Two people wearing face masks, face shields, and gloves stand in the hallway and hand a bag and containers to someone inside an open door. At the top left corner, it says: COVID-19 update.
A grant from Wells Fargo has helped staff members like Tim Thorman and Alyssa Sajady from People Serving People, the largest shelter for families and children experiencing homelessness in the Minneapolis region, quickly serve its guests, some of whom are staying at an off-site quarantine hotel.
Photo: People Serving People
Volunteering & Giving
July 31, 2020

‘We listened to the needs of the nonprofits’

To provide quick COVID-19 relief, Wells Fargo streamlined grant making, reaching more than 4,400 nonprofits across all 50 states and 23 countries.

Nota del editor: También está disponible una versión en español de esta historia.

As COVID-19 spread across the world, communities everywhere were suddenly in need of food, screening kits, child care for front-line workers, personal protective equipment, transitional housing, and support for small businesses, like Healing Cuts SF, a barbershop in San Francisco, California. “I have literally put my entire life into this business,” said Ismael De Luna, owner of Healing Cuts SF. “To open a business for a few months and then face a pandemic, I’m speechless. It’s difficult, but I still have hope that I will survive this.”

De Luna has received support navigating resources for small businesses from the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center, which received a $30,000 grant from Wells Fargo to support its clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help the communities it serves, Wells Fargo announced in March it would redirect $175 million in local philanthropic funding to accelerate COVID-19 relief efforts. Since then, the company has worked to streamline grant making and offer funding to more than 4,400 nonprofits across all 50 states and 23 countries.

“This pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Molly Porter, Corporate Philanthropy leader for Wells Fargo. “When we came forward with what seemed like a radical idea, to repurpose our local market giving budgets for COVID-19 relief and aim to accelerate the bulk of giving by June, the response from leaders was positive from the outset. There was really a leadership consensus at all levels that this was the right thing to do for communities, and particularly those most vulnerable. As we support the COVID-19 needs, we’re continuing to prioritize the needs that affect people in the areas of small business, financial health, and housing. All three areas are critical to COVID-19 recovery.”

‘That was a big shift’

The decision to alter the philanthropic strategy began in late February, when Porter and fellow Corporate Philanthropy Leader Aldustus Jordan realized COVID-19 was going to be the single issue to define need in 2020. And because they were hearing that nonprofits needed funding for general operating expenses to help meet the rising demand for services, instead of grants toward a specific program, they also decided to allow organizations to use the money to best meet their evolving needs.

A child holds a thermometer up to a stuffed animal koala as she looks down at it.
Ava in People Serving People’s educational classroom checks her bear’s temperature. She and other children are getting their temperatures checked each time they enter the classroom.
Photo: People Serving People

Typically, nonprofits apply for grants from Wells Fargo, and contribution councils, which are led by members of Wells Fargo’s Community Relations team and consist of line of business leaders, meet quarterly or bimonthly to make decisions on which organizations receive grant funding, Jordan said. But to provide quick COVID-19 relief, many of the diverse leaders started meeting virtually and approving funding each week. The councils also prioritized existing grantees where due diligence was already complete, as a way to help scale services across the community and expand work that was already having a positive impact, he said.

“We recognized from observations and conversations with nonprofits how impacted they were early on,” Jordan said. “We decided to have 75% of our giving allocated by the end of the second quarter and 25% by the end of the third quarter. Being willing to pivot our process in a time of crisis was critical. We said, ‘We can’t wait until the quarterly meeting because the need is so great, and we wanted to maximize our responsiveness.’ That was a big shift. The big thing was we listened to the needs of the nonprofits. In many cases, we were first at the table to provide funding for COVID-19 relief.”

‘These large expenses hit us quickly’

That expedited funding allowed the Billings Clinic, the largest medical care provider in Montana, to quickly set up a free, temporary day care for front-line workers. On March 15, Dianna Linder, director of grants and program development for Billings Clinic, got a call from the president of the clinic’s foundation about day cares and schools across the state closing the next day and what that would mean for the health care providers with children.

