The Emergency Action Fund was established on March 16 in direct response to the coronavirus. It benefits nonprofits meeting basic needs, especially food and housing insecurity, and covers losses associated with the disruption of normal operations. The fund also makes grants to organizations with a demonstrated capacity of managing emergency funds that provide direct financial assistance to people in need. The fund also benefits to community health facilities and small arts organizations and artists that had to cancel performances.
We know that nonprofits are facing enormous new pressures and have many questions about the status of their applications. This FAQ is meant to address the most commonly asked questions our Program officers are hearing from the community.
- How is the Emergency Action Fund different from other funding streams at The Pittsburgh Foundation?
The guidelines for grants from this fund are specific to community needs associated with the COVID-19 crisis and can be reviewed on our website. In addition, the application-to-decision timeline is much shorter. Our typical discretionary grant-making cycles take three months or more so that we can work with applicants to gather more information and ask questions. In the case of the Emergency Action Fund, we recognized that we need to work much more quickly to deliver relief funds. The application process is simplified, and the turnaround time has been cut down to a matter of weeks.
- Why were grants only $5,000 to $25,000 when my organization needs more than that?
Knowing that needs for emergency funding would be significant and that grant dollars would be limited, the decision was made to provide operating grants from $5,000 to $25,000 so that we could fulfill as many requests as possible. Generally, grants are awarded to nonprofits with annual budgets under $5 million that serve communities with predominantly low-income households. If your needs are greater than $25,000, please consider applying for discretionary grants.
- Why haven’t I heard back yet about my application?
Our goal is to review and respond to all proposals within 15 business days, or three weeks, from application. The application portal opened on April 1 and response from the community has been overwhelming, with nearly 300 applications in the first five days. Our first grantees were notified of their grants on April 23, three days later than anticipated.
We ask for grace and patience while our Program staff gives all applications the attention they deserve. All grants will be posted to the Foundation’s website within a week of our notifying grantees they will receive funding. We continue to receive about 10 proposals per day.
- What is the primary reason why proposals were not funded?
The specific reasons vary by proposal, but generally there are a few main reasons that proposals were declined.
One common reason is that the application did not provide enough information about an organization’s COVID-19-related emergency needs, such as how much revenue has been lost due to missed performances, or how many more people it is now serving due to the pandemic. Without sufficient detail, staff cannot determine the urgency of organization’s need or the potential impact of its service delivery. Given the nature of this crisis, there is no time for staff to request additional details, as we would during our typical grant-making cycles.
Other reasons are that the proposal does not align with the priorities of the fund stated in the guidelines or that applications that are incomplete when submitted. We know that nonprofits are under enormous stress right now, but we urge you to review the guidelines carefully and double check your application before submitting.
- Why did you send me information about how to apply if my organization’s mission doesn’t align with the Emergency Action Fund’s priorities?
Our practice is to notify the community about opportunities for funding. We know that, to respond to the public health and economic crisis, many nonprofits have taken on new roles outside of their typical missions. We expect nonprofit leaders will know better than we will whether their missions and activities fit the criteria. As with all Pittsburgh Foundation funding opportunities, announcements about new funding opportunities or invitations to apply should not be considered a guarantee of funding.
- I’m concerned about my organization’s budget and programming for the summer and fall and wonder why my proposal wasn’t funded.
The Emergency Action Fund is meant to respond to unmet needs right now, such as revenue losses from fee-for-services or performances you cannot hold now due to mandatory closures; increased demand for food, clothing, rental assistance; and other basic needs related to COVID-19 closures. Projections about future losses are not eligible for emergency funding.
- What if our service area is outside Allegheny, Beaver or Westmoreland County?
Because funds are limited, we regret that we are unable to fund organizations that do not serve these three counties, as outlined in the guidelines. Statewide organizations that do not describe in their applications how they serve these three counties will not be funded.
- Our organization has set up a new emergency assistance fund to provide cash and other direct assistance to people in need. Why didn’t you fund us?
We recognize the importance of these funds and commend you for working to establish such a fund. However, as stated in the criteria, we are prioritizing those organizations with a demonstrated capacity in managing emergency assistance funds.
- You gave a grant to another organization whose mission is similar to ours. Why were they funded while we were not?
Proposals were evaluated on a first-come, first-serve basis by our Program staff with final decisions from our Board and our president and CEO. Though reasons for declining a specific proposal vary, each proposal was evaluated on these factors:
- How well the organization’s application aligns with eligibility criteria, specifically 501(c)3 status, geography and budget).
- How strongly the application aligns with the stated priorities of the fund.
- How well the applicant demonstrates how the grant will help the organization increase, modify or sustain services to meet the needs of individuals impacted by COVID-19 and/or navigate negative impacts of the crisis on its operations.
- Given the applicant’s history, mission, and resources, does organization have the capacity to carry out its plans as described in the request?
- I applied and haven’t heard back yet. What should I do? Should I call or email to follow up?
We know that nonprofits are anxious to hear if they have received support, and we urge you NOT to call or email to follow up, especially if it has been less than 15 business days since you submitted your application. Responding to calls and emails takes time away from the actual review of applications.
- How will I know if you’ve funded my application?
All applicants will be notified via email, ideally within our 15-business day/three-week window, if their application has been funded or declined. Our goal is to publish all grantees to our website within a week of notification. We will publish a list of funded applications to our website on a rolling basis and will continue to fundraise so that we can fulfill as many grant requests as possible.