A First Foundation Blog

Making A Difference During COVID-19

| 3/31/20 2:08 PM

With the widespread repercussions of COVID-19 impacting our communities, donors are faced with determining how best to respond to and support the overwhelming needs. There is a wide range of evolving needs, and the Philanthropy Services team is here to help both clients and those who wish to make a difference determine the best approach.

Utilizing our connections in the community, we have conducted conference calls and a short survey to gather information on how nonprofits and donors are responding and what is most needed. Low-income children lack access to school-based meals and to technology needed for e-learning; first responders and those who must work lack childcare; health clinics lack supplies, and nonprofits serving vulnerable populations such as low-income families and seniors face restrictions on staffing and funding gaps due to canceled events. In addition, basic needs organizations like foodbanks are experiencing a surge in demand along with a decrease in food donations from grocery stores and financial contributions from corporations, on top of restrictions on convening large groups of volunteers. Organizations will also face additional demands for COVID-19 screening and testing, vaccine delivery, medical supplies, and mental health services.

Some foundations and donors are responding right away by providing emergency grants to collaborative response funds set up to deploy resources to local nonprofits. Others are making unrestricted donations directly to nonprofits they care about or with which they or their family members have long-standing partnerships. Still other donors prefer to wait out the market’s dramatic decline and assess changing needs prior to selling assets to fund grants or commitments to any particular organization.

Know that we are here to help you determine your approach to making a difference. There is no right answer; there is only making a difference. We hope we can do our part by sharing our knowledge about what nonprofit organizations and our foundation clients are doing well and connect you with other like-minded donors or collaborative efforts. If you’d like to discuss opportunities to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Philanthropy Services Group at

Strategies to Support Nonprofits and Make a Difference in Response to COVID-19

Following are some strategies our foundation clients are employing:

  1. Allocate a portion of this year’s grant funds to collaborative COVID-19 Response Funds set up to deploy emergency funds to local, national, and international nonprofit organizations and those most adversely affected. Recipients are selected by the sponsoring organization and may include healthcare providers, first responders, and community-based nonprofits serving the most vulnerable and those at risk of hardships due to the coronavirus. Check with each fund to see if their specific objectives are aligned with your interests. For example:

    • The OC Community Resilience Fund1, the COVID-19 LA County Response Fund, and the Ventura County Rapid Response Fund were each established to receive and distribute funding to provide response and recovery activities, including emergency assistance to families. They will not take an administrative fee.

    • The Orange County United Way and United Way LA have each created their own Pandemic Relief Funds to support local low-income individuals, students and families at imminent risk of homelessness or hardships due to health and economic impacts of coronavirus.

    • The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has set up the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund and has made over $1 million in initial grants to organizations that support clinics and frontline healthcare workers and distribute much needed supplies throughout the U.S. Recipients include Americares and Good360, which delivers Personal Protective Equipment and basic goods to those most in need throughout all stages of a disaster utilizing a network of suppliers.

    • Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has also set up their own response fund to support crisis-related needs for technology, pathology testing, Personal Protective Equipment, supplies, packaged meals for clinical team members working extended hours, and increased cleaning and housekeeping to assure a safe and clean environment.

  2. Offer flexibility to grantees and enable them to reallocate your grant funds previously earmarked for programs to their most pressing needs this year. Hundreds of foundations have signed a Council on Foundations pledge to loosen restrictions on current grantees, reduce requirements on grantees, contribute to community-based emergency response funds, and more.

  3. Make grants or donations earlier in the year to help nonprofit organizations bridge their funding gaps and sustain their infrastructure due to reduced revenue and cancelled fundraising events. Some have already laid off or furloughed staff in response to the crisis.

  4. Provide current grantees in need with one-time smaller emergency grants for general operating support and inform them of any plans to provide future support the following year.

  5. Shift the percentage of foundation grant funds allocated to “core grants” vs. “discretionary grants” which are directed by individual board members. Discretionary grants enable board members to be nimble and individually select local organizations with which they are most connected. Core grants allow the Foundation to respond as a whole in a strategic way.

