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Tampa-St. Pete nonprofit, philanthropic leaders say partnerships and collaboration will be the new normal

Margie Manning



Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Amid severe health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s also been one unanticipated outcome: increased collaboration among nonprofit organizations.

“We’ve seen partnerships grow between nonprofits, where they figure out what’s the core of their business, what are they best at, and allow others who are best at something else to complement what they’re doing rather than both competing,” said Marlene Spalten, president and CEO, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

Nonprofits are working together on efforts such as donation promotions and volunteer recruitment, said Jessica Muroff, president and CEO, United Way Suncoast.

Jessica Muroff

“This type of intense partnership and collaboration, having to rely on one another and sharing information to make sure we are comprehensively serving our community and getting access where it needs, is our new normal. I don’t think that’s going to shift back. I think this is going to evolve the way that our sector works together and supports one another and this will be the way we do business moving forward,” Muroff said.

Muroff and Spalten were among the participants on the Tampa Bay Partnership’s State of the Region webinar, an overview of the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 in the area. United Way Suncoast and Community Foundation of Tampa Bay partner with the Tampa Bay Partnership on its State of the Region report.

Both organizations responded quickly in the crisis. In mid-March, United Way Suncoast launched a rapid response fund to provide quick help to its partners.

“We raised $1.6 million in rapid response. We initiated a rapid response grant process. Every other week we reviewed applications from our nonprofit partners and the needs they had so that we could allocate funds quickly to the community,” Muroff said. “To date, we have allocated over $1.4 million … This has supported more than 70 agencies, more than 900,000 individuals across our region representing nearly 340,000 households.”

Marlene Spalten

The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay designed a nonprofit needs list so nonprofits could share their most urgent needs. There’s been $21 million in needs to date, and the Foundation has written checks for almost $2 million in 172 different grants, Spalten said.

“Checks go out immediately as requested, selected for support by our CFTB fund-holders utilizing their donor-advised funds, and the Community Foundation adds a match to encourage their giving. But the list also engages anyone willing to help. They can make their contributions directly to the request and the nonprofit of their choice,” Spalten said.

Food insecurity has been the top concern, Muroff said. She said Feeding Tampa Bay has provided 30 million meals in the last two months, on top of the 60 million meals that organization already provides. Sixty-eight percent of the people accessing Feeding Tampa Bay services have never been in a food line before, Muroff said.

She doesn’t see demand for services declining, despite the availability of federal Payroll Protection Program funding and a partial reopening of business in Florida, with people starting to return to work.

“The impact is tremendous and it’s going to be with us for a while,” she said.

As the economy recovers, Spalten sees giving on the rise.

“Something I’ve seen happen recently as well that’s so encouraging to our sector is the inclusion of philanthropy, nonprofits in the planning process, in the problem-solving process. Our counties and cities have all established workgroups. In most of those groups I see representatives of those of us who work in philanthropy or nonprofits brought in to consult,” Spalten said.

“It’s needed that we work cross-sector. Business, philanthropy, government, we all need to be in sync about what we are doing. I think I’ve seen a move more toward that through this crisis. There have been a lot of opportunities that have arisen and I think more to come and as philanthropists get to know the importance of their support for the community, as others see that and are inspired by it, and as they get to know our nonprofits and the hard work they do, I think philanthropy is going to increase, especially as the economy begins to even out again.”

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