By the next morning, they had set up a pop-up day care for 12 children in the Billings Public Library, staffed with nonclinical health care employees and established with guidance and support from state officials. They then began allowing the children of other front-line workers to attend, including those from other health care providers and emergency responders, and within a week had about 50 to 60 children a day.

“We’re not in the day care business, but we had to support our health care workers because they keep our community safe,” Linder said.

A $30,000 grant from Wells Fargo allowed the Billings Clinic to set up the day care, which ran through the end of May. The grant was also used to quickly establish virtual visits and manufacture surgical gowns and the “Montana Mask,” which was designed by a local physician, a local dentist, and others in the community, to meet the needs for personal protective equipment.


“Wells Fargo was very responsive in approving the grant and getting us the funding,” Linder said. “That was important, because these large expenses hit us quickly.”

‘We are in a crisis situation’

People Serving People, the largest shelter for families and children experiencing homelessness and a leader in preventing homelessness in the Minneapolis region, has also experienced increased expenses and a decline in donations, said board member and former CEO Daniel Gumnit. And the organization hasn’t been able to have its approximately 6,000 volunteers, including about 1,000 Wells Fargo employees, help serve its guests.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our organization,” Gumnit said. “I don’t believe there is a single program or activity that hasn’t been impacted.”

A woman stands in front of paper bags lined up. She wears a mask and gloves and looks down as she holds an orange over a bag. Behind her is a plastic tub of oranges.
Jessica Hardeman and other staff from People Serving People are now packing meals for their guests, instead of having them gather in the dining hall.
Photo: People Serving People

In response to the pandemic, the organization has expanded sanitation efforts, acquired protective gear, purchased compostable serving trays and utensils, and bought food to make up for the decrease in donations. The organization received a $56,000 grant from Wells Fargo to help with those efforts and hosted a matching funds campaign, essentially doubling the donation to cover unexpected expenses, Gumnit said.

“The quick and flexible funding process was really a welcome relief,” Gumnit said. “We are in a crisis situation. For us, to focus on keeping the guests and staff safe, instead of a lengthy application, made a difference.”

‘The support has been tremendously helpful’

That funding has also helped the San Francisco LGBT Center pivot while continuing to serve its clients, connecting them with opportunities, resources, and each other. The center provides more than 200 programs in areas including economic development, which is seeing an increased demand from small businesses, job seekers, and individuals and families experiencing financial stress, said Rebecca Rolfe, executive director.

Thanks to the $30,000 general operating grant from Wells Fargo, the center is now providing almost all of its services remotely and has added new programs, like an online one to share resources for small businesses each week and one to address food insecurity with food gift cards.

“We run a 35,000-square-foot building, so shifting people to remote work hasn’t been a straightforward process,” Rolfe said. “Wells Fargo’s support has been helpful to make those shifts, and as quickly as possible.”

The grant is also helping to balance costs after the center had to cancel its annual fundraiser. “The support has been tremendously helpful to us because we haven’t generated revenue,” Rolfe said. “It is also very helpful to have flexibility in how to spend those resources and not to be attached to grant deliverables that are hard to predict.”

De Luna is thankful for the support the center provides. After finding out about the center six years ago, he has gone from being homeless to running his own business. He opened Healing Cuts SF in the fall of 2019 and has enjoyed being a part of the community, and even providing free haircuts to people with disabilities. But when the pandemic spread, De Luna closed his shop and hasn’t opened since.

SF LGBT Center has provided De Luna with information about the city’s commercial lease moratorium and helped him apply for loans and grants. “The LGBT Center has been my support through the pandemic and has guided me by the hand to find out what kind of help is out there,” De Luna said. “My future is uncertain. I hope Wells Fargo and the SF LGBT Center can help me survive this.”

A building with a Wells Fargo Bank sign is beside a red box with white font that says: Wells Fargo responds to COVID-19.

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