Briefs: Responding to COVID-19 Through Multi-Funder Collaboration and Fast, Flexible Funds to Communities

PHI’s Together Toward Health is a COVID-19 response initiative, formed by a pooled, multi-funder collaborative to provide fast, flexible funds to CBOs with local knowledge and community trust. Find insights and lessons-learned, including recommendations to inform and strengthen shared grantmaking efforts, and guidance on how flexible funding can build health, equity and community power.

  • Harder+Company Community Research
United Against COVID Coalition (TTH grantee)

PHI’s Together Toward Health is a pooled funding program with 21 major philanthropic organizations, fostering equitable COVID-19 recovery in California by focusing on efforts rooted in how and where community members live, organized by people they trust, and offered in the languages they speak.

TTH takes a creative and agile approach to funding, offering capacity-building and workforce development support as well as unrestricted financial resources with reduced reporting requirements. TTH funds come with minimal strings attached, allowing CBOs to get staff and resources into communities in days and weeks instead of months—ultimately helping to keep communities healthier and save lives. And by connecting CBOs to essential infrastructure and providing workforce development opportunities, TTH is also laying the foundation for a strong community-public health platform to support resilient communities beyond the pandemic.

Since launching in 2020, TTH has disbursed over $33 million through 251 awards to 548 CBOs including churches, health centers, community centers, local coalitions and more—who then serve as trusted experts for COVID-19 education, testing and vaccination access in their communities.

The TTH model is expansive, and sets a state and national precedent for what works, find two external evaluation briefs by Harder+Company Community Research. The briefs explore two integral aspects of the TTH approach: The value pooled, multi-funder collaboration and the impact of the fast, flexible funding model to support community health, equity and resilience.

Download the briefs, or scroll down to find in-depth slides and summaries:

Evaluation Brief: Value of Flexible Funding in the TTH Model

Evaluation Brief: Value of TTH Pooled Funding & Multi-Funder Collaboration

Help spread the word

Together Toward Health started with a robust, shared vision among  collaborative of funders in the summer of 2020 with the unique priority of responding rapidly to the emerging needs of community-based organizations in California in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its inception, the funder collaborative prioritized a model of fast and flexible funding to quickly scale a statewide COVID-19 response—including expedited grant application and award processes; streamlined grant reporting and data collection requirements; up front funding; and the ability to use the money creatively to adapt to changing needs. Together, these features contributed to a grantmaking model that was much more agile than typical nonprofit funding sources.

TTH’s flexible approach was crucial to a COVID-19 response rooted in reducing health disparities and addressing structural racism. CBOs were able to keep equity and community at the center of their work: hiring new staff; expanding access to resources; addressing vaccine hesitancy, engaging community members in culturally relevant ways; and expand networks and partnerships.

This brief focuses on the benefits and challenges of the initiative’s approach of providing flexible funding to grantees, and also includes key takeaways to advance equity in future funding opportunities.

Download the evaluation brief

What Together Toward Health did was give us that immediate infusion of flexible funding to do all that foundational work just to get it going. That takes so much effort. It's how you create the machinery to then be able to start whirling the impact through it. CBO Representative
We really appreciate PHI and the TTH coalition where they said, hey, here is an issue, here are some funding, you guys go and solve it to the best that your community will respond to. And we've never really had anyone ever say that to us… We felt like they were trying to listen to what the community needed and not what they thought the community needed. CBO Representative
COVID-19 remains a health emergency. The greatest benefit of TTH is that it dropped the usual application process for an expedited, emergency approach. The application process was fast and streamlined. CBO Representative
They were great because they kept it simple. It was like, here is the $75,000 go do the work. CBO Representative
The flexibility of Together Toward Health funds was a key component in being successful throughout our grant term. In just one year, we saw the mask mandate lift suddenly, delta variant take our community by storm, confusion around boosters grow, and now changing guidance with omicron. Flexible funding allowed for us to combat these issues almost immediately through adapting innovative strategies to combat these issues throughout our community. CBO Representative
I like the fact that they trust us a lot and that we know—that they know that we know what it is that our community needs. CBO Representative
We saw one lady who was really hit hard by COVID. She's gotten over it, but she still has lingering side effects that have unfortunately kept her from being able to work. And so we can't help her with rent, but we [could say], ‘Hey, here's a $25 gift card for you to go buy some groceries or buy yourself something that will support you right now during this moment.’ So there's been little, different things that have just helped the Promotores with the funding that hasn't been really restricted to, ‘You have to purchase this and there's limitations.’ That was very, very helpful for them. CBO Representative
screenshot of Jose

“This funding opportunity allowed us to think creatively about how to cultivate connection and vaccinate folks in the community… We are a dominantly Latino/Spanish-speaking community. The existing resources were not culturally competent for folks and this funding allowed [us] to come up with ways to be able to reach our folks in ways that get them to build trust,” explained Jose Orellana, LOUD For Tomorrow, Together Toward Health Grantee.

