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Forging New Partnerships and Opportunities for Change

We're highlight the efforts and learning journey of the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many CMF members have adapted their policies, procedures and work with nonprofit partners to create flexibility and increase their support during this time. In this edition of The Download we highlight the efforts and learning journey of the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, the Dresner Foundation announced shifts in its grantmaking, prioritizing partnerships with organizations that are addressing the urgent needs of low-income and marginalized populations, supporting critical needs such as food accessibility, housing assistance and financial security.

“Not only did our nonprofit partners have to pivot and become more flexible and adaptive to meet needs but we also had to change and pivot how we were going to respond to community needs,” Virginia Romano, CEO of the Dresner Foundation said. “We decided to lead with a more immediate response for community and grantee needs and that led to realigning our grantmaking in 2020.”

Romano said the foundation reached out to existing partners and specifically sought new partnerships with organizations working on the front lines of the crisis. As one example, the foundation formed a new relationship with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan after learning about specific service challenges the organization was experiencing in five distance learning locations across the region.

“One thing they didn’t anticipate was becoming a distanced learning center that provides support for kids throughout the school day, as well as after school, which led to increased costs in providing meals,” Romano said. “We worked with staff to identify the needs and shifted our grantmaking to support them.” The Dresner Foundation awarded them a $75,000 grant.

Through this grant, the Boys and Girls Clubs joined with local small businesses to provide meals, which supported not only the meal recipients but also small businesses and restaurants experiencing economic strain.

In addition to seeking new nonprofit partner opportunities, the foundation added more flexibility for grant dollar spending with existing partners.

“We knew that due to the pandemic they would have to change the ways in which they do things,” Romano said. “For example, we invited two nonprofits dedicated to addressing food insecurity, with which we partner—Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest—to shift funds from food supplies to infrastructure and staff supports to help them manage the growing demand for their services.”

Romano said the shifts in 2020 have helped the foundation be responsive to community needs, while the partnerships have created new opportunities.

“We’ve learned the most from conversations we’ve had with organizations and the people on the ground doing the work,” Romano said. “It reminds us that we need to continue to listen to nonprofits—both now and in the future—to learn how we can change our grantmaking, policy and the sector to support the vital work that they do for our communities.”

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Learn more about the work of the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation.