Human Services

An Anonymous Gift Rooted in Trust

Unrestricted Funding Assisted Nine New York City Nonprofits
Students from diverse racial backgrounds gathered at an event, smiling for the camera

How should a nonprofit spend $13,000 to cope with COVID-19? The simple answer for Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) is one often overlooked by funders: however it needs to.

When the COVID-19 lockdown prevented KAVI from delivering its violence prevention and intervention programs in person, the nonprofit shifted its programs online, invested in computers and staff internet access, and brought on a mental health consultant to help youth who lost family or friends to the pandemic. These changes required more staff time and resources, but KAVI wasn’t bringing in extra revenue to cover those costs, says Banghee Chi, Development Specialist.

“Most of our funding in the past has been around results and deliverables,” Chi says. With already limited resources being spent on adapting programs, it was “challenging to maintain sufficient staff and infrastructure to actually do the work and deliver on our mission.”

A $13,000 general operating support grant helped KAVI keep the staff to do the work.

The money was part of a gift from an anonymous donor inspired by NFF’s work stewarding the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund. The gift provided nine New York City human services organizations with $13,000 each in unrestricted funding. All organizations had annual revenues under $1 million, and preference was given to nonprofits led by people of color in alignment with NFF’s strategy. With unrestricted funding, the donor – and NFF – trust that the organizations receiving the money would best know how to use it.

Restricted funding – money dedicated to a particular use or time – is a common, though often-critiqued, facet of the nonprofit sector. In the era of COVID-19, restricted funds threaten organizations’ sustainability and adaptability in serving their communities. Many funders at the start of the pandemic converted existing grants to general operating support, allowing nonprofits to use their wealth of knowledge to determine how to best design solutions to meet community needs. But unrestricted funding has not yet gained acceptance as the default giving practice.

Though the nine grantees varied in their missions and services, their needs and responses to the pandemic overlapped in many ways. Organizations across the board had to find new sources of funding, whether to make up for canceled fundraisers or to develop or expand programs to address the pandemic. Most had to overcome technological barriers for both clients and staff, whether accessing the internet and computers or learning to use Zoom and present programs online. Many had to figure out how to safely reach out face to face. Some also saw it as a duty to assist undocumented people who didn’t qualify for CARES Act federal cash assistance.

A few of the grant recipients used the money to simply keep staff employed. With many smaller nonprofits missing out on the first round of Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans as mainstream banks favored larger nonprofits and corporate clients, a key concern was to keep people on to run programs. Erin Johnson, Director of Development, FAN4Kids, says her youth fitness and nutrition organization is doing everything possible to retain staff. “Our staff members oftentimes come from the population the nonprofit serves, so every hire helps invest back in the community, which has an even deeper need now than ever,” she says. “It’s so important that we are able to continue our program and support our staff right now."

Screenshots of a virtual programing: nutrition and fitness.
Fan4Kids programs went virtual at the start of the pandemic. Photos courtesy of Fan4Kids.

To get the grant money out as quickly as possible, NFF simplified its application process. NFF staff conducted due diligence research to lighten grantee paperwork requirements, and instead of having to prepare a traditional time-intensive report on the use of the funds, grantees were asked only to take part in two phone conversations. Chhaya Chhoum, Executive Director, Mekong NYC, found this aspect especially helpful: “Typically, on top of applying to grants, we have to do a massive report. I’d much rather have a phone conversation than write a report.”

Photo of MekongNYC staff holding a banner with the organization's name and logo.
MekongNYC staff gathered before the pandemic. Photo courtesy of MekongNYC.

Chi says she hopes the trust that informed this grant process becomes more common for funders. “It makes us hopeful, especially since it is for general operating support,” Chi said. “We really appreciate when people understand what it truly takes to run an organization and stay in business. A lot of times funding has restrictions, but operating support shows that people have a great deal of trust in us on how best to use the funds.”

Learn how partnering with NFF can help your dollars drive better impact.

Learn more about the grant recipients:

African Refuge

Going remote actually required a lot of physical stuff, says Rev. Julie L. Brown, Executive Director, African Refuge. A new van is allowing the immigrant and refugee-serving nonprofit to deliver twice as many meals from its food pantry – saving older people from unnecessary trips outside. More meals means buying more food, finding a larger space to prepare it, and securing liability insurance for additional staff. African Refuge is also distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), cellphones, and stipends to those that need it, and is getting Wi-Fi for families so children can attend virtual classes.