This evaluation brief focuses on the origins of Together Toward Health as a funder collaborative, and explores the benefits and challenges associated with a pooled funding approach—demonstrating the ways that this model helped to support community-based health work at the scale needed to meet the challenge of COVID-19 in an administratively efficient way; expand networks and knowledge; ensure strategic alignment as the effort evolved in response to a rapidly changing pandemic; and more. It also includes key takeaways to inform future pooled grantmaking efforts.

Download the evaluation brief

TTH is funded by over 20 philanthropic organizations, including the Ballmer Group; Blue Shield of California Foundation; The California Health Care Foundation; Crankstart Foundation; Genentech; Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Heising-Simons Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; Medtronic Foundation; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; The Sierra Health Foundation; Sunlight Giving; The California Endowment; The California Wellness Foundation; The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Tipping Point Community; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; John & Marcia Goldman Foundation; Walter & Elise Haas Fund; and The Weingart Foundation.

TTH is administered by PHI, which provides technical assistance, support, and professional development opportunities to funded community-based organizations.

I think that [collaboration is] only possible when you are working with other funders who are really aligned on the overall outcome that you want to see, even if…every foundation has such specific goals and strategies…If you have kind of a clear north star that aligns the various funding organizations, I think that allows you to feel more confident being flexible and makes everything a little bit easier. TTH Funder
We could make these investments by ourselves… or [through TTH] we could be part of something larger that is a coordinated and cohesive effort, that is still steeped in the values and the goals that we have as an individual philanthropy but allows us to be part of a greater effort. TTH Funder
I do appreciate the consistency of communication that has come from this initiative, the availability that the team has had in terms of making themselves available to answer questions, meet, brainstorm, partner. TTH Funder
My observation is that funders in California still have a learning curve that we're heading up. And there's lots more to learn, in terms of how funders can come together like this. TTH Funder

Recommendations for Philanthropic Pooled Funding Efforts:

  • Select a fiscal sponsor for pooled funds that is trusted by communities and has high administrative capacity.
  • Establish governance that facilitates collaboration but is not so rigid that it impedes flexibility and innovation.
  • Communicate early on, and often, to funders what is gained, and what is lost, by collaborating.
  • Be prepared to manage expectations.
  • Allocate resources to lifting up successes (and challenges).
screenshot of Olivia

“The grassroots grants helped us support the most vulnerable people in Los Angeles. LA County has been able to get technical assistance for providers who want to access the ARPA dollars (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars so that there’s a more equitable reach among organizations that historically have been locked out of County contracts,” said Olivia Celis, LA Center for Strategic Partnerships, Together Toward Health Grantee.

Courtesy California Health Line / @heidi_demarco;

Together Toward Health: Supporting Communities Through COVID-19 and Beyond

Thanks to Together Toward Health funding and support, CBO grantees have coordinated access to get thousands of California farmworkers vaccinated, conducted outreach to elders about vaccine access and appointments, hosted online live Q&A sessions, trained outreach workers and system navigators, and more. Guided by equity, Together Toward Health is supporting education, awareness and outreach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccine awareness and uptake, and provide workforce development strategies to strengthen economic resilience.

Learn more about Together Toward Health

Work With Us

You change the world. We do the rest. Explore fiscal sponsorship at PHI.

Bring Your Work to PHI

Support Us

Together, we can accelerate our response to public health’s most critical issues.


Find Employment

Begin your career at the Public Health Institute.

See Jobs

Aerial view of wildfire smoke


Wildfires & Extreme Heat: Resources to Protect Yourself & Your Community

Communities across the U.S. and around the world are grappling with dangerous wildfires and extreme heat. These threats disrupt and uproot communities and pose serious risks to environmental and community health—from rising temperatures, unhealthy air pollutants, water contamination and more. Find PHI tools, resources and examples to help communities take action and promote climate safety, equity and resiliency.

Get started

Continue to