To say that COVID-19 has been tough on the small business community would be a massive understatement. Over the past year, thousands of businesses across the country have been forced to close their doors—and thousands more continue to struggle in the face of extended shutdowns and restrictions.
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Small businesses need financial support now more than ever—and while federal programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) have been a lifeline for many small businesses, additional support is needed to keep businesses moving forward as the pandemic continues to stretch into 2021.
And one way that businesses are getting that financial support? Through local, state, and industry-specific relief funds.
Relief funds at the local, state, community, or industry level are typically administered differently than federal funds; while they may not have the same kind of financial impact as larger government programs (for example, to date, Congress has allocated $796 billion in PPP loans), because they’re more targeted in who they serve and have fewer restrictions on how funds can be dispersed, they can often get support into the hands of the business owners who need it most quickly and efficiently—making them a cornerstone of economic recovery for small businesses across the US.
And they also accept donations.
If you want to make a donation to support small business impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic—and you want your donation to make a real impact—here are 23 local, state, and industry-specific funds you may want to consider:
Restaurant, Food and Beverage, and Hospitality Relief Funds
While the small business community as a whole has been hit hard by COVID-19, the restaurant and hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit as a result of mandated shutdowns, a significant slowdown in travel, and restrictions on indoor dining.
If you want your donation to go towards keeping local restaurants open, consider donating to one of these relief funds:
The James Beard Foundation’s Open For Good campaign was launched to help community-focused, independently owned restaurants navigate the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to providing restaurant owners with resources and advocacy support, Open For Good also has a grant program that provides financial support to help restaurants “survive, reopen, and rebuild” in the face of COVID.
At the start of the pandemic, the Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival launched the SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund. The fund provides financial support to independently owned restaurants, hotels, bars, and caterers struggling with COVID-related restrictions and closures in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.
Launched by Barstool Sports Founder Dave Portney, The Barstool Fund has raised over $35 million from 217,000 supporters to provide financial relief to over 260 small businesses, most of which are in the restaurant, food, and hospitality industry—and that’s just since December. In addition to direct donations, donors can also buy branded merchandise—with 100 percent of the net profits going towards supporting small businesses.
Live Venue Relief Funds
Few industries have felt the impact of COVID-19 like the live event industry. COVID-related restrictions, like social distancing and gathering limits, have made hosting events impossible for the past year—and, as a result, many live venues are at risk of permanent closure.
If you want to donate to keep live venues moving forward—and ensure that concerts, comedy shows, and other live events will be waiting on the other side of the pandemic—here are a few funds to consider:
The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) launched the Emergency Relief Fund to provide direct financial support to independent venues and venue promoters in the US in late 2020. While the application period for the initial funding round is closed, the fund has shifted gears to provide immediate financial assistance to the most vulnerable venues waiting for federal emergency funding via the Save The Stages Act (which passed as part of the recent COVID-19 relief bill).
The Keep Music Live Fund provides relief funds to live music venues to cover a variety of expenses (including rent, staffing and payroll expenses, safety modifications, and insurance) during COVID-19 closures. The Keep Music Live Fund distributed its first round of relief grants in February 2021—with plans to distribute an additional round of grants to live music venues in the spring.
The Independent Venue Alliance (IVA) Relief Fund provides grants to independent music venues in the San Francisco, CA area. Similar to other venue-targeted relief funds, recipients can use their grants to cover costs—and keep their venues moving forward—during the ongoing COVID-related closures.
Artists’ Relief Funds
The arts are another industry that has suffered significant losses as a result of COVID. Not only have live events been put on pause for the past year, but many people have less disposable income than before—and, as such, less money to invest in the arts. If you’re interested in supporting the arts—and the artists and creators who contribute to those arts—here are a few funds you’ll definitely want to consider donating to:
The Black Arts Futures Fund provides financial support to Black-led non-profits, businesses, and projects in the arts and culture space. In 2020, the Black Arts Futures Fund issued $132,000 in grants to 33 grantees.
ArtsFund provides grants and organizational support to nonprofit arts organizations in the Seattle area. The ArtsFund has been supporting the arts community for the past four decades—and in response to COVID-19, the fund provided 3.1 million in emergency relief grants and 2.19 million general operating support grants to local arts organizations struggling as a result of the pandemic.
Artist Trust is an organization that provides funding to artists in Washington State—an in response to the ongoing pandemic, the organization has launched the COVID-19 Artist Trust Relief Fund, which will provide grants of $1000 to a minimum of 100 impacted artists in 2021.
Minority-Owned Business Relief Funds
Minority-owned businesses have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic; for example, research from the University of California Santa Cruz found that 41 percent of Black-owned businesses, 32 percent of Latinx-owned businesses, and 26 percent of Asian-owned businesses closed between February and April 2020—compared to just 17 percent of white-owned businesses.
