COVID-19 Proved that Fiscal Sponsorship Can Help the Social Sector Create Even More Impact

The last two years have fundamentally changed our country and the social impact sector, as donors and changemakers raced to respond to intersecting challenges including the global pandemic, growing threats to democracy at home and abroad, and ongoing racial injustice. In this context, the value of fiscal sponsorship became readily apparent, and New Venture Fund experienced unprecedented growth in our funding and impact, in parallel with the sector itself.  
Projects hosted by NVF supported organizations and causes addressing all major issues across philanthropy. We are sharing stories that showcase how they responded to challenges faced over the last two years. 

As the pandemic spread through the United States in 2020, fiscal sponsorship’s growing importance in the social impact sector became clearer than ever. Faced with a global crisis unlike anything seen in a century, the entire sector had to pivot: priorities suddenly shifted, organizational plans were instantly outdated, and needs expanded everywhere simultaneously.  

In response, NVF-sponsored projects moved with remarkable speed and skill: some adopted new goals and strategies to help keep their communities safe from the virus, others put in place new processes to accept large donations or to rapidly deploy grants in more equitable ways. Many scaled up operations to ensure immediate relief. As they did, NVF provided operational support behind the scenes, helping our projects navigate change in an often-chaotic environment. 

Using Fiscal Sponsorship to Deliver Rapid Pandemic Response 

Across the country, people and groups worked to set up new initiatives to receive donations for immediate and critical help using fiscal sponsors like NVF to help them do so.  

The James Beard Foundation (JBF)—a nonprofit organization that celebrates, supports, and elevates the people behind America’s food culture—sprang into action. As restaurants closed and thousands of food-service workers were left without income due to the pandemic, JBF, with the help of NVF, launched the JBF Relief Fund in late March 2020. Just barely into the pandemic, the JBF Relief Fund provided critical financial assistance to small, independent restaurants to help keep them from going out of business. 

Relief-fund applicants received a one-time payment of $15,000—which was distributed just one week after the call for applicants was issued. These grants helped small-business restaurants pay bills and salaries—and prevent long-term closures. In total, the JBF Relief Fund secured donations of more than $4.8 million in donations for grants to small, independent restaurants in 40 states and territories—helping keep the restaurant industry afloat in a critical time.  

“As restaurants faced closures all across the country, being able to set up our fund quickly and efficiently was critical,” said a spokesperson for the Foundation. “In a time like this, what was most important for us was to bring immediate relief to restaurants in need—without barriers—which NVF helped us do.” 

On a different front, the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation (OFPI)—which engages private partners to innovate, test, and scale ideas that benefit Oakland—sprang into action with NVF to bring immediate relief to communities in need during 2020.  

On March 17, 2020, just days after the pandemic reached California, the Oakland mayor’s office asked OFPI to establish a COVID-19 rapid-relief fund to provide immediate help to low-income families and small businesses in the area. To get the fund established and running as fast and safely as possible, OFPI turned to NVF.  

In just three days, the Oakland COVID-19 Relief Fund was fully operational and able to accept donations. A week after the mayor’s request, the fund already had $2.5 million in the bank and had disbursed its first grant to support COVID-19 testing. The grant also supported Keep Oakland Housed, where 113 families received an average of $3,000 per family to retain their current housing and prevent homelessness. Additionally, funding was provided to Working Solutions, which distributed 185 grants of $5,000 each to low-income small-business owners to cover immediate operating expenses, such as payroll and rent. 

The fund’s speedy establishment and ability to quickly identify local partners was made possible because of operational support from NVF’s and OFPI’s established relationships in the community—and their willingness to listen to them.  

“When COVID-19 struck, many individuals immediately found themselves in desperate need of assistance, and some large funders didn’t know how to best help in the face of such dire need,” said Kiran Jain, former advisory board member at OFPI. “The call across the philanthropic community was to listen to leaders on the ground, and the Oakland COVID-19 Relief Fund embraced this emphatically, including nonprofit and other community leaders in the process of identifying priority needs and potential grantees.” 

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