Letter from the President & CEO: Supporting Nonprofits During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Headshot of Beth McCaw of WA Women's Foundation

It is during times like these that I am proud to be a part of Washington Women’s Foundation, working to advance equity, reduce disparities, and support communities across Washington State. For 25 years, we have collectively addressed the most pressing community issues and funded innovative solutions to drive transformational change.

Today, we are facing a grave statewide threat to our health and economic stability, which we fully expect will disproportionately impact communities of color and women. In addition, the novel coronavirus is fueling anti-Asian racism, xenophobia, and violence. As one of the largest networks of women philanthropists working to advance equity, we are called upon to be vocal leaders, dispelling racist misconceptions and advocating strongly for the needs of the communities served by our grantees as well as our grantees themselves.

We know that each day is bringing significant challenges and pressures on the operations of nonprofit organizations – and on their leadership. We also know that nonprofit leaders rise to challenges every day with ingenuity, compassion, resilience, fortitude, and integrity. In times like these, nonprofit organizations in our communities stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and we encourage you to stand at their backs.

What Can You Do?

Give unrestricted general operating support dollars now. Consider accelerating the payment of multi-year pledge payments. My husband and I have done that. Even though we had just made 2020 pledge payments in January, we sent additional checks last week and in one case, knowing that the organization’s luncheon had been cancelled, we increased the total amount donated. In another case, we accelerated three years’ worth of pledge payments. You also can release restrictions on previously made gifts.

Give online to the organizations whose events you were planning on attending. Most organizations have pivoted to virtual fundraising strategies and are scrambling to reach their fundraising goals without their largest fundraising events.

Give even if you are concerned about the volatility in the stock market and the impact on your investment portfolio. I understand concerns such as these, but I also recognize that it’s a privilege to even have an investment portfolio as a source of income and financial security. Plus, today is the rainy day you were saving for.

Give regardless of the tax deductibility of your gift. Follow Microsoft’s lead and pay hourly workers that you typically employ in your household even if they are unable to work. Give to community-organizing groups that are securing food, medicine, and other supplies for our elders and low-income neighbors.

Be vocal advocates for our nonprofit sector, which employs more than 12 million individuals nationwide. In Washington State, nonprofits account for almost 10% of private employment. Our economy cannot recover if the nonprofit sector is not specifically included as part of all relief and recovery efforts. Even though it appears that the current federal relief package will provide nonprofit organizations with access to small business loans, more needs to be done to ensure that nonprofit organizations can maintain staffing levels, pivot to address new and increasing demands, and recover from losses resulting from the discontinuation of services due to closures. As a result of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which raised the standard deduction, nonprofit organizations have already seen a significant drop in contributions, especially from mid-level donors. According to IRS data, Americans itemized $54 billion less in charitable contributions in 2018 alone. We need to encourage more charitable giving with a universal charitable deduction, and nonprofit organizations need direct grants to provide services in addition to loans to maintain operations.

What is WA Women’s Foundation Doing?

We are continuing to make unrestricted general operating support grants and are reorganizing our due diligence process to be less disruptive to grant applicants. Our 2020 Pooled Fund Grant Committee continues to meet via videoconference so that there is no interruption to our funding cycle this year. We also are changing the way we conduct site visits so that they can happen virtually and with the least amount of disruption for the grant applicants.

We are accelerating grant payments and exploring whether grant restrictions need to be released. As you know, some of our grantees elect to receive their pooled fund grants in two- or three-years installments, which we usually pay in June of each year. For organizations that were scheduled to receive general operating support grant payments this June, we have already issued checks for the 2020 grant payments. We also have asked grantees that received funding for capital projects if they need us to release the restrictions on these grants so that they can be repurposed to meet emerging needs.

