“Community foundations are truly amazing in terms of what they do to help the community—they fill gaps and find ways to contribute to make the community a better place.
In March of 2020, our world was changing dramatically day to day, and it became obvious that there were going to be a lot of people severely affected by what was happening. Three years before, in 2017, the Midland Area Community Foundation helped Midland during some flooding, something outside of our historic role as a grant-making organization. But Sharon Mortensen, our CEO, had gotten it into our minds that the foundation can be what we want it to be—and our goal is to help the community however we can.
So in 2020, the board’s immediate question became, ‘How can we help?’ The economy was shutting down, restaurant workers were sent home, and anybody who had a job dependent on daily wages had their income disappear. We saw that the government would eventually step in to help, but that was going to take some time, and the foundation had the ability to act more quickly.
One of the first things we did was put together $500 VISA gift cards and made them available to people who all of a sudden had no cash. We worked with two nonprofit partners to establish a simple process so we could give as soon as possible.
We also made no-interest loans available for small businesses through our Impact Investing Fund to help businesses whose cash flow had been dramatically affected. We didn’t put any creditworthiness criteria on those loans: we knew there was a significant possibility the loans weren’t going to get paid back because of what was happening, but our objective was to help the businesses survive.
The third action was to give grants to some nonprofits that were also helping support the community, emergency grants, which was more typical to being what was in our lane.
And as everybody knows, a few months later, we had the dams go out, and that inspired us to go out even further outside of our lane in terms of doing whatever it took to help the community. We set up funds and created a donation portal to invite people to donate.
Before COVID, the Community Foundation thought of itself as an organization that supported other organizations to do the mission, not an organization that interacted directly with individuals. But given the circumstances of 2020, we were able to act very nimbly and fill short-term needs that no one else could do, as other organizations and the government was going to come in and fill the long-term needs.
It was new territory for us, but the board and management acted together, quickly and decisively, and we’re grateful that we entered that new territory and were able to help.”
– Duncan Stuart, Former Midland Area Community Foundation Board Chair