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How the Momentum Fund Centered Racial Equity in Responding to COVID-19

Thursday, May 26, 2022

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, U.S. nonprofits responded immediately to the unprecedented crisis. Many nonprofits established COVID-19 funds to help the communities they serve deal with the pandemic, without having any time to find the necessary resources they needed to manage the funds. They just did what needed to be done in the moment.

Acknowledging this gap, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with United Philanthropy Forum to create the Momentum Fund. Launched in May 2020, the Momentum Fund’s goal was to provide capacity-building support to 501(c)(3) organizations around the country managing COVID-19 relief funds that provided grants and other forms of direct support to community-run organizations working with historically marginalized communities and populations being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The work of the Fund was led by an Advisory Board comprised of leaders of philanthropy-serving organizations with extensive experience and expertise in centering racial equity in philanthropic efforts, and they ensured that racial equity was embedded in every aspect of the Fund’s operations.

In two rounds of grants in September and November 2020, the Momentum Fund awarded 139 grants totaling $9.1 million to organizations working in 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Grantee partners represented a diverse range of nonprofit organizations, including women’s foundations, community foundations, United Ways, PSOs and community-led nonprofit organizations. The Forum managed a grantee partner learning community that operated through the end of 2021.

Now that the Momentum Fund’s work has been completed, the Forum is pleased to share the Fund’s story and learnings. At you can view videos telling powerful stories from a few of the Fund’s grantee partners who led the charge on the ground. You can also hear from some of the stakeholders who were behind the Fund’s creation and execution. The site also features a downloadable report, information on the Momentum Fund’s methodology and highlights of results of the Fund’s work. 

The site shows, for example, that the Momentum Fund’s grantee partners used their grants in practical ways to build their capacity: 39 percent of the grantee partners used all or part of their grants to build their staff capacity; 31 percent used the funds to improve their technology; and 19 percent used the funds to hire consultants or contractors. As two grantee partners noted: 

  • “(The) Momentum Fund grant made a huge difference in what we were able to provide to grassroots organizations through our COVID-19 Fund. We were able to raise more money and make more grants and keep the Fund running for many more months than we would have been able to without it.”
  • “Launching and maintaining the fund involved significant operational costs, but nearly all other grants we received were restricted to grantmaking dollars…We were able to keep the fund open for 3-4 months longer than we otherwise would have because of the systems we set up thanks to our Momentum Fund grant.”

"At its essence, the Momentum Fund is a story of how a funder and an intermediary with a deep national network came together during a time of crisis to meet an urgent unmet need in our country where there was no roadmap about how to move forward,” said David Biemesderfer, President & CEO of United Philanthropy Forum. “It’s also a story about how even in a time of extreme crisis philanthropy can respond in way that center racial equity and engage in responsive and community-focused grantmaking.”