July 24, 2020

Responsive Giving: How WizeHive Clients Pivoted Amid COVID-19

A lot has changed since March 2020, when the United States began sweeping shutdowns in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Months later, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, navigating remote work and school, enhanced safety measures, the postponement of events, and the financial toll all of these bring.

A lot has changed for many nonprofits, too. While their missions still stand at the center of their daily activities, they have been inspired to pivot and create new programs to serve their constituents in their new reality. 

When the shutdowns began and WizeHive saw our nonprofit community trying to put the breaks on existing programs and quickly launch new ones, we knew we could help. WizeHive was honored to offer no-cost workspaces of the Zengine platform to clients launching new or expanded programs directly related to COVID-19, and thrilled that many utilized this offer to make their recovery and response efforts more efficient and impactful.

Here are just a few of their stories.

The Merchants Fund

The Merchants Fund has been serving the small business community of Philadelphia for more than 150 years. With a mission to empower the entrepreneurs that make the city so special, they grant charitable gifts to businesses facing financial hardship. 

In March, that instantly became all of them.

“We make grants to small businesses -- that's what we do,” explains Jill C. Fink, Executive Director. “When COVID hit, it was like, ‘Wow, now every small business that exists needs help. How do we figure out what it looks like for us to respond to this new need?’”

Fink and her team started by replacing the standard, rolling application with a new version that was much simpler and required less work to complete. WizeHive created a new Zengine workspace with this streamlined application. Next, while previous grants were usually made to a maximum amount of $10,000, the team decided to reduce the largest offering to $5,000 in order to serve more businesses.

Fink launched the program quickly, and just as quickly the remainder of The Merchants Fund’s allocated 2020 grant money was distributed. 

It was about this time that Philadelphia, along with many other major cities, began seeing daily protests and nightly riots in response to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, adding another issue for shuttered small businesses to contend with.

“We had one grantee we had just approved, we had sent them their grantee agreement to sign,” says Fink. “The next day I followed up to check that the test ACH deposit had gone through, and found out they had been looted. We had been giving them money to just survive, and now they have no inventory.”

With more and more expressing concern that their businesses were not going to survive, the Fund launched a second program, dubbed Restore and Reopen. Using an additional $150,000 from TMF and thanks to a $1.25 million grant from the City of Philadelphia, the program went live with an even easier application and a return to the $10,000 max grant. Nearly overnight Fink was reviewing more than 350 applications.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Fink admits. “There’s a lot of work to be done in these communities. A lot of the businesses hit the hardest were immigrant-owned. And there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen. It’s beyond our primary mission, but we will be involved. Our grants are one small thing we can do. I know it’s not going to solve all their problems, or help with the emotional or physical trauma of all this, but it’s something.”

Fink referenced a somewhat famous line that has been attributed often to Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.” 

“It’s been my daily mantra since COVID started,” says Fink. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like it's not enough. We are doing what we can. And WizeHive’s response to wanting to help your clients was doing what you could. If we would have had to pay for the new workspace, that would have been one more grant that wouldn’t have gone to a business. That’s a real impact that occurred because you guys were willing to give something that you could.”

With the second round of funding depleted, Fink and her team are now entering the world of fundraising - something the nonprofit has never done before - in order to continue to support their small business community however they can. 

The John P. & Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation

The McNulty Foundation is an organization focused on providing and creating opportunities for determined and innovative individuals around the globe. Their flagship program for this is the John P. McNulty Prize, a $100,000 annual award for exceptional leadership and entrepreneurial spirit to address the world’s toughest challenges. Yet when COVID-19 began sweeping the globe, the team realized there was a new challenge that needed all their focus.

The decision was made with their partners, the Aspen Global Leadership Network, to temporarily suspend the regular McNulty Prize and instead support and promote the efforts by McNulty Prize Laureates and AGLN Fellows in responding to the crisis of the pandemic.

“It’s been humbling to be of support to these organizations during these incredibly challenging times,” says Nina Sawhney, the foundation’s senior program manager. “Being a global network, everyone was facing a different timeline. With the enormous need, we decided to step up our funding levels, and supported 68 projects around the world with over $550,000. There’s a big call in the philanthropic sector to give more and fund boldly and widely now when it's needed more than ever. We’re trying to follow that.”

The foundation had just migrated to Zengine in February having come off our former Select program, and had been looking forward to launching the McNulty Prize on the new system when the crisis hit.

“We were excited to test the system with the Prize, and when we changed plans we weren’t sure how we were going to set it up,” explains Sawhney. “But WizeHive helped us create a new program quickly, one that maintained our brand, professionalism, and security, while still being easy for applicants.”

With a condensed, three-question application, the foundation quickly collected data from active Laureates and Fellows, and was able to fund every project that met the eligibility criteria. From 20 countries around the world, about half focus on providing essential supplies and assistance to struggling communities, whether through food, medicine, hygiene kits, or economic and financial support.

Others are assisting in the direct public health fight against COVID-19, whether by spreading awareness and combating misinformation about the virus and healthy behaviors, filling the gaps in PPE, testing, and contact tracing, or addressing the unique challenges in fields like mental health, rehab, and maternal health and delivery.

Let’s Grow Kids

Let’s Grow Kids is a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring access to high quality, affordable childcare for all Vermont families by 2025. Their efforts range from fundraising to advocating for families with the state legislature to providing direct services to child care employees. 

With grassroots connections and a direct line to the government, the organization found itself in an interesting position as COVID began requiring closures across Vermont.

“We work closely with the state, the governor, and families, and we have been known to share data with the government, and likewise,” explains Erin Roche, Director of Operations & Evaluation. “With the stay at home orders, all child cares were closed. Yet we had essential workers who were still expected to go to work. The state urgently needed a way to keep track of essential workers who needed childcare ... so we raised our hands.”

The timing was a bit fortuitous - the day before Roche and team agreed to be the data stewards, they had received WizeHive’s email notifying clients of no-cost access to the platform for COVID-related programs. 

“We worked with you guys to get it up and running while programming what it had to look like at the same time,” says Roche. “If I had had more than 24 hours it would have been nicer, but we did it! In 24 hours, literally.”

What resulted was a short, 10-question survey available via the state emergency operations center and various other agencies for essential workers that asked for basic demographics, the places where they were employed as an essential worker, and information about the children in need of care. 

“It was originally supposed to be just a count and keep the governor informed,” says Roche. “Within 48 hours it was clear we needed to do more. We were asked to then push these requests out to local and regional offices and find places for the children. We were getting so many requests I was sending batched lists of families five times a day.”

In addition Roche and team exported lists for each county, and twice a day shared data back to the state. 

Vermont was able to reopen child care facilities as of June 1, thus closing Let’s Grow Kids’ project. But during its run, the team received help requests from 1250 essential workers on behalf of 2000 children. 

“That may not sound like a lot, but we only have 625,000 people in this state,” explains Roche. “That felt like a big deal. We also were surprised at how many requests came from parents of school age children. We usually focus on under 6, but with schools closed and essential workers still needing to go to work, it really was eye opening to see how many children now needed care. I feel like we think of schools as being for education, but this whole crisis made it clear how much we rely on school for child care.”

It was a one-off project, but Roche says it not only was a small way their organization could help in the midst of a crisis, but helped them better understand who it was they were working for each day. “Sometimes we felt like a small cog in a very large wheel, but it really mattered knowing that these essential workers in a time of emergency - the people you really need -- had what they needed,” says Roche. “For us to have this flexible, nimble software that we could just pivot in literally a moment’s notice in a simple way was really critical and provided a real impact.”

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