If you want your donation to go directly to helping minority-owned businesses, here are a few funds to consider:
The Black Owned Small Business Impact Fund is a partnership between BEY Good and the NAACP whose goal is “to provide a lifeline for small businesses at the epicenter of dual pandemics.” While details for 2021 have yet to be released, in 2020, the fund provided grants of $10,000 to black-owned businesses on the 15th of each month.
In late 2020, LISC NYC, in partnership with a variety of community-based organizations and the City of New York’s Small Business Services, launched the LISC NYC COVID-19 Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund, which provides grants to minority-owned businesses in the NYC area that continue to struggle financially as a result of the pandemic—with priority given to businesses in low to moderate-income neighborhoods.
The Opportunity Fund’s Small Business Relief Fund aims to provide support by small businesses impacted by COVID-19—with a special focus on businesses operated by people of color, immigrants, and women. While donations to the fund aren’t distributed as grants directly to small businesses, they do offer other benefits—including the ability to skip loan payments, access to affordable capital, and free advice and support on how to navigate the ongoing crisis and financial issues facing small businesses in the wake of COVID-19.
Start Small, Think Big is an organization that provides support to under-represented and under-resources entrepreneurs, including people of color and women. Their Emergency Relief Fund provides financial assistance to the entrepreneurs they serve—and, to date, has distributed over 50 grants to small business owners and over $130,000 to cover rent expenses.
Local Small Business Relief Funds
ChamberRVA, in partnership with Facebook, launched the RVA Small Business Relief Fund as a way to provide emergency grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 in the Richmond, VA area.
While the first round provided $250,000 in funding, there is still a need for additional support—and the ChamberRVA is actively collecting donations to support future grant rounds.
The Merchants Fund (TFM) has been providing financial support to small businesses in need in the Philadelphia area since 1854—and has continued to provide that support (in the form of grants) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Berkeley Relief Fund is a community-based relief fund aimed at supporting small businesses and arts nonprofits in the city of Berkeley, CA. To date, the fund has raised over $4.5 million ($3 million from the city and $1.5 from independent donors) and provided financial support to over 700 small businesses and 63 arts organizations—and is continuing to collect donations to support the local business community.
The Keep It Kaimuki Small Business Relief Fund was launched by small business owners in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu, HI. Donations to the fund are distributed as grants to the Kaimuki businesses most at risk of closure due to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Relief Fund was launched to provide support and resources to people impacted by COVID in the Greater New York City area—including local small businesses.
Relief Funds for Impacted Workers
Clearly, small businesses are struggling in the wake of COVID-19—and, as a result, so are their employees. The pandemic has forced many businesses to reduce their workforce and/or cut back on hours—which has left many workers without the financial stability they need to cover their basic needs.
Luckily, there are a variety of funds that have been set up to provide financial relief to employees in struggling industries. If, instead of donating to small businesses directly, you’d rather donate to workers that have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some relief funds you’ll definitely want to check out:
Live music events have been shuttered for almost a year—and, as a result, the crews that bring those events to life have been out of work for the same stretch of time. Crew Nation is a relief fund dedicated to providing financial support to live concert workers to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic—and to keep them moving forward until live concerts can safely ramp back up. LiveNation, one of the world’s largest music and events companies, originally donated $5 million to the fund—and pledged top match an additional $5 million in donations.
- ROAR NY (relief fund for NYC restaurant workers)
New York City is known for its vibrant, bustling restaurant scene—but when the pandemic forced many restaurants to shut their doors, many restaurant workers found themselves without an income. Relief Opportunities For All Restaurants (ROAR) has partnered with Robin Hood, an NYC-based poverty fighting organization, to provide $500 grants to full and part-time restaurant employees that are struggling financially as a result of COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions on dining and restaurants.
A partnership between Samuel Adams and The Greg Hill Foundation, the Restaurant Strong Fund is an employee grant program providing direct financial support to restaurant workers in 20 states across the US. To date, the Restaurant Strong Fund has raised nearly $7.7 million dollars and issued 7,186 grants—and in 2021, will be providing additional grants of up to $1,000 to workers in need.
Established in 2017, the Southern Smoke Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund provides financial support to employees in the food and beverage industry experiencing a crisis, whether that’s a housing issue, medical bills, or an unforeseen accident. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, with more urgent crises taken priority. To date, the Southern Smoke Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund has issued over $5.5 million to food and beverage workers in crisis.
Grocery workers have been beyond essential since the beginning of the pandemic, keeping shelves stocked and getting food, personal items, and other essentials into the hands of the people who needed them most. As a thank you for their essential services, Kendall Jackson and United Way have partnered to launch the Grocery Worker’s Relief Funds, which provides emergency financial relief to grocery workers in the form of $250 cash cards.
Are you a small business owner in need of financial support to weather the rest of the COVID storm? Make sure to check out Gusto’s small business relief finder, a crowdsourced list of local, state, and industry-specific relief you can leverage to keep your business moving forward through the continued pandemic.