Battle Creek

Battle Creek Community Foundation launches initiative to help nonprofits continue their work

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series and our ongoing COVID-19 coverage. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the pandemic please let us know here.

The Battle Creek Community Foundation is among more than 350 community foundations in the United States that have created relief funds to support those affected by COVID-19 -- directing critical relief to local nonprofits and partnering with local governments, other local funders and health organizations to help contain its spread, according to the National Council of Nonprofits.

On April 21, BCCF leadership launched its Recover and Re-Engage Initiative that makes $100,000 in grants and $1 million in loans available in what the foundation describes as a multi-tiered recovery strategy to address the mid- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on nonprofit organizations and the populations they serve.

The strategy will increase the flexibility and responsiveness of BCCF and provide two additional opportunities for funding, says Annette Chapman, BCCF Senior Vice President.

“Both myself and Brenda Hunt, President and CEO of the BCCF, had been looking at what other foundations had been doing across the country. Taking some of their ideas, we came up with our own,” Chapman says.

Their brainstorming resulted in the Greater Battle Creek Recovery and Re-Engage Grant Funds and the Greater Battle Creek Recover and Re-Engage Nonprofit Relief Loan Fund.
Annette Chapmanm BCCF Senior Vice President
Under the Grant Funds program $100,000 has been earmarked to provide short-term, unrestricted funding to support operations of organizations that are struggling with immediate lost revenue and non-recoverable expenses due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Grants will range from $5,000 to $20,000 and be made immediately available and also on an ongoing basis, as funds are available, to increase funding to organizations in crisis.

“We’re projecting this a bit,” Chapman says. “We do know that many of our small to mid-size nonprofit organizations are going to have challenges. A lot of them don’t have operating funds in the bank and have extended what funds they have to keep staff, while some have had to lay off staff or have staff who found other jobs.”

One of the bigger challenges for many nonprofits is the cancellation, postponement or re-scheduling of fundraising events as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofits count on these fundraisers to bring in much-needed funding for their organizations.

Each year, Michael Montgomery conducts a survey for nonprofits in Michigan. The Detroit-based fundraising consultant and lecturer presented his 8th annual Michigan Fundraising Climate Survey on March 10 at an Association of Fundraising Professionals meeting in Detroit. Those survey results, conducted prior to the onset of the pandemic, offered an optimistic outlook. 

In a follow-up survey, conducted on March 23-24,  Montgomery, asked what nonprofits were doing in response to COVID-19. In addition to having staff work remotely, closing their facilities and programs to the public or providing very limited services, almost 54 percent said they had canceled one or more fundraising events while another 36.5 percent said they were considering it.

“At the time of that survey, almost 50 percent had canceled one or more events, I bet some of these are close to 100 percent now. That’s the world we’re going to live in for a while,” says Montgomery, owner of Montgomery and Associates.

Chapman says there’s no doubt that the inability to hold fundraisers will result in lost revenues. Of more immediate concern for some nonprofits are the expenses that will be involved in re-opening.

“Everybody is going to have to reopen differently,” Chapman says. “They may have more expenses related to Personal Protection Equipment or cleaning supplies. They may also have a lot of folks working from home but may not have the technology to support that. The program is going to help support that technology.

“We don’t normally fund operations,” she says. “Normally, our grants are for programs. We actually flipped it and the board approved it so we could fund operating expenses, which include salaries, utilities, rent, insurance, and anything that helps keep the organization going operationally.”

Recipients of the grant funds are being selected through a committee of volunteers. The grants will range between $5,000 and $20,000 per organization.

Chapman says there are eligibility requirements and criteria that have been put in place in order to receive these grants. 

“I think it’s really about how healthy their organization was prior to this,” Chapman says. “The committee is taking into consideration whether the organization was in good financial standing, has diversified funding sources, and a lean staff.

“This whole experience has exposed a lot of various things we all need to work on,” Chapman says. “If you were an organization struggling prior to this, you’re going to have a difficult time.”

The Nonprofit Relief Loan Fund is directed to organizations that can afford to take on a loan and are working on sustainability plans. These criteria will be overseen by Gingras Global, based in Detroit with a satellite office in Battle Creek, which will provide technical assistance to organizations.

The loan initiative was established in partnership with Old National Bank. $1 million has been placed into a loan fund for nonprofits. These low-interest 36-month loans will have 0% interest for the first year with a modest interest in years two and three. Funds may be used for a variety of purposes, including re-starting operations and services, covering delays in government payments for services delivered, postponed or canceled fundraising events or other revenue loss or deferral, and increased expenses to deliver services.

These loans will range between $50,000 and $400,000. Chapman says the Battle Creek Community Foundation is trying to be very flexible and make available different funding sources, particularly for those organizations that aren’t going to receive grant funds.

Elizabeth Schultheiss, Director of Regional Fund Development for the BCCF
While some organizations have received financial assistance through the federally-funded CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act and the Payroll Protection Program, many did not.

Elizabeth Schultheiss, Director of Regional Fund Development for the BCCF, says the reality is that the federal government can’t help everyone. She says many nonprofits couldn’t apply for these funding sources, in some cases because banks weren’t accepting applications from those who weren’t already clients.

“A lot of nonprofits missed out on that first round of funding,” Schultheiss says. “Getting this assistance is much more challenging for a nonprofit, especially smaller ones. This reality is one reason we had to do a loan program because the needs exceed what philanthropic dollars were available as well. We wanted to look at how we can fill the gap and be more flexible and understanding.”

She says the ability to offer technical assistance to nonprofits involved with the loan fund is another opportunity to fill in the gaps.

Throughout the community response to the pandemic, Chapman says the Battle Creek Community Foundation has given funding priority to those nonprofits that provide services focused on healthcare.

“They were able to step in and do what they’re doing because that’s their mission,” Chapman says.

But, there are nonprofits and for-profits that have special missions, many of whom serve the most vulnerable populations including seniors, communities of color, and children. Chapman says they’re the ones doing grassroots efforts with the ability to reach out to hard-to-reach groups.

“If we don’t work to ensure their survival, we’re all going to suffer,” she says. “Our community foundation has the best interest of the community in mind and our funding comes from individual donors. We are always trying to adapt and meet the needs and we will continue to do so. Our doors are always open.”

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.
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