Community Response Fund
It’s amazing what a shared space can do.
For the Mankato Area Foundation (MAF) and Greater Mankato Area United Way (GMAUW), a shared physical space spawned a partnership that would shape the Mankato area’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Nancy Zallek, MAF President and CEO, recalls, “One morning in mid-March of 2020, I was walking down the hallway of Shared Spaces in search of Barb Kaus, GMAUW CEO, and she was doing the same looking for me,” Zallek said. “We had each been reading the news about the governor’s upcoming announcement of a Stay-at-Home order, and we were both concerned about the dire situations our local nonprofits would soon be facing. We knew we had to do something, and we quickly realized it would be so much more powerful to do it together. Within days, our two organizations co-established the Community Response Fund.”
The goal of the Community Response Fund is to respond swiftly to the Mankato area’s escalating needs during such an unprecedented time, shaping philanthropy’s response in support of the nonprofit organizations serving our community. The combined expertise of MAF and GMAUW staff in mobilizing community partnerships, resources and connections has enabled our community to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.
“It was meant to be,” Kaus said. “We are two strong teams coming together to keep our community strong.”
As the pandemic progressed through March and the needs of the community began to grow exponentially, Zallek and Kaus knew it was essential to stay ahead of the curve.
“We didn’t know how things were going to go, but we knew we had to be proactive,” Zallek said. “We could see how stressed everyone was becoming, and we knew it was crucial to simplify charitable giving as much as possible for both donors and recipients. We reached out to other funders in the community—family foundations, other regional foundations, philanthropic organizations and businesses—and asked if they would participate in the fund.”
The goal was to create a “one-stop-shop”. Nonprofit organizations could apply for grants from a single source, as opposed to preparing proposals in multiple formats to multiple funders. In turn, area funders and individual community members could give to a single fund and know their dollars were being put to use in the most efficient and effective ways to help local organizations in need.
Within weeks, the fund had reached over $400,000 through the gifts of local philanthropists, some of whom created their own unique ways of fundraising.
Mankato Brewery developed and began distributing the Community Response Fund Berry Blast Beer. The Mankato Playhouse streamed a fundraising cabaret on Facebook Live. The Mayo Clinic Health Systems Civic Center developed virtual concerts and a cooking series featuring digital donation opportunities and Coldwell Banker Commercial Fisher Group made a donation for every person who visited their offices wearing a mask. All of these creative fundraisers contributed to a fund that continues to grow and make an impact.
The fund allows both organizations to ensure there is a distribution of charitable dollars going toward the greatest needs in the community. As Zallek and Kaus quickly learned, this can change from week to week during a pandemic. “Particularly in the early stages, we never knew what was going to happen next. As the needs of our community and its nonprofits changed, we stayed in constant communication with them so we could adapt our giving accordingly,” Zallek said.
Every tier of the MAF and GMAUW staff works together to make this possible. For example, MAF’s Community Grants and Nonprofits Specialist, Sarah Beiswanger and GMAUW’s Community Impact Director, Elizabeth Harstad spoke to over 150 area organizations within the first two weeks of this initiative to provide support and to gain a better understanding of the needs to be addressed.
“So many groups we spoke to told us what a relief this process was. I have heard that over and over,” Kaus said. “They appreciate knowing there is strong support and that they are at the forefront of our minds. They can trust we will work toward addressing their increased needs.”
For Zallek, the Community Response Fund is a shining symbol of the power of partnership and the power of our Shared Spaces building. “You wouldn’t think a physical space would make such a difference, but there is no doubt it was the secret to this fund’s success,” Zallek said. “This building created a collaborative environment that allowed us to develop a cooperative approach to serving the needs of community.”
As Kaus puts it, the fund has been and continues to be a beautiful thing. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I am so thankful we were able to unite and make a huge impact to keep our community moving forward during this trying time.”
And as far as the Community Response Fund is concerned, it will continue to provide support as long as the fund remains viable.
“Of course, no one can guess what the future will look like,” Zallek said. “But as long as there are needs, I know our community will continue to step up, give generously, and do the work. That’s just how we do