THE CURRENT CRISIS
An important component of CalWellness’ work is planting the seeds for reimagining how public health infrastructure will be rebuilt as the state moves into pandemic recovery.
“This crisis is not something we can “grant-make our way out of,” said Belk. “We need to continuously broaden our rapid response throughout the organization.”
Belk noted that the organization’s public affairs team is working to make sure that they are conveying accurate, useful and culturally competent messaging about how to stay safe. Their accounting and grants management teams have joined forces to expedite the implementation of electronic grant payments, which is proving important for organizations that closed their physical offices. And their public policy team is continuing to look for opportunities to advance equitable investment of public resources to meet immediate needs and to prepare long-term for recovery, compensating for disinvestment in these communities dating back decades.
About the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP)
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has served as philanthropy’s critical friend and independent watchdog since 1976. We work with foundations, non-profits, social justice movements and other leaders to ensure that the sector is transparent with, and accountable to, those with the least wealth, power and opportunity in American society.
Our storytelling, advocacy, and research efforts, in partnership with grantees, help funders fulfill their moral and practical duty to build, share, and wield economic resources and power to serve public purposes in pursuit of justice.
About the NCRP Impact Awards
Since 2013, NCRP has awarded 25 Impact Awards to grantmakers in recognition of support, leadership and partnership with grassroots organizations and community leaders around LGBTQ rights, minimum wage, environmental justice, health equity and other critical issues. The seventh edition of the networking and community building celebration was originally slated to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A full list of past NCRP Impact Awardees is available on www.ncrp.org.
Top picture: The LA Regional Food Bank was one of the many groups that received multiyear and core operating support grants to help address basic needs disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: LA Regional Food Bank.