Key Points

On March 13, 2020, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo invited the John R. Oishei Foundation, the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York, and United Way of Buffalo & Erie County to convene all funders in western New York to respond collectively to the impending COVID-19 crisis. Funding was raised swiftly and, using a racial equity lens, more than $14.2 million was granted in 18 months to more than 400 nonprofits of all sizes serving on the front lines in eight counties.

While emergency funding was the first priority for the collective group of more than 60 foundations, the magnitude of the response found the participants answering an important question in May 2020: How do we use this moment and this unprecedented collaboration to innovate and strengthen the region’s ability to face the future? We quickly launched proactive systems-change initiatives to address public policy and develop a robust regional food system.

To surface additional collaborative solutions, we issued a “request for ideas” to seek out visionary concepts from nonprofit leaders that were collaborative, included multiple sectors, and addressed persistent challenges by centering race and lived experience. After an overwhelming response, grants were awarded to develop concepts in housing and homelessness, health equity, education, arts and culture, substance use disorders, criminal justice, digital literacy, and refugee services. This transformational work continues with implementation funding for the majority of the plans, which were selected with community input.

Open Access