COVID-19: Our Venture Philanthropy Response


We applied our venture philanthropy approach when responding to the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on schools and non-profits in the education sector through strategic partnerships and targeted problem solving. We addressed both the immediate needs of our grantees, so that they can continue to support the communities they serve, and the long-term consequences of school closures and remote learning on underserved students and their families.

When the pandemic first hit New York City, our focus was on our grantees’ discrete emergency needs, such as technology infrastructure requests that were critical to their continued operation. We reached out to all grantees from the past three years and provided emergency tech funding—laptops, IT support and other specific tech needs—to those who needed them for program operations.

In addition to technology infrastructure, we provided nonprofits with guidance on time-sensitive topics such as the CARES Act, SBA loans, and how to manage financial needs in the face of expected revenue loss. Our goal was to ensure that nonprofits were able to capitalize on the government benefits being offered to them and receive expert guidance on the financial models needed to survive the crisis. We partnered with RevJen, an organization that assists nonprofits in building revenue capacity, to host webinars and provide individual management consultation. The first webinar focused on the Paycheck Protection Program; 137 participants joined. The second focused on practical steps for contingency planning and cash management to preserve organizational ability to operate; 124 participants joined. As a follow-up, we offered one-on-one management consulting guidance from RevJen to all our grantees.

We are deeply concerned about learning loss caused by school closures, especially for students in early elementary school years. Remote learning simply has not worked for many poor families. Even under normal circumstances, during an average year, students from underserved communities in grades K-3 lose three months of reading knowledge during the summer. We know that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. In response, Heckscher provided new emergency funding for summer literacy programs via Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, three nonprofits that successfully provide literacy remediation and enrichment to thousands of underserved students. Practice Makes Perfect operated a six-week virtual summer enrichment program for students in grades 3-8 focused on math and literacy improvement. (In keeping with our strategic partnership approach, this program was co-funded in partnership with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.) Springboard Collaborative partnered with ten high-need New York City public schools to serve students in Pre-K-4 with a five-week remote summer learning accelerator aimed at combating reading loss and at training parents to be effective at-home literacy coaches. Read Alliance piloted a six-week virtual version of its dual-impact model to serve K-2 students with one-to-one tutoring from a teen leader trained in its research-based curriculum.

We also supported specific public schools in East Harlem and Queens: our East Harlem Pride funding focused on high school students who have struggled in remote learning by providing both summer and fall intensive support programs for credit recovery and Regents prep boot-camps to ensure that students meet graduation requirements. With our support, seven middle schools in Queens, led by George Ryan Middle School, also created a summer remediation and enrichment program focused on ELA and mathematics for students at highest risk of COVID-19 learning loss.

Finally, we recognized that teachers and educators needed to learn basic emergency remote teaching skills for engaging students using Zoom and other platforms. We identified and funded a series of workshops created by Doug Lemov and his team at “Teach Like a Champion” which we offered to grantees. The workshops, “Techniques and Principles for Remote Instruction, 101,” were immediately oversubscribed, demonstrating strong demand. Participants studied video examples of online instruction from schools across the U.S. and participated in active discussions. Topics included synergies between synchronous, asynchronous, and semi-synchronous modes of instruction; tools to check for understanding in an online setting; building productive procedures and routines online; and establishing stronger connections with students in both synchronous and asynchronous settings. These initial workshops sold out so quickly that additional sessions were offered as well as a second set of workshops, “Engaging and Interactive Online Lessons, 201,” which dug deeper into the logistics of online instruction.

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