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Harvest Foundation and United Way partner to develop new grant program.

MARTINSVILLE – COVID-19 has touched nearly every aspect of daily life in Virginia since March. The pandemic hit businesses across Virginia and nonprofits were not immune to the challenges. That’s especially true for those in Henry County and Martinsville.

Nonprofits have faced a financial crisis with annual fundraising events canceled and donations down. These economic hardships have forced layoffs and cuts.

To help combat the challenges, the Harvest Foundation and the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville assembled a project. They partnered with Charlottesville’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence to improve local nonprofits’ resiliency with the COVID-19 Sustainability program, which aids in the resiliency of local nonprofits.

The idea for the program began forming in the early days of the pandemic.

“Initially, efforts were made to support nonprofits as they applied for PPP funding,” said Philip Wenkstern, executive director of United Way Henry County Martinsville. “Over the summer, we began exploring other ideas in terms of how we could support local nonprofits both financially and with technical assistance.”

The Harvest Foundation researched and identified the Center for Nonprofit Excellence as a potential training provider. The Center for Nonprofit Excellence conducts regular training on a variety of topics relevant to nonprofit organizations.

“We began to meet with them about what type of training program they could pull together that would focus on nonprofit sustainability and flexibility in the face of adversity,” said Wenkstern.

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Funding Plus Training

The program provides unrestricted grant funding bundled with training for board and staff members of nonprofits. The goal is to help with the sustainability and flexibility of nonprofit organizations in Martinsville and Henry County.

“Unrestricted grant funding is typically pretty hard to come by, as most grants are tied directly to programs and outcomes,” said Wenkstern. “However, Harvest and the United Way understand that COVID-19 undoubtedly presented new financial challenges to local organizations and wanted to direct funding to local nonprofits in a manner that would enable them to make decisions on how best to use the award. These funds will ideally lead to greater sustainability of existing programs and services that have already been developed and embedded into our community.” 

To receive the full amount of funding, accepted organizations must complete two virtual training modules. 

The first module is a “Program Planning” scenario. Nonprofits will identify different scenarios that could impact their ability to deliver services and develop response strategies to each scenario. The second is the “Financial Modeling” scenario. Each nonprofit will assess program funding, revenue variability, revenue probabilities and expense variability. 

Each workshop includes two hours of Zoom based training delivered in a cohort-based environment. The groups also schedule time with a consultant from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence to work through program material. 

“The workshops will occur approximately two weeks apart to provide organizations with the necessary time to work through the program material,” said Wenkstern.

As companies complete each training module, they get a portion of the grant. The awards will be between $5,000 and $7,500, depending on the size of the organization.

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Finding Volunteers

The United Way identified five volunteers from the community who will review applications and make recommendations for this program’s awards. 

“The volunteers will review applications to ensure that organizations approved serve residents of Martinsville [and] Henry County. [Also] that they operate on a sound financial basis, that their programs are impactful to the community and that programs do not discriminate,” said Wenkstern.

To date, the program has received 17 applications for review. Wenkstern didn’t want to estimate how many nonprofits there are in total between Henry County and Martinsville.

“While the program would love to support every nonprofit in the area, realistically, that just isn’t possible,” he said. “As funding will not likely be able to support every organization that applies, the volunteer panel will make award determinations. [That’s] based on the impact of each organization’s services on the community and how impactful the funds and training will be to the operations of each organization.” 

A first review of the initial applications has not occurred yet. In the future, the applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. And in 2021, volunteers plan to review completed applications every two weeks.

“We really worked to make this application as easy and accessible as possible,” Wenstern said. “I would encourage organizations to take the time to at least review the applications to see how friendly the application is.”

Interested organizations can apply by going to https://bit.ly/CovidSustainability.


Erica Turman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.