Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund 101

As the backbone organization for nonprofits across Illinois, members of Forefront’s team have the honor of serving on both the steering committee and grant working group of the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund. Announced by Governor Pritzker last month, the fund has raised over $30 million and already disbursed $10 million to organizations across the state.

To help elucidate the fund and its grants process to our community, we have created this video from our Statewide Partnerships Director and grant working group member Sarah Tapscott. Released April 28, 2020.

A text summary of the video content is available below.


What is the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund?

The Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund is a fund that was established very quickly here in Illinois to deploy those much-needed resources to our state’s most vulnerable residents and nonprofit organizations. It was set up very quickly, and working in tandem with other funds set up around the state, ensures that the resources go to where they are needed most.

How was this fund formed, and why is it important?

This COVID-19 response fund was formed by a partnership with the United Way of Illinois and the Alliance of Community Foundations, in collaboration with the Office of the Governor. And it was decided to establish this fund to raise much-needed resources from individuals, corporate, and foundation donors to disperse to the nonprofits and organizations across the state serving individuals, and families, and also our communities. The fund quickly raised over $27 million within the first week or so, which was extremely crazy. And for the first time in Illinois, philanthropy is really pulling together to support that large amount of funding for the nonprofits across the state, and especially into the Central and Southern Illinois regions.

It’s extremely important as we look to resources, or the lack of resources across the state, to support the vulnerable populations. Immediately you saw in the Chicago area, the Community Trust and the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago pulled together a response fund to support the nonprofits in the city and also in the surrounding collar counties. And the Governor quickly saw a need to do the same thing, and that’s why they set up the statewide fund.

The fund was set up to go to some of those most basic needs—those safety net services—originally with the first few rounds of funding. Those packets, or buckets of funding, are:

• Emergency food and basic needs
• Utility and financial assistance for rent
• Childcare needs
• Shelter and interim housing
• Primary healthcare services
• Home bound individuals.

Can you walk through the process of how these response funds are being allocated throughout the state?

The process for getting these response funds throughout the state was set up quickly. In the first round, the funding that went out was around $5.5 million dollars. That went primarily to community foundations and United Ways located throughout Illinois. These dollars were actually granted to those institutions as regranting dollars. That way, they could get it into the hands of their local nonprofits and their local grantees.
The first rounds of grants ranged from $25,000 to $250,000. We are so blessed here in Illinois to have such a strong network of community foundations and United Ways throughout the state, especially in those communities that I mentioned. Especially in Southern Illinois, there are people who don’t have other foundations within the area. So the Community Foundation and the United Way are the two primary funders. They are also trusted leaders, as well as informed grantmakers, and they know exactly where those dollars should go. So that’s why primarily that first round of funding went to those types of institutions.
In addition to the community foundations and United Ways, the Fund did disburse some funds to some other statewide organizations that have large networks that cover a majority of the state. Those organizations were:

• Feeding America
• The Center for Independent Living
• Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence
• The Illinois Network of Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies.

The next round of funding will be announced within the next few days. And we should be allocating about another $5 million and some change. As far as the governing body, and who is making these decisions of where the funds are going: The fund is being chaired by former US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and is governed by a steering committee. And then under that is a grantmaking working group. The committee and the working group are both made up of diverse philanthropic social sector and corporate leaders from across the state. Forefront CEO Eric Weinheimer sits on the steering committee, and I am a member of the grantmaking working group as Forefront’s Director of Statewide Partnerships.

Can you give us some examples of what kinds of organizations have received funding so far, and what the impact will be?

We just allocated the first rounds of funding, and we’re getting some information back from those grantees and from those community foundations and United Ways who have regranted those dollars out. So a majority of that funding did go to the United Way and community foundations, and they are showing that a majority of their funding went to cover those basic needs. We’ve seen local food pantries—a lot of food pantries and food type organizations—being funded with these dollars. Youth serving organizations, like the Urban League and the Boys and Girls Club. YMCAs. Those who still have childcare for some of the frontline workers. These organizations are also not only taking care of children, but making sure that these children and families have food. Local domestic violence shelters. Catholic charities, as well as different senior centers.
We’ve seen the senior population being very vulnerable to contracting the COVID-19 virus, but they’re also very susceptible to mental illness, being secluded. So a lot of the funds have been going to support the seniors. They’re getting food and making sure they’re being transported to medical appointments. Some initial data is showing that obviously nutritional meals are our top rank as far as where the funding went. Rental assistance for families. And then also transportation to those who need it. Not just seniors, but anyone who needs to go to medical appointments as well as getting to their daily jobs.

How can I learn more?

Anyone who’s interested in finding out where local funding pools are and how they can access those can visit our website. We have a tab for the COVID-19 response that lists resources for local response funds. So if you’re in the Western part of the state, Southern part of the state, there are local funds set up in addition to the statewide fund.

To stay informed where the statewide funds are going, and either how you can to that fund or how you can see who has the funds available, visit


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