Four things to remember when creating a relief fund during COVID-19.
Over the past two months, my company Reclamation Ventures created and deployed our first relief fund to support underestimated leaders in the wellness industry. Throughout this process, and as we plan our second relief efforts, I’ve learned so much about rapid relief. Here’s what has worked for us, what I wish I knew before, and how we hope to move forward in future relief funding initiatives.
1. Center those most marginalized.
The virus is not impacting us all equally. As Kerri Kelly states, this virus does not discriminate. Systems do. As funders, we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re focusing relief efforts on those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This includes, and is not limited to:
- Black business owners, who are less likely to receive support from financial institutions through the CARES Act, which means they’re less likely to receive federal funding.
- Individuals who have been convicted of a felony, on probation or on parole are ineligible for most of the federal stimulus funding.
- Industries have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, like hospitality, the wellness industry (the focus of my relief efforts) and nursing home facilities.
Centering marginalized individuals goes beyond adding a bullet point with some acronyms in a bullet-point under eligibility. Centering marginalized individuals starts with (and does not end with):
- De-prioritizing applications from people representing dominant culture so you can prioritize applications from marginalized people.
- Promoting your grant application in spaces on blogs and platforms that cater to marginalized communities. A simple press release will not suffice.
- Recruiting individuals from marginalized backgrounds to review grant applications so there’s an inclusive lens throughout the decision-making process.
2. Commit to rapid deployment — or don’t offer relief.
Most grant applications request a lot of information to determine how the funds can make actionable impact, and rightfully so. But the impact of COVID-19 is like quicksand, and entrepreneurs can find themselves quickly swallowed up as its effects accumulate. Try to accept or decline grant applications within 30 days, and fulfill them as soon as possible. This might mean more headache than the traditional grant process, but it meets people where they are.
Our fund committed to reviewing and distributing funds each Friday, which allowed us to make decisions based off of recent data, and more importantly, help solve those immediate needs. But as our fund garnered more support from larger institutions, it takes longer to create grant agreements, have funds approved processed on our partners’ end, and get in our bank account. This meant we had people en queue for about a month.
Normally, a timeline like this is consider super quick in the world of capital deployment. But one month — particularly the month of April — for many wellness businesses during COVID-19 was a lifetime. We received updates from grant applicants that they had since decided to close their businesses. We also received updates that businesses had successfully pivoted, and were no longer in need of funds.
If we’re using the term “relief” we need to actually provide relief, and I think that means a process that takes weeks, not months. Build the capacity now for rapid iteration, and perhaps shorten the application window and full disbursement date, breaking relief into smaller rounds with shorter timelines for fund deployment.
3. Keep your marketing out of the process.
I get it. Offering relief funding to your community is a powerful way to maintain relevancy and cultivate goodwill in the midst of a global pandemic, especially for consumer-facing brands that are taking a hard revenue hit, or influencers vying for more attention as society spends more time online.
But relief isn’t a marketing tactic. It’s a necessary lifeline. And this isn’t your place to profit off of pain. So if your intentions are questionable for getting into this, keep your recipients out of it. Considering the sensitivity around needing to apply for relief funding, applicants should not be required to provide their name and photo to use for marketing purposes. They also shouldn’t be required to add any language or messaging about the grant to their website, or post something on social media. Aiming to profit off of the financial insecurity of individuals during a global pandemic is shameful. Isn’t the organic brand awareness and sentiment from your relief fund enough?
4. Elevate. Don’t burden.
The root word of “relief” means to raise, to lighten. Don’t fall into the similar traps of philanthropy when structuring your relief fund. Get money to your recipients as quickly as possible. You don’t need formal grant reporting, or quarterly updates on how the funds are used. Center their needs first, and figure out the rest later. If relief is an immediate response, the impact should be measured as such.
Nicole is the CEO of Reclamation Ventures, a venture fund investing in underestimated leaders making wellness accessible for all of us. Learn more about their work at reclamationventures.co.