Foundation Flexibility Serves Region During Pandemic

February 15, 2021

During an international pandemic, The Erie Community Foundation demonstrated its flexibility while also experiencing record growth during 2020. New gifts to the Foundation totaled over $21 million, grants awarded to nonprofits were valued at over $17 million, Erie Gives broke all records raising over $6.3 million for 400 nonprofits, and the combined market value of nearly 900 individual named funds rose to over $301 million.

“Considering the overwhelming impact of COVID-19, we are humbled and honored that many donors choose to give back to their favored causes through The Erie Community Foundation,” said Foundation President Michael Batchelor.

This is the fifth year in a row that new gifts to the foundation exceeded $20 million dollars. “Many of our donors ask that their support be used to create permanent endowments that will benefit our community for generations to come, while others immediately pass through to the foundation to help with immediate needs,” explained Batchelor.

Recognizing the early devastation of the pandemic, the Foundation assembled local philanthropic partners to quickly plan an emergency Erie Gives in March. Within two weeks, 41 local nonprofits received $667,801. “The first pressing concern was to provide funding for the basic necessity of food,” Batchelor said. A $168,000 grant to Second Harvest Food Bank provided 600 emergency boxes to supply meals to those in the most need. “This early support was absolutely critical to serve the elderly as well as those who lost their jobs,” said Karen Seggi, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank.

As the year progressed, the Foundation modified grant guidelines, budgets, and timetables. “We increased our Helping Today grant budget by 50%, provided more emergency funds for operations and altered timelines to get more money out the door quicker,” said Batchelor.

By August of 2020, the community’s generosity continued by supporting nonprofits through the traditional Erie Gives. “When the 12-hour online day of giving began, we assumed the numbers would be down due to the pandemic and an economic downturn, but once again our generous Erie community stepped up to support their neighbors,” said Batchelor. “Not in our wildest dreams did we think the Erie Gives would attract 2,500 more donors and raise nearly $1 million more than the prior year,” he said.

The Foundation’s community leadership work also continued during 2020, highlighted by the State Board of Education’s approval of the Erie County application for a community college. “This was the culmination of 15 years of work by many in our community,” said Batchelor. “During the hearings, we spent two days, masked and socially distanced, in the Convention Center. Long term, this new institution has the potential to serve local businesses while transforming the lives of thousands in our region,” he said.

A commitment to use a portion of the foundation’s corpus to invest in local projects produced a significant return when Arctaris Impact Investors, LLC (“Arctaris”) launching Arctaris Erie, a $40 million commitment to invest in the revitalization of Erie’s downtown corridor, in partnership with Erie Insurance and The Erie Community Foundation. This program will provide Opportunity Zone investment capital to transform the city center into an inclusive space for all residents. The majority of the $40 million will be invested in urban core revitalization projects in partnership with the Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC), and the remainder in other Mission Related Investments (MRI) within Erie County. This partnership will leverage Erie’s existing competitive strengths which include its strong anchor institutions and deeply committed philanthropic community.

The City of Erie contains eight federally designated Opportunity Zones, including some of the lowest-income zip codes in the United States. Arctaris Erie will assess and evaluate the social and community benefits of each Erie investment, and these results will be shared with local and national stakeholders over the 10-year program.

“We’re thrilled to have attracted an investor of Arctaris Impact’s caliber to Erie,” Batchelor added. “This accelerates our work to revitalize Erie’s downtown through transformational philanthropy.” The Foundation committed to invest $5 million in Arctaris to expand mission related projects in the community. “Arctaris brings 11 years of expertise and substantial financial, government, and philanthropic relationships that can be leveraged for additional grants and investments in Erie,” said Batchelor. “The Kresge Foundation’s support of Arctaris, and their partnership with Harvard’s Institute for a Competitive Inner City, will provide Erie with direct access to research and important best practice models.”

The Erie Community Foundation was established in 1935 by Elisha H. Mack, co-founder of The Boston Store. “Some of the grants awarded in 2020 were, literally, made possible by Mr. Mack and other donors who created unrestricted endowments within the Foundation,’ said Batchelor. ‘I doubt they could have foreseen the Covid-19 pandemic, but I’m very glad they demonstrated their belief in our future by creating a flexible charitable legacy that can respond to changing local needs, he said. “No one knows what the future will bring, but I’m confident The Erie Community Foundation will be here to help.”