December 9, 2020

Thankful in 2020? Yes, I Am.

By Bob Sorge

Bob Sorge

With 2020 drawing to a close, I paused to think about what I was thankful for. It has been a challenging year, at best. I’m sure if I asked all of you, “What are you most thankful for in 2020?” many of you would respond, “That it’s just about over.”

We are facing profound challenges in our community, our country and across the globe: deep and systemic inequity, a worldwide pandemic, economic turmoil and political acrimony to name just a few. The anxiety people feel is understandable.

Philanthropy is optimistic by nature, and is a potent antidote to the many things that ail us in society. Working in this environment every day is incredibly inspiring and provides many reasons for optimism and hope. Here are five things I am thankful for in 2020:

1. The incredible generosity of our community. In times of economic uncertainty, people typically reduce their charitable giving. In 2020, giving has remained strong. Donations to MCF through the end of November have been on par with 2019 – which was the strongest year of giving in MCF’s 78-year history.

What does that mean for the community? A lot. Thanks to your generous donations to MCF’s COVID-19 Priority Fund, in May we made a $50,000 grant to Madison Metropolitan School District to provide 1,800 WiFi hotspots to families without reliable internet access. In October we made another $50,000 grant, this time to Urban League of Greater Madison to provide training for those parents who are struggling to manage the technology of online school and to find the best way to help their children succeed.

Fundholders are recommending thousands of distributions from their funds, ensuring that the organizations they cherish can survive and continue to fulfill their missions.

Generosity is thriving, helping to mitigate many of the challenges our community is facing.

2. The ability to leverage our grantmaking. As the pandemic unfolded, we realized the resources we had available for grantmaking would pale in comparison to the need for those resources. So we looked for ways to leverage our efforts. We realized many nonprofits lacked the staffing and resources to apply for funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Working with Scholz Nonprofit Law, we were able to help 298 people from 170 organizations apply for funds, leveraging our $50,000 investment into more than $27 million.

MCF worked with other Dane County funders to establish a pool of $105,000 to support eight organizations working to help underrepresented populations complete the census. Those organizations were able to reach 3,184 people. And, overcoming some deep-seated skepticism of government, they helped 1,132 people fill-out the census form. For each person counted in the census, our community receives just over $2,000 in federal funding each year for the next 10 years – or $20,000 per person total. If each census form submitted only counted the person filling it out (and many actually included additional members of their household), this outreach effort will yield more than $22 million in additional federal funds for our community.

3. The continued progress we are making to address the issues of inequality. The events of 2020 have brought the continuing issues of inequality and racism into even sharper focus. MCF’s vision is that “Greater Madison will be a vibrant and generous place where all people thrive.” Equity is fundamental to accomplishing that vision and has long been part of MCF’s values. This year we moved it out from under the canopy of integrity to become a top-line value, recognizing the emphasis we need to place on equity specifically.

Internally, for the past five years we have engaged experts to assess our hiring practices and participate in every hire we made. For the last 18 months our team has met monthly with a DEI coach to evolve our culture and demonstrate the value of diversity in everything we do. Today our staff, board and committees are more diverse than at any point in the foundation’s history.

Externally, over the past three years alone, we have made 50 grants to 45 organizations – investing $2.6 million in organizations working on equity issues and addressing inequality. Our fundholders have added millions more.

We still have plenty of work ahead of us, but we are committed to the journey over the long-term. We are grateful that the social justice movement we are part of is larger, more racially diverse and more ubiquitous across the country than ever before.

4. The way people in the greater Madison area have responded to the pandemic. Dane County, with the second largest city in Wisconsin, has consistently had one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates per 100,000 people since the beginning of the pandemic. And we have a University with more than 40,000 young people, many of whom are out from under their parents’ roofs for the first time. Mask wearing is ultimately about protecting other people. It is an act of generosity. Many thanks to all of those who wear their masks to keep their families, friends and neighbors – and complete strangers – safe.

Thank you pic

5. The work of our nonprofit community. Funding makes the work possible, but it doesn’t get the job done. MCF is proud of the role we play and what our donors make possible, but it is the nonprofits in our community that have addressed the seemingly insurmountable challenges this year has presented with resourcefulness and perseverance: identifying and addressing issues of inequity in holistic ways; helping parents figure out the remote learning environment; keeping us sane at home through a plethora of arts stimuli; tackling climate change even as other crises have taken center stage for the moment. Of course, the list goes on. None of what MCF does matters unless strong nonprofits create impact with the resources we provide.

Finally, and with full transparency, originally I included MCF’s staff and board in the list – in fact they were first! Nothing gets done without these incredibly talented, committed people. All year long we have had to move, pivot, slow down, speed up and pivot again. We have evolved our operations at least five times; gotten thoroughly reviewed grants out the door in a timely way; and facilitated philanthropy from our office, our homes and our phones. The creativity and resiliency of the staff and the steadfast support of the board have been fundamental to what we have achieved in 2020. This is the special cause variation in the list – something for which I am perpetually grateful.

This afternoon I was speaking with Enid Glenn, MCF’s current Board Chair. Enid remarked that hope is a fundamental part of being human. I agree with her and would add that action is the bridge that turns hope into reality. That’s what MCF’s board, staff and donors do.

Thank you.

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