Boro Park Jewish Community Council

Boro Park Jewish Community Council is a "one-stop shop for all community needs,” says Avi Greenstein, Executive Director. But as demand for services rises, the city is slashing the funding that makes up 70 percent of Boro Park’s revenue, leading to some programs being cut. Serving the Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the nonprofit’s workforce division has been overwhelmed by people looking for job training. It is doubling its holiday food distribution and ramping up its crisis assistance. Boro Park has also added a mental health division, hiring a social worker to address the stresses of the community and refer people to mental health clinics. Greenstein says every dollar of the grant will be stretched to meet community needs. “When an organization has a $30-million budget, receiving $13,000 is drop in the bucket, but for us this $13,000 donation is very meaningful,” said Greenstein. “This has been so helpful.”

Children of the City

After its annual fundraiser – bowling with the New York Giants football team – was cancelled, Children of the City had to find new funding to continue supporting children and families in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, even as they adapted to a new reality by adding new programs like food delivery and a virtual summer program. One of the main challenges they are addressing is virtual schooling in an area with a 48 percent high school dropout rate, and where many children don’t have access to the internet. A PPP loan has helped Children of the City stay afloat, and many funders have converted their grants to general operating support. “Our foundation funders have been wonderful,” says Joyce Mattera, Executive Director. “They said to us, ‘spend money where you need it.’” Children of the City plans to use its grant to support its community outreach and work with families.


One week after New York City’s coronavirus lockdown, FAN4Kids (Fitness and Nutrition for Kids) programs teaching fitness and nutrition classes were running virtually. However, the organization had to cancel its annual summer fundraiser and lost a large chunk of funding as funders shifted priorities to making emergency response grants. Even with these challenges, staff remain committed, says Erin Johnson, Director of Development. “Our Program Director and team of instructors quickly designed online-friendly lessons and expanded content to directly involve more of the family. This grant will help keep staff employed and deliver fitness, nutrition, and empowerment programs that are critically important as way to help fight against COVID-19 and health inequities in the communities we serve. FAN4Kids is also excited to be rolling out a new program that teaches families and students to advocate for themselves in their communities. We look at the whole picture and want to make the biggest, yet long-lasting impact for our constituents.”

Fostering Change for Children

Fostering Change for Children's (FCFC) UpFront program provides direct services to LGBTQ+ young people affected by the child welfare system. The need for services has increased as many young people experience homelessness, inadequate healthcare, and disconnection from accepting family. Social distancing forced FCFC’s small and nimble team to adapt to one-on-one interactions and Zoom calls to serve its UpFront community. “Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas pedal as we partner with vulnerable populations,” says Bryan Hill, Chief Operating Officer. “The funds will allow us to continue supporting members that are struggling by providing MetroCards (public transportation fares), clothes, food, lodging, and small stipends. In short, the grant funds will allow us to keep being us.”

Kings Against Violence Initiative

Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) is a youth violence and intervention organization that uses public health strategies and a trauma-informed approach to create opportunities for youth to get out of the cycle of community violence. In addition to moving their programming online, KAVI is also providing food and PPE to youth. The organization is using its grant to pay staff and bring on additional resources to build programs.

Mekong NYC

Mekong NYC serves New York’s Southeast Asian community, primarily Cambodian Americans and Vietnamese Americans living in the Bronx. The lockdown, unemployment, and fear are surfacing the trauma of many community members, says Chhaya Chhoum, Executive Director. The organization is creating aid packages and helping people access government benefits. Mekong NYC is using its grant to stabilize its work around deportation, which takes on new urgency in a worldwide pandemic. “Deportation has not stopped,” Chhoum says. “Deportation is deadly. ... They load people who are sick in small flights, and people have gotten sick from those flights. And then the local residents who are at the receiving end of those flights also get impacted.”

Sure We Can

Sure We Can has seen a drastic loss in revenue since the start of the pandemic, and the $13,000 won’t fix it, but “it at least helped us breathe,” says Ana De Luco, Founder. The nonprofit recycling center, community space, and sustainability hub supports canners – people who collect cans and bottles – to make a living. Its gardening and educational programs ground to a halt in March, and recyclables collection is down, a difficulty for both the organization and the people it serves. General operating support from this grant and others is providing cash flow to keep the organization running.

Tenants and Neighbors

“In every crisis, there is opportunity. This was an opportunity for us to be all hands-on deck to do what is most needed,” says Yolande Cadore, Interim Executive Director, Tenants and Neighbors (T&N). The housing nonprofit brings tenants together to build associations and transform housing policy. At a time of uncertainty for renters, T&N is increasing outreach through mailings and phone calls while building up its technological capabilities so communities can stay connected. Many of the tenants it serves are older and have barriers to technology, so T&N has invested in teaching people how to use Zoom and WhatsApp. It is also advocating to extend an eviction moratorium. “We are still learning based on what we are observing,” says Cadore. “We had to take a moment to step back and ask ourselves how to best support members in this moment. Are we reaching them most effectively?” The grant will help them figure out what needs to be done, and then fund that endeavor.

Learn about the flexible capital funding solution that inspired this grantmaking process.

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