Arkansas Community Foundation’s $2 million fund bolstering state nonprofits on the frontline of pandemic

April 20-26, 2020

By Daily Record Staff


As one of the first philanthropic organizations to respond to the potential economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arkansas Community Foundation is closing in on providing nearly 500 “mini-grants” to nonprofits across the state aiding vulnerable populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Only a week after the first positive case was coronavirus in Arkansas on March 11, ACF first announced that it was accepting proposals for $1,000 mini-grants to assist nonprofits across the state. Under the program’s rules, nonprofit organizations with 501c3 status such as churches, hospitals, schools or government entities based anywhere in Arkansas were eligible to apply.


In an interview with the Daily Record, ACF’s Chief Program Officer Sarah Kinser said the Little Rock-based foundation has given priority to those nonprofits involved in human services. Organizations that provide providing emergency assistance such as shelter, transportation, living expenses, and rent and utility assistance to workers impacted by the fast-spreading virus are also given strong consideration.


Kinser said most of the mini-grants have been awarded to nonprofits that primarily serve vulnerable populations, including children who are out of school and families without childcare, people who have lost a source of income due to the pandemic, and those who are at high risk medically. Other charities that applied and received the $1,000 bounty provide services for the homeless, incarcerated and other individuals who lack paid sick leave or health insurance, she said.


“We have funded 350 already and we have another batch of more than 100 that we are processing this week and even more in queue for next week. And we have several hundred requests that we are going to be supporting,” said Kinser, noting that the foundation is currently reviewing additional applications on a rolling basis. 


On April 5, the program was further bolstered when ACF announced a partnership with Gov. Asa Hutchinson publicly asked Arkansans to make donations to the foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund to assist in pandemic relief.


“Hardships have been placed on many Arkansans because of this public health emergency. Tens of thousands of Arkansans have recently filed unemployment claims, and there are great needs in many Arkansas communities. Arkansans have been incredibly responsive to the needs of their neighbors by volunteering assistance in this time of crisis.” Hutchinson said during his daily COVID-19 press briefings.


“This is why we exist – to help Arkansas communities,” added ACF President and CEO Heather Larkin. “This fund is an efficient way to bring together donors with Arkansas nonprofits. We know that even during difficult times, Arkansans are still generous. We are honored that the governor considers [ACF] the most trusted organization to help provide guidance for those able to help.”


During that announcement, ACF said that several Arkansas entities had already pledged more than $2 million in donation to support the ACF mini-grant program. They included local construction equipment firm Riggs CAT and several large corporate and philanthropies such as the Entergy Charitable Foundation, Tyson Family Foundation, Walmart Foundation, Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, Windgate Charitable Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. 


Kinser added that since the March 18 launch of the program, nonprofits statewide are facing a two-fold challenge to garner financial support while they are also out-front serving those most likely impacted by the spreading virus.


“They are seeing a greater demand for their services, and then on the other side they are seeing a decrease in donations for a variety of reasons,” said the ACF executive. “In some cases, they made have had a major spring fundraiser that they’ve had to cancel due to social distancing; or in some cases it may be that folks who are contributing throughout the year are themselves feeling the pinch and are concerned about their family’s finances and so perhaps are not giving as much as they ordinarily would.”


Nonprofits that received fees for services or are reimbursed by government grants for work they provide throughout the community, are also seeing a dramatically decline in financial support and contributions because they are unable to raise funds following Gov. Hutchinson’s unofficial state-at-home request.


“So that that is what nonprofits are dealing with, especially those that are providing human services through pantries, emergency those and domestic violence shelters – those are really seeing an increase in demand,” she said.


Kinser added that the nonprofit sector in Arkansas is also a major economic driver, contributing a large segment of jobs to state’s 1.3 million-plus civilian labor pool. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data surveying the years following the 2008 economic crisis, nonprofit employment in Arkansas grew 17.4% from 2007 to 2016, pushing the sector’s total job count to more than 92,000 workers.


By comparison, for-profit employment grew by only 0.5% during that same period, but all those gains have been erased as U.S. jobless claims spiked to a historic high of more than 6.6 million in the past two weeks. Nationally, there are officially 12.3 million jobs in nonprofit organizations across the U.S., representing 10.2% of the nation’s total private sector employment.


Using that same BLS data, a study released by the Johns Hopkins University and its Center for Civil Society Studies in January 2019 estimates there were 3,195 nonprofits in Arkansas that employed 91,175 workers. Those charities produced total annual wages of nearly $3.9 billion, which averages out to $40,566 in annual salaries per employee, or about $780 on a weekly basis.


“So, nonprofits in addition to being an outlet for people to do volunteer work, they are also a major employer,” explained Kinser. “But just like a traditional [small] business they are dealing with the same sorts of concerns that businesses around keeping staff and making sure they continue to do the work that is needed.” 


Kinser added with emphasis: “A lot of people [in Arkansas] making their livings from nonprofits.”


Going forward, as Arkansas and other states began strategizing on how to reboot the nation’s ailing economy, Kinser said ACF will announce the creation of a new COVID-19 Relief Fund on April 15. These grants will be used to direct additional resources to Arkansas nonprofits that are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and its economic fallout.


“We are expecting these [grants] to be focused on helping nonprofits adapt to work to this ‘new normal’ that we are living in,” said Kinser, adding that the guidelines for the program will be slightly different than the first COVID-19 program launched nearly a month ago.


“So, we are specifically interested in rewarding organizations that are serving economic needs for individuals in the local business economy, as well as those that are addressing healthcare, mental health and education,” she said. 


Statewide, ACT has a network of 28 affiliates offices across the state that works with other nonprofits to closely monitor how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts local communities. 


“We are all adapting to a new way of doing work … and nonprofits are much the same so we want to help them do what they need to do to adapt to social distancing, and to serve the needs of a broader audience who are having to call on them for help perhaps more than they ever have in the past,” added Kinser.


Nonprofits can find more information by visiting  


PHOTO CAPTION: (Photo courtesy of Twitter, @SmartGivingAR)


Arkansas Community Foundation (ACF) provides mini-grants for organziations affected by cororavirus pandemic. “We know that even during difficult times, Arkansans are still generous. This is why we exist,” said ACF CEO, Heather Larkin.


  • ACF CEO, Heather Larkin
    ACF CEO, Heather Larkin