The Pittsburgh Foundation

Conversations with Nonprofit Leaders COVID-19 Outreach

The COVID-19 pandemic is, perhaps, the most significant crisis our region has faced, with significant impacts already being felt across our community. It presents tremendous challenges for individuals and families, particularly those who were struggling before this crisis. To support these families, local nonprofits have continued to support the immediate needs of those who are most vulnerable despite contending with their own struggles to sustain operations during mandated closures and stay-at-home orders that disrupt mission work and revenue streams.

As the crisis began unfolding in Allegheny County, The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Program & Policy Department staff began reaching out to nonprofit partners to better understand their concerns, challenges and needs to inform our most immediate grant-making, convening and public policy activities. Between March 16 and 27, 2020, staff conducted 30-minute phone interviews with 51 nonprofit grantees and partners. These interviews allow us to connect to many sectors and serving diverse populations to better understand how they are currently being impacted and where our support might be most impactful. In addition, our staff specializing in arts grantmaking held a total of 52 conversations with individual artists and small and medium-sized arts organizations. This chart shows interview counts by sector:

Sector   Interviews  Completed    Sector   Interviews  Completed 
Seniors   5   Out-of-School Time   6
Health Care   Immigrants/Refugees 
Food   Hourly Workers 
Child Care   LGBTQIA 
Housing   Domestic Violence 
Arts & Culture 52    

On April 10, 2020, we hosted a 90-minute follow-up call, attended by 32 leaders. This group included leaders who had participated in interviews and those who had been invited to take part in interviews but were unable to participate. On the call, we shared what we had learned from the individual discussions. We then facilitated small break-out groups in six focus areas to reflect on the sector-specific themes, discussed what had changed and identified possible action steps. The break-out sessions were each facilitated by a Program department staff member and covered the following topics:

  • Housing.
  • Health care.
  • Food.
  • Child care.
  • Out-of-school time. 
  • Under-represented populations.

The themes from all conversations are shared in this report. The findings have already begun to affect the way we do our work and inform the development of longer-term policy priorities.

How the Findings Have Already Impacted Our Work


The comments from the community have had an immediate impact on both our Emergency Action Fund guidelines and our regular, on-going grantmaking. The four funding priorities for the Emergency Action Fund are directly responsive to what we heard from our partners: the need for operating support in order to be able to respond effectively, the need to provide direct assistance to individuals, and for a specific focus on community health centers and on arts organizations. We have also offered grantees the option to repurpose  existing funding to meet the evolving needs of their community and converted many proposals currently under consideration to operating support to that they are best positioned to respond to changing conditions on the ground.

Understanding that there are many impacts of the crisis that have yet to be realized, we will continue to learn with and from our grantees and evolve our grantmaking priorities so that we are responsive to new community challenges.

Public Policy

As important as the immediate grant-making response are the significant policy recommendations that came out of these conversations. These policy recommendations are critical to our efforts to support vulnerable communities. Our partners emphasized the importance of creating long-term, systemic solutions to existing problems that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus and pointed to policy priorities and opportunities that they believe The Pittsburgh Foundation could play a significant role in advancing at the local and state level.

Based upon this input, the Foundation is either already working on and/or exploring the following issues:

  • Increased focus on eviction prevention.
  • Support for child care provider. 
  • Addressing racial inequities in system responses to coronavirus.
  • Lack of a safety net for artists and arts organizations.
  • Improved access to public benefits, especially SNAP and WIC food assistance.