Back in January, Adin Miller was settling into his role as the new executive director of Los Altos Community Foundation. But just a few months into the job, the world changed.
“It’s been an amazing six months,” the upbeat Miller said last week.
The LACF leader, his team and board of directors didn’t panic amid the COVID-19 pandemic – they pivoted. In the end, their actions resulted in relief for hundreds of struggling local residents and small businesses.
Acting quickly in early March as the pandemic prompted businesses to close and residents to shelter in place, LACF established relief funds for nonprofit groups (the 2020 LACF Nonprofit Relief Fund) as well as residents and small businesses in Los Altos and Mountain View (the Los Altos Small Business Relief Fund and the #TogetherMV Fund).
LACF also developed a network connecting residents to numerous resources to better cope with the pandemic.
“LACF recognized early on the need to step up to the plate during this time,” said Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency. “They were one of the first funders to ask CSA what we needed. Their contribution goes beyond funds – it includes raising the awareness of addressing COVID-19 locally and among people most at risk.”
To date, LACF has raised more than $400,000 for its Nonprofit Relief Fund. Proceeds have supported front-line organizations such as CSA (social services), the Community Health Awareness Council (mental health), El Camino Hospital Foundation and the Los Altos-based WomenSV (support for domestic abuse survivors).
LACF created the fund with support from other Los Altos-based foundations, including the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation.
“When we started our pivot March 10, the first organization we contacted was Heising-Simons,” Miller recalled. “They had given us a supplemental grant in December. I went to the leadership and had a response in 30 minutes to repurpose the grant for the Nonprofit Relief Fund. That gave us the seed funding to get started and encourage others to step in.”
LACF plans four rounds of funding totaling $100,000 each. Staff has disbursed two rounds, with a third close to launching and a fourth round planned for September.
Work in Mtn. View
Miller related how LACF also partnered with the city of Mountain View to roll out #TogetherMV.
“We were brought in very early on to a conversation that (Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga) was having with Google … to support small businesses,” he said. “The mayor reached out to someone she knew, and it happened to be Kathy Camin, who works on our staff. We made the connection that way.”
An LACF board member recommended the Oakland-based small-business financing group Main Street Launch, which was brought in to provide microgrants, using the funds raised locally.
“The agreements that are structured around these loans are such that once they are paid back to Main Street Launch, that organization doesn’t keep the money – it can only put out new loans to small businesses in Mountain View with those funds once they’ve been repaid. So we’ve set up a model in perpetuity to provide microfinance loans to small businesses in Mountain View until some point when the city says, ‘We’re good,’” Miller said. “We created that in five to six weeks, got it off the ground. Imagine trying to do that in normal times.”
The other major #TogetherMV component is a support fund for local renters impacted by COVID-19-related job loss. The rent relief is provided through CSA and funded by the city of Mountain View and LACF. (For details on the #TogetherMV contributions, see the graphic.)
Los Altos small businesses
On the Los Altos side, LACF partnered with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce and the city of Los Altos to administer the Los Altos Small Business Relief Fund. At $335,000 – $250,000 coming from the city of Los Altos – the fund provided 67 small businesses each with $5,000 grants.While LACF fell short of its ambitious goal of generating $1 million for the fund, Miller noted that all qualifying businesses received money.
“We started with the basic idea we would be able to provide a minimum of $5,000 to small businesses,” he said. “The city of Los Altos stepping forward, immediately allocating $250,000, was tremendous.
”He cited one unnamed Los Altos resident donor who came through with a $25,000 donation to complete the funding.
“It brought us over the finish line,” Miller said, expressing gratitude for the funder’s generosity.
Miller repeatedly mentioned local funders willing to lend support during the crisis, and each segment of support coming together quickly. While proud of the accomplishment, he remains concerned about the “uncertainty” of the road ahead as the pandemic drags on.
“We’ve managed to tap into our really strong donor base that really wants to support local giving, which has been great,” he said. “We continue to worry about our own future – we’re not going to disappear, but we worry, like other nonprofits, what does our fundraising profile look like this (next) fiscal year? We don’t know.”
Maintaining visibility remains a challenge, with traditional fundraising sources, such as in-person events, not possible. And the “donor energy” at the outset of the pandemic, according to Miller, is difficult to maintain as time goes on.
Addressing such issues, LACF has joined the Alliance of Community Foundations of Silicon Valley. Administered by the Mountain View-based Silicon Valley Community Foundation, alliance members across several foundations from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto come together weekly to share resources and discuss ways of response to the pandemic.
LACF also recently launched the first in a series of virtual “Community Conversations” on YouTube.
“Let’s do a webinar series, let’s talk to our donors, let’s talk to our community,” Miller said of boosting visibility. “So more pivots on our part.”
Founded in 1991 as Los Altos Tomorrow, Los Altos Community Foundation serves Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View through programs, grantmaking and leadership in local philanthropy.
To watch the first webinar, visit youtube.com/watch?v=QVQ4QXHBWlU.
For more information on Los Altos Community Foundation, visit losaltoscf.org.