As local governments received historic influxes of federal funds to spur recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, community organizations provided them essential support to both meet urgent needs and invest in long-term, equity-driven programming to mitigate the pandemic’s harms. In both the immediate period of economic crises and the recovery, community organizations—defined in this brief as nongovernmental, nonprofit institutions with a presence in a local area and a mandate rooted in community needs, including community foundations, local or regional nonprofits, advocacy groups, grassroots organizations, and neighborhood associations—can play crucial roles in advancing equitable and racial justice-driven recovery strategies.
- As conveners and intermediaries, community organizations can bring together community stakeholders to reconcile priorities, drive consensus toward equity commitments, and engage government to ensure funding investments reflect the needs of the communities they serve.
- As advocates, they can build support for innovative investments and hold local government accountable to equity commitments.
- As funders, community foundations can help smaller-resourced nonprofits build capacity for budget advocacy that embeds equity and racial justice in government investments, be that at the school board, city, county, or state level.
- Through partnerships with research institutions and regional or national networks of multiple localities or nonprofits, community organizations can also bolster transparency about government spending, creating tools like data dashboards or investment fact sheets that clarify allocations and expenditures.
- Finally, community organizations can bolster the capacity of underresourced local governments, standing up and implementing programs, contributing funding to government equity departments or roles, and facilitating community engagement efforts.
Drawing on Urban’s experience providing data and technical assistance for equitable recovery in three cities and key informant interviews with 13 experts, this brief discusses how community organizations played each of these roles in COVID-19 economic recovery and presents best practices and lessons learned for how community organizations can shape equitable economic recoveries. Community organizations also need support from an ecosystem of actors to enable them to play the critical roles outlined above through partnerships, technical assistance, equity-focused spending guidance, and funding. This brief provides recommendations for how the federal government, research organizations and policy think tanks, and philanthropies can support community organizations’ work to build equitable recoveries and address underlying structural inequities.
- The federal government can continue to center equity as a spending criteria as it did with State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, make information about eligible use of funds more accessible, invest in federal and local data infrastructure for equity, and incentivize coordinated use of federal dollars across sectors and jurisdictions.
- Research organizations and policy think tanks can provide technical assistance and research support to community organizations by offering flexible contracts that allow for rapid response, facilitating peer learning across community organizations, and researching and promoting best practices and evidence for concrete equitable recovery strategies.
- Philanthropies, as both nonprofits and grantmakers, can invest in nonprofits’ and grassroots groups’ capacity to advocate for priority investments in government budget processes and fill government capacity gaps by funding roles or departments dedicated to equity and racial justice to institutionalize these commitments in government operations and budget strategies.