This year turned many things upside down. At a recent virtual roundtable we hosted for community foundations, we heard firsthand how they and their donors stepped up to the challenge and altered existing practices to meet whatever 2020 threw their way. I spoke with three of our community foundation clients about how COVID-19 brought crises, but also, brought out the best in philanthropy, as well as some interesting new practices for the future. 

Carolyn, Jack and Paul shared their stories with us.

Carolyn Saxton, CFRE




Carolyn Saxton, CFE
President, Legacy Foundation

Jack Willoughby




Jack Willoughby
First Community Foundation Partnership of PA

Paul Lessard




Paul Lessard
High Point Community Foundation

You can listen to the full recording to hear details on multiple successful fundraising initiatives. Each client shared newfound processes or workarounds in light of COVID-19 in the following ways:

  1. Helping the Community: All of our panelists talked about how their donors really came through to help those in need as a result of the pandemic. Community foundations on average saw an increase of 18% in 2020 in their giving programs*. Through various community partners, unique and targeted funds were raised that helped with food distribution, homelessness, and operational support for nonprofits.  

    They also supported working parents with childcare needs. In fact, Carolyn shared that one of their staff brought their grandchild to work every Wednesday and she completed her virtual learning right there in the office. It’s a great example of how the community came together to support everyone in a not-so-ideal situation.  

    Beyond the pandemic crisis, all organizations have been working on more programs for economic development in their local communities.  Paul discussed earmarking funds to support revitalization projects in older areas of High Point, North Carolina, where they also are making their new offices. Carolyn spoke about how Legacy Foundation in Indiana is supporting small business initiatives, and Jack talked about how FCFP administers a grant program supporting infrastructure to a five county area in central Pennsylvania.
  2. Reinventing the Workspace: When the world started staying home mid-March, these community foundations didn’t skip a beat. Paul explained that they never closed down and were able to move to a remote work environment seamlessly. Jack shared a story of how they executed their annual meeting as a virtual event. They worked with a local caterer and delivered food and wine to each participant. What a nice way to stay connected! Once the officers moved back in person mid-summer, these community foundations were able to modify their office spaces to comply with appropriate social distance guidelines. 
  3. Investment Pool Considerations: For the most part, long term investment and spending strategies have not been altered, since the upfront risk analysis completed accounted for downside scenarios.  But it was interesting to learn the differences in the composition of the assets at each organization. In fact, we surveyed participants on the webinar to compare. When asked about the percentage of overall assets endowed (with more consistent spending policies), 30% had between 21-40% of their total assets that were endowed, while 20% had between 61-80%, and another 20% had over 80%. Only 10% had between 41-60.  This is important when it comes to how we think about payouts and return objectives, and ultimately how much risk we build into a portfolio in an effort to achieve those returns.  

    Importantly, over half (55%) of the participants had a separate spending policy for endowed versus un-endowed funds in their investment pools. There were some relevant comments made about donor advised funds too, which have become more important fundraising tools at community foundations in general. See additional details in the National Philanthropic Trust DAF report.
  4. Scholarships: While it’s always nice to meet someone in person, this process moved to 100% virtual. Even before the quarantine, applications were online, but now interviews and approval processes are executed via video conference, and this practice might continue post-COVID-19. Carolyn explained that they no long require SAT/ACT for scholarships due to racial and social-economic biases. This has opened their eyes to look for better ways to determine the students’ potential success in college. Paul echoes the importance of scholarships and their organization offers programs to reach all kids, including those families in need and that have never had a college grad. These community foundations express the importance of continuing these efforts. Paul said it nicely, “Scholarships are not a hand out, but a hand up.”

We're proud of our community foundation clients and their dedicated efforts to helping the community. It's very clear, in these times especially, that they are committed to what they do, and the community that they love. These are some examples, but the efforts are countless. As an OCIO with talented people, experience, resources and technology, we can proudly support them in helping to achieving their missions!

Please be sure to watch the roundtable recording for extra details on this wonderful work. 

View the Roundtable Recording

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Legal Note

Information provided by SEI Investments Management Corporation, a registered investment adviser and wholly owned subsidiary of SEI Investments Company. Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal. There can be no assurance goals will be met.
Certain opinions and views expressed herein are those of Carolyn Saxton, Jack Willoughby and Paul Lessard. SEI bears no responsibility for their accuracy. The Legacy Foundation, First Community Foundation of PA and High Point Community Foundation have been SEI clients as of 4/30/13, 4/30/18, 1/2/18 respectively. These Foundations were selected by SEI and are meant to be representative of an individual Foundation’s experiences and not specifically services provided by SEI nor a recommendation of SEI services.
* Sources: Dalberg, PCA, and CoF, “Responding to Crisis: Philanthropic Barometer Survey”, collected July 20, 2020, and interviews with 13 respondents .; Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative, “Community Foundations Nationwide Launch Coronavirus Relief Efforts,” Updated July 31 2020; Community F oundation Public Awareness Initiative, “Donor Advised Fund Grantmaking Continues Its Surge During Covid 19,” June 26 2020.
^Stats based on live poll in roundtable recording, 19 total participants.