Stepping Up: Early Foundation Learnings about Partnerships from COVID-19

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Katie Allan Zobel, Nonprofit Quarterly
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Nationwide, the past year and a half has been marked by both COVID-19 and a rising movement against anti-Black racism. Both have driven home the dire need to advance equity. In western Massachusetts, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) affirmed our commitment to racial justice work and set out with new resolve, only to be confronted (yet again) by the vast scope and scale of the challenges.

No single sector can advance and sustain equitable change on its own, be it government, nonprofits and philanthropy, or business. Worse, each has too often contributed to the opposite—namely, inequity. These problems are compounded by vast regional inequality. In philanthropy, for example, one study found that per-capita philanthropy in the Mississippi Delta was 40 times less than in New York City ($41 per capita versus $1,966).

Systemic change requires patient capital, creativity, and commitment. Philanthropic dollars may be less scarce in western Massachusetts than the Delta. But they are a good deal less plentiful than in Boston or New York City. To act effectively, we’ve had to combine our local knowledge and networks with external resources. During COVID-19, such partnerships changed from being “nice to have” to “must haves.”

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