South Sound philanthropies have learned numerous lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic about community needs, coordinating assistance, and philanthropy’s role in times of crisis, according to a recent report from United Way of Pierce County and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF).

The report highlighted how the Pierce County Connected (PCC) COVID-19 emergency response fund was developed, community needs identified, funds distributed, and lessons learned for the future.

United Way and GTCF on March 13, 2020, formed PCC as they scrambled to respond to emerging community needs as school closures were announced and the governor’s stay-home orders prepared to take effect. GTCF seeded the fund with $750,000 and then committed another $1 million in matching funds. Philanthropies and donors across the region joined in the response, bringing the fund total to $7.2 million by early June.

As of this week, a total of $7.6 million had been raised and distributed, according to a GTCF website tracking the PCC fund.

The combined funding effort, which the report calls “Aligned Philanthropy,” brought many different players in the community together to contribute to advocacy, communication, and rapid response funding consistent with their missions and in support of community needs, the report said.

In 2020, the Aligned Philanthropy and PCC donors distributed $6.2 million to 174 organizations and entities. The funding helped organizations address urgent needs and the disruption of basic human services for Pierce County’s most vulnerable populations due to COVID-19. It additionally supported the necessary public health measures to tend to these disruptions, the report said.

Equity is a central value to PCC, according to the report, noting that funding decisions prioritize organizations supporting and serving communities most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its impacts.

“Together, we have learned valuable lessons about what our community needs and philanthropy’s role under crisis conditions,” the report said.

Nine lessons from PCC Aligned Philanthropy, according to the report:

  • Put out a clear value proposition at the start to recruit partners. This helps partners know what alignment will look like.
  • Invest in a communications structure that reaches a broad range of stakeholders on a frequent basis.
  • With rapid funding, local businesses can mobilize to meet local needs
  • In the face of a crisis without a clear, linear timeline for recovery, establishing time-limited response phases (with date milestones for review and transition) gives structure and focus for responding to changing circumstances.
  • Examine trends in needs to uncover root causes that may not be readily apparent. Be willing to adapt the plan to include those discoveries.
  • There is no single “silver bullet.” It is necessary to apply many tactics, in tandem, to support community resilience.
  • Philanthropy is best when it fill gaps and provides bridge funding to larger governmental funds.
  • Philanthropy can leverage a broad range of tools, like loan guaranty, to support rapid response to community needs.
  • Crisis can be an opportunity to innovate solutions that uniquely meet your community.