  6. Reduce barriers to grantee reporting requirements while still holding grantees accountable.This may include extending grant periods and progress report deadlines.

  7. Volunteer in a socially distance minded way, such as delivering meals, packing food boxes at a food bank in small groups, assembling and dropping off donated goods or hygiene kits, offering text-based mental health services, and donating blood. While some volunteer opportunities have been postponed until further notice due to COVID-19, there is still a need for volunteers.

    • Check with your local volunteer match organization that connects nonaffiliated volunteers to projects, such as Volunteer Match, OneOC, or Volunteer Ventura County.

    • OC Food Bank is seeking volunteers to help pack food. LA Food Bank is distributing food to food pantries and most of its 900 partner agency sites that distribute groceries to families throughout LA County but they’re accepting a smaller number of volunteers due to the county’s public health guidelines. Ventura County’s FoodShare has closed some pantries; volunteers may still be needed.

    • Meals on Wheels needs volunteers; reach out to the local Meals on Wheels provider.

    • Alone provides companionship to the elderly. Become a telephone volunteer.

    • Crisis Text Line is seeking crisis volunteers (4 hours/week) to be remote crisis counselors especially between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. PT. They provide free training on how to answer texts. United Way of Ventura County is recruiting people to help in the 211 volunteer corps, which has been inundated with calls.

    • Donate blood to the Red Cross to help with the shortage due to blood drive cancellations.

    • Learn about safe COVID-19 volunteer opportunities from the Office of the Governor.

    • Purchase and drop off products most needed by local social service organizations, such as paper products, diapers, disinfectant wipes, home cleaning supplies, “boredom breakers (board games, cards, coloring books), education materials, N95 masks, tyvek coveralls, nitrile gloves, and hand sanitizer.

    • Create a video on behalf of a nonprofit organization that you are passionate about to help with programming purposes. This can include videos of inspirational messages for youth, videos of career development, resume and interview tips, etc.

    • Read more about how to help from Schwab Charitable and Fidelity Charitable.

Below are several additional articles and resources:

Needs will evolve at each stage of this pandemic. Know that the Philanthropy Services Group at First Foundation is here to help you determine your approach to making a difference at any stage.

Thank you to Sara Garske for her contribution to this article.


Philanthropy Services provided by First Foundation Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender.

1The OC Community Resilience Fund is a collaborative response by Orange County philanthropic community (OCCF, Charitable Ventures, St. Joseph Health Community Partnership Fund and OC Grantmakers). 

Pamela Rubin Cohen, Ed. M.
About the Author
Pamela Rubin Cohen, Ed. M.
Pamela Rubin Cohen is Vice President of Philanthropy Services for First Foundation Bank. She oversees the Philanthropy Services Group and is responsible for the administration of charitable foundations and donor advised funds for individual clients, families, and private foundations. In her role, Ms. Cohen provides services customized to clients’ philanthropic goals and interests, including strategic planning related to foundation focus areas and high impact funding opportunities, governance and succession planning, engaging the next generation, facilitation of board meetings, retreats and site visits, and coordination with legal and tax advisors. Ms. Cohen has more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit, philanthropy and education sectors. Prior to joining the firm, she worked at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation as a program officer. She has expertise in developing grant programs and strategic initiatives focused on education, the arts, medical research and technology, aging, housing, transitional youth, and animal welfare. She served as an independent consultant to numerous family and private foundations including The Eisner and Jane Wyman foundations. Previously, she worked at The Walt Disney Company managing its corporate responsibility and education grants program to foster innovation and creativity in elementary education across the United States. Her career began in Washington, D.C. as a government relations specialist in K-12 national education reform. She is a member of the Los Angeles Advisory Board for Facing History and Ourselves. Ms. Cohen is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (B.A., Political Science) and Harvard University (Ed.M., Education Policy and Human Development). Read more