woman reading a book to a child

Believing in the mission and supporting frontline workers

The Arizona Community Fund provides nonprofits the help they need to assist local communities now and in the future

Under financial pressure to meet emerging needs in their local communities, nonprofits in Arizona balance immediate support with their long-term missions. To help those struggling with food insecurity, support childhood education and provide communities with essentials such as medicine, many nonprofits are getting help from community organizations like the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF), which in 2020 received a $500,000 grant from Bank of America. The ACF applied that grant to the Arizona COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which supported nonprofits working to offset the impact of the coronavirus on local communities.

Steve Seleznow, who recently retired as president and CEO of the ACF, discussed the foundation’s support for hundreds of nonprofits throughout Arizona in the early days of the pandemic, what prior experience taught him about fostering a long-term recovery, and how public- and private-sector collaboration is essential to provide help to those in need.

Where are you seeing the most need in Arizona?

Many of the state’s nonprofits are helping people with health- and elder-care needs, addressing food insecurity, and providing education and housing services, to name a few. The lines at the food banks have been unprecedented, and more and more people are going without a paycheck. Meanwhile, many of our nonprofits are running out of the capital they need to provide critical help.

How do you balance competing needs for assistance?

We have to think about what we can do now and what we need to do in the longer term. There’s a need to get money to the community quickly. But it’s also essential to hold back funds for the recovery, which may be even more expensive and more difficult.

Several years ago, a wildfire devastated the small town of Yarnell. The need to respond right away was obvious. But later, many people in Yarnell found that their insurance policies didn’t cover the full cost of replacing their homes. Parts of the town’s infrastructure had also been destroyed. By reserving some funds, we were able to help fill those needs.

We’re seeing the same thing today. We’ve distributed grants to nearly 500 nonprofits, but we know the coming recovery phase may require an even larger response.

How do community foundations help?

Community foundations help people realize their charitable goals, and through their own vision invest in the things that are important to them. People give through us. They don’t give to us.

We’ve distributed grants to nearly 500 nonprofits, but we know the coming recovery phase may require an even larger response.
Steve Seleznow  |  former Arizona Community Foundation president and CEO

Part of the ACF’s mission is to collaborate with anybody and everybody. When your middle name is community, you’ve got to work with everybody, and you have to be inclusive, and you have to be completely transparent. Transparency and collaboration build trust, and that has been enormously important when assessing community needs as swiftly as we can in order to get as much support out to communities as we can.

How does your work differ from what government agencies provide?

We serve everyone — including those who often go unseen. Arizona has a large number of undocumented immigrants. They are members of our community, and they work and pay taxes, but they don’t qualify for local, state or federal aid. Working with leaders from the Latino community, we have created a relief fund to provide assistance to undocumented families who need food assistance and medical care.

How have nonprofits responded to the support the ACF provides?

We’re getting letters, emails and calls from people who tell us that while the money certainly matters, what’s more important is the emotional value of knowing that there are people who believe in their missions. When you stand behind the people doing the hardest work in their communities, they’ll keep doing it, and they’ll work even harder and do it even better. They just need to know that their community is behind them.

Partnerships between local and national organizations can rapidly bring together resources in times of need. Learn more about the part Bank of America is playing, including its $100 million commitment to support local communities, which is in addition to the $250 million in philanthropy the bank provides annually.

Originally published 5/11/2020