COVID-19 is an entirely new type of crisis. But as the pandemic progresses, it’s also exacerbating so many other longstanding issues in our society: inequality, poverty, hunger discrimination, abuse. With so much attention and focus on medical solutions, we also can’t lose sight of the need to address these underlying crises in our communities.
Through conversations with our nonprofit partners, Tableau Foundation has learned that COVID-19 is pouring lighter fluid on already-urgent issues. Hunger-relief organizations like Feeding America have seen an increased demand, and homeless services nonprofits are both grappling with upheaval in services as well as bracing for an influx of need. As both the pandemic and the economic fallout from it evolve, the need for support will only grow.
“The thing that we keep hearing from our nonprofit partners is that they really need as much money as possible to do as much work in their communities as they can,” says my colleague Jason Schumacher, head of US Grantmaking for Tableau Foundation. Hearing the urgency of that need is what prompted Tableau Foundation to accelerate our Community Grants program, which has been ongoing for the past five years. Normally, over the summer months, groups of volunteers from Tableau’s offices around the world convene to decide how to allocate grant money from Tableau Foundation to local nonprofits. Last year, Tableau Foundation seeded over $275,000 in funding to 10 offices, and each local volunteer committee selected a handful of nonprofits to receive the grants.
This year, though, is not a normal year. “It became clear that we needed to do something larger in our communities a few weeks after all the lockdowns started and all the cities that we work in displayed this overwhelming need that is now the status quo that we’re dealing with,” Schumacher says. We decided to move the Community Grants process up to April, streamline the application, expand the available funding to 22 cities where we have offices, shorten the process from 10 weeks to two weeks, and more than double the funding to ensure that organizations could access the support they need.
In the face of a crisis as enormous as COVID-19 and its cascading effects, it's impossible to be everywhere at once. But through our Community Grant process, we are able to empower employees on the ground in our global communities to make decisions based on the needs they’re witnessing firsthand, and to support organizations they know are working to meet them. While every community is different, several commonalities ran through the communities with the issues they chose to prioritize through the community grant process.
Basic support: food and housing assistance
For the volunteer teams across the Tableau global offices, meeting people’s essential needs took priority. With so many individuals out of work or made otherwise vulnerable by COVID-19, ensuring that they have food to eat and a secure place to live is critical. “With regard to COVID-19, it’s really about helping people—especially people in poverty, children and elderly people,” says Jacqueline Fresow, from Tableau’s Munich grant committee. “The question was really where can we make the most difference right now in light of the situation, and we decided that it’s in making sure that people are able to eat,” says Karolina Kluczewski from the Vancouver office.
The local volunteers across the Tableau offices each developed their own way to assess organizations. At Tableau’s headquarters in Seattle, the volunteer grant committee received around 270 applications for funding to local nonprofits. The selection process, says one of the committee members Jac Fitzgerald, had to be very thorough, and was guided by the essential question of if the nonprofit is delivering direct aid to people affected by COVID-19. “And we asked: is it directly assisting vulnerable or disadvantaged populations,” Fitzgerald added. Among the list of organizations chosen for grant support in Seattle were the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County, which provides meals to people in crisis, and Mercy Housing, a local affordable housing organization.
The Austin volunteer cohort took a similar approach, and developed a comprehensive questionnaire—and Tableau dashboard—to sort through their 80 applications for funding. There, organizations that provide essential support directly to the most vulnerable populations were also prioritized. Meghan Jacobson, one of the volunteers on the Tableau Austin committee, said they chose the organization Refugee Services, among others, because “they're going to be providing support to help stop the gap for people who are struggling to pay their rent, buy groceries or have transportation to jobs for the next six months or longer.” With funding from Tableau Foundation, Refugee Services will be able to directly aid 20 families with food, financial support, and security. Vancouver, one of Tableau’s smaller offices, dedicated two of their three final grants to two hunger-relief organizations. One, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, provides meals to people in economically vulnerable situations, and the other, A Loving Spoonful Meals Society, contributes to people facing health crises.
Domestic Violence response
Meeting people’s basic needs of food and shelter was a priority across all the Tableau offices, but COVID-19 has exacerbated so many other challenges. One immediate concern that volunteer committees recognized across the offices was domestic violence and abuse. While data on the relationship between the pandemic and domestic violence is nearly impossible to collect, experts have voiced concern that stay at home orders are exacerbating tensions for people in already-fraught domestic situations.
Across the Tableau offices, the committees responded to that concern. The Austin cohort made a grant to The SAFE Alliance, a local nonprofit that provides support and shelter for victims of abuse. “They provide literally life-saving services for women who, during this pandemic, may be experiencing an uptick or escalation in abuse,” Jacobson says. “There’s an urgency of need here.” In Seattle, Fitzgerald says that the committee chose to contribute to LifeWire, a nonprofit that supports domestic violence survivors, out of recognition that this side-effect of the crisis is not one that can be addressed down the line—it’s urgent now.
Support for immigrant communities
Another particular area of focus in the funding decisions across the Tableau communities was immigrants and refugees. “I think the stimulus payments not going to immigrant families did make this issue a priority for people,” Fitzgerald says. “And just like with domestic abuse, the issues that these communities are facing are often hidden, but they’re increasing during this crisis.” In Seattle, the Tableau community cohort funded the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which provides legal assistance and other support to immigrant communities, along with East African Community Services, a nonprofit that supports immigrant families.
In Austin, Refugee Services focuses its support on immigrant families, who are facing particular economic vulnerability due to COVID-19. The Austin cohort also chose to support Grameen America, a microfinancing organization with a strong presence in the local community, where it extends loans to many small businesses, but particularly those owned by women and immigrants. In light of COVID-19, Grameen has launched an economic relief and recovery fund for women small-business owners, who in Austin, Jacobson says, are often from immigrant or minority backgrounds.
During a crisis as pervasive as COVID-19, it can be difficult to know where or how you can make an impact. But for the groups of Tableau volunteers across our offices who got together to support nonprofits in their communities, it was about figuring out where the greatest needs are, and identifying the nonprofits working quickly and effectively to meet them. “In times like this, dealing with a crisis that’s so chaotic and so global, it’s easy to feel like you can’t do anything, but seeing how we can come together as offices and support nonprofits through these grants feels like that by working together, we can all be a part of the solution,” says Briana Helmueller, on the Austin cohort.
"In less than three weeks, Tableau employees made more than 60 grants in 22 cities to nonprofits that reflect the diversity of our employees and the communities where they live and work,” says my colleague Neal Myrick, VP of Social Impact at Tableau. “I could not be more proud of what they achieved this year."
You can explore all of the grantee organization in the Living Annual Report below. Fitzgerald adds that many of the nonprofits are seeking volunteers in addition to financial support, and we invite you to look into the organizations in your area to see how you can contribute.