Forging New Partnerships and Opportunities for Change
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.”
Learn more about the work of the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation.
Our Community’s Role in Promoting Civic Engagement: Census 2020, Redistricting and Beyond
While the 2020 Census is complete, the partnerships and infrastructure created within Michigan’s charitable sector to promote census completion will now be used to support civic engagement among Michiganders.
Last week the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) hosted a virtual debrief on the Nonprofits Complete Count Campaign, highlighting and celebrating the deep collaboration of nonprofits, philanthropy, government and other partners to encourage participation in the census.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan ranked eighth nationally in census completion with a reporting rate of 71.3%, above the national average of 67%.
CMF’s Government Relations and Public Policy team continues to advocate for Congress to extend the Census 2020 statutory reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting, noting it is imperative the U.S. Census Bureau has enough time to ensure quality, precision and accuracy in the census count process.
Beyond census, CMF will continue to work deeply in civic engagement ─ one of our government relations and public policy domain areas ─ as an active and engaged citizenry is essential for the health and advancement of our democracy. CMF supports policies, programs and partnerships that support the active engagement and participation of Michiganders in civil society.
In alignment with this broader area of focus CMF’s Census Funders Learning Community is transitioning in name and broadening in focus to become the Civic Engagement Learning Community. Recognizing the positive impact of the census work our sector recently advanced, members of the learning community expressed a desire to continue their learning journey into the next phase of census-related processes: redistricting.
The group categorizes redistricting as a natural next step along a civic engagement continuum and another piece of a broader goal to strengthen civic infrastructure to create a more equitable society.
Like the census, redistricting will have longstanding implications for the infrastructure, resource allocation, policies and programs that serve our communities and shape our society.
To ensure fair and equitable redistricting, Michigan voters approved the creation of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) during the 2018 general election. The commission—comprised of 13 individuals with differing political affiliations selected via an application process—first met in September. A summary of the process and ICRC meetings to date can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.
Earlier this month, Suann Hammersmith, retired president and CEO of the Lenawee Community Foundation, was selected as executive director of the ICRC. In her role—expected to last roughly 18 months—Hammersmith will facilitate community meetings and trainings for commission members on redrawing districts.
“My job will be to serve the commission, to assist them in their work,” Hammersmith told The Daily Telegram. “My job is solely to support them, to provide information, to provide options, to provide suggestions of ways they may proceed in order to make this a fair and data-driven and nonpartisan process.”
Along with its new focus on redistricting, the Civic Engagement Learning Community will also concentrate efforts on amplifying community voice, improving civic infrastructure and strengthening democratic institutions.
The CMF learning community will serve as a convening body for CMF members interested and involved in efforts around redistricting, voter education and other forms of civic participation. If you’re interested in joining the learning community, please contact Kyra Hudson, CMF’s public policy fellow.
CMF seeks to fortify the field through public policy action and champion the policy leadership of CMF members. Learn how you can get engaged.
Read news from the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
New Report Highlights Pandemic Struggles for MI Children
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a report showcasing the struggles of kids and families during the COVID-19 pandemic, with recommendations for an equitable roadmap to recovery.
The report, Kids, Families and COVID-19, uses data from U.S. Census Household Pulse Surveys to compile information about health and healthcare, economic stability and education during the pandemic. The report serves to expose gaps in the nation’s economic safety net programs, highlight racial disparities in pandemic hardships and make recommendations for policymakers on how to provide for kids and families through an equity lens.
The foundation has also compiled state-specific COVID-19 data in its Kids Count Data Center. The Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), which provides Michigan’s Kids Count data, found that 62% of Michigan households have lost employment income since March. While Michigan is faring better than other states in some aspects, our state is seeing higher rates of distress in areas related to economic security and mental health.
Data points from Michigan include:
15% of families report sometimes or often not having enough food to eat (compared to 14% nationally).
15% report slight or no confidence in making rent or mortgage payments on time (compared to 18% nationally).
7% report not having health insurance (compared to 12% nationally).
