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Bolstering grantees during the fallout from COVID-19

It is unfathomable how much has changed in our state — and world — this past month. The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly impacted all aspects of society and all of our lives. We at the Irvine Foundation also know that the virus and the impending recession is disproportionately endangering Californians who were already struggling to make ends meet.

Our focus at Irvine is to create a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. Now the state is seeing record unemployment claims, with low-wage workers facing the brunt of furloughs, layoffs, lost retirement savings, and the threat of contracting COVID-19 itself — often without adequate health coverage.

Nonprofits serving Californians living on low incomes also face unprecedented challenges: workers who need them more than ever, health precautions that limit their operations, and a shaken economy that can reduce donations and grant dollars.

That’s why, last week, the Irvine Foundation board approved $22 million to bolster the immediate and long-term sustainability of nonprofits on the front lines of the crisis.

We will invest $20 million in Irvine grantees who are critical to California efforts to protect and advance low-wage workers. This Recession Resilience Project will provide immediate emergency funding to core grantees in our Better Careers, Fair Work, and Priority Regions initiatives; technical assistance for financial planning and recovery; and longer-term strategic recession-response grants for these grantees. We believe that significant re-investment in our core grantees is the most strategic way to support the low-wage workers at the core of our mission.

We recognize that many nonprofits, beyond Irvine’s core grantees, need funds at this time. So, we will also provide approximately $2 million in additional funds to help other grassroots organizations in California to weather this crisis.

Our staff understand how critical flexible support is — and how difficult it is to reserve funds for a future crisis. Our hope is these Recession Resilience funds will support grantees’ efforts for future planning and also serve as a model for sustainability in the nonprofit sector.

In addition, we have communicated with all grantees our plans to:

  • Relax and/or renegotiate restrictions on current grants, so that grantees don’t have to worry about previous expectations for activities they have had to cancel or postpone
  • Reduce restrictions on the use of funds with new grants, wherever possible (something we have increasingly done since 2016)
  • Postpone or eliminate other requests of grantees, such as site visits and reports on their progress
  • Continue listening efforts with grantees and those they serve, so we can be better partners now and into the future

We are very aware that the need today and in coming months far outweighs anything we can do, and we want to continue to engage our peers in philanthropy and California nonprofits — and other leaders — to make the best use of our resources on behalf of low-wage workers.

We are deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of our staff, grantees, and fellow Californians in this challenging time, but we also feel hope that we can, together, get through it — and learn lessons and make changes to make us stronger the next time we face adversity.