We are looking at the Foundation’s investment portfolio as a source of additional grant funds. Thanks to the generosity of many members, Washington Women’s Foundation is privileged to have an endowment fund and other investment assets, which financially support our operations. Our CFO, Kathy Wehle, is working with our Finance, Investment & Audit Committee to determine if we have any excess resources that can be used specifically for COVID-19 response.

We are evaluating how to move our strategic priorities forward while being responsive to ever-changing community needs. The Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff had a full-day virtual retreat earlier this week and spent most of the day discussing how we can best fuel a thriving nonprofit sector working to advance equity with the funds you contributed to the Foundation last year. More details about plans for the remainder of 2020 will be shared very soon. Thanks to all of you who gave us input at our 2019 Annual Meeting, through our online members survey, in Transforming Together sessions, and in one-on-one meetings with me and other staff members.

We are trying to take care of each other and you. We are sending emails of support to our grantees and the Executive Directors who serve on our Impact Assessment Committee. The staff has been working from home since March 16, but we check in with each other daily and try to support each other in the same ways that we do when we are all present in the office. The 2100 Building officially closed to the public (including USPS and deliveries) and discontinued all services on March 25 and will be closed for two weeks. We will return to the office as soon as we are allowed to do so and look forward to welcoming you back in person. Until then, we will continue hosting virtual “coffee breaks” and hold committee meetings via video conference. We also will be looking to offer other virtual engagement offerings as we know obeying the “stay at home order” can be lonely. Social isolation is just that, isolation, and it’s not the natural state of being for a collective action organization, so we are working on solutions!

We are being vocal advocates for the nonprofit sector. I am tracking and responding to national legislative activity on Independent Sector’s website. Locally, we are engaged with Philanthropy Northwest. Your fellow member Stephanie Ellis-Smith wrote an Op-Ed for the Puget Sound Business Journal and invited me to co-author. I participated in an interview of philanthropists from across the country conducted by a writer for The New York Times and contributed ideas to an article on GivingCompass. Washington Women’s Foundation joined 355 philanthropic organizations in signing a pledge to respond to COVID-19 differently, using principles of trust-based philanthropy.

These are unprecedented times, and there are many, many ways to engage in philanthropy and activism. We hope that Washington Women’s Foundation has given you the tools and the confidence to give it your all, and give it your all today. Stay home, stay safe, but stay active. Our model of trust-based philanthropy is needed now more than ever.

7 responses to “Letter from the President & CEO: Supporting Nonprofits During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Thank you, Beth! This is an excellent overview of the many ways we can help as individuals and as WWF members. Your responsive and proactive leadership is deeply appreciated!

  2. I second Lorraine’s comments. We deeply appreciate your leadership, Beth, and your willingness to be pro-active in addressing the current crisis. WaWF would have no right to consider itself a leader in philanthropy if we were not “throwing out the old rule book” and searching for ways to meet immediate needs and support the nonprofit sector in ways we never even thought about doing in the past. Nothing less is called for right now and the foundation’s actions make me proud to be a member!!!

  3. Beth, This is a great message of hope, need, flexibility, commitment and the power of women to improve our community and the world. I’m going to pay my 2020 Membership, and add to it, online today. I know you and the team will put it to immediate good use.

    Thank you for your bold and cogent leadership!

  4. Such an excellent article and great (of course) counsel ~ I’m right there alongside Lorraine and Kathy, thank you and cheering you on. #respect

  5. Why to Use Donor Advised Funds for Charitable Giving Now
    (advice from WA Women’s Fdn’s member Christine Atkins’ husband, Perry Atkins, Director, Private Wealth Management, RW Baird):
    (1) Availability. Having a donor advised fund means that you are committed to philanthropy. You have already set aside funds to support charitable causes that are dear to your heart, so you don’t have to tap into your investment portfolio for charitable giving. Support the causes and organizations you care about now by making grants out of your fund.
    (2) Ease of Use. You don’t need to mail a check to make a gift from a donor advised fund. You can easily recommend a grant online, 24/7.
    The key is to give!

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