22% report feeling down, depressed or hopeless (compared to 21% nationally).
CMF sent a letter to members of Congress earlier this month, urging them to move quickly on a federal relief package that prioritizes early childhood care and education, internet access and unemployment insurance, among other critical areas.
Data also shows that—nationally—families of color are more likely to report concerns than white families. For example, 23% of Black families and 19% of Latinx families report sometimes or often not having enough to eat, compared to only 10% of white families.
“We have known since the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan that it was going to hit families with children particularly hard, but this report gives us concrete data to show how parents are faring and where help is most needed,” Kelsey Perdue, Michigan Kids Count project director at MLPP said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to do more at both the state and federal level to help parents get by during these difficult times, including being able to put enough food on their table, keep a roof over their heads and keep them physically and mentally well.”
To mitigate the impact on children and families, the report provides a series of recommendations for lawmakers.
Put racial and ethnic equity first in response efforts. Lawmakers should ensure that diverse perspectives are incorporated when making policy considerations and establish benchmarks for reducing inequities before reopening schools or businesses.
Prioritize the physical and mental health of children. In addition to making the COVID-19 vaccine available for all, lawmakers should strengthen the Affordable Care Act and improve access to mental health resources for children and families.
Help families with children achieve financial stability and bolster economic well-being. Congress should expand benefits for unemployment, housing and food assistance and childcare, as well as increase the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to provide additional resources for families.
Ensure schools are equitably funded to be ready to meet the needs of students affected by the pandemic. In addition to instituting equitable funding, state and federal lawmakers should address other inequities for students during the pandemic, including limited access to food, technology and other key resources students need to learn effectively.
“If lawmakers have been waiting for a clear signal and opportunity to pass policy that helps vulnerable kids and families, this is it,” Perdue said. “Michigan kids and their parents urgently need help, and our leaders need to respond with that same sense of urgency. There are plenty of concrete pieces of legislation to address unemployment and other relief that are just waiting for a vote.”
View the Kids, Families and COVID-19 report.
See Michigan-specific COVID-19 data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Consumers Energy Supports Local Businesses with “Our Town” Gift Card Program
Consumers Energy is helping Michigan’s local businesses this holiday season, providing $850,000 to support shopping in 60 local communities through its new “Our Town” gift card effort.
Consumers Energy is providing holiday shoppers with a dollar-for-dollar match for gift cards they buy through local chambers of commerce and downtown organizations, doubling the amount they can spend in downtowns across the state.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the communities we serve, and every community has seen those businesses feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lauren Youngdahl Snyder, Consumers Energy’s vice president of customer experience said. “With Our Town, we want to end the year by spreading cheer. We are putting dollars directly into shoppers’ hands to help them stretch their budgets and give a boost to shops and restaurants in their hometowns.”
Within days of the program’s launch and in some cases, only a few hours, many chambers and downtown organizations sold out of gift cards, leading Consumers to provide additional funds.
“It speaks to the power of Michiganders wanting to give locally, shop locally and really give back to small businesses that are the heart and souls of their community,” Carolyn Bloodworth, executive director of corporate giving at Consumers Energy told CMF.
Consumers Energy shares that it has been committed to communities and small businesses through the pandemic. The company and the Consumers Energy Foundation have provided more than $5.2 million to nonprofit and economic development organizations this year in help related to COVID-19, including close to $2.5 million for small businesses.
“What we learned in the spring is how critical small businesses are to the communities we serve, and they were impacted so dramatically,” Bloodworth said. “These small businesses, especially the restaurants, have employees that fit the definition of ALICE (asset-limited income constrained employed) and if these small businesses are at risk, then these employees are at even greater risk.”
Consumers Energy says that the Our Town program, supported by company funds, will be available while gift cards last. Shoppers should contact their local chamber of commerce or downtown association to buy gift cards.
Bloodworth shared that Gaylord Community Foundation was the first to join them in supporting the effort locally, noting it’s a program that funders can get involved in to provide immediate downtown support.