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'We need everybody to get involved.' Philanthropists give Milwaukee nonprofits a boost during the co

As nonprofit social service providers struggle to keep their doors open with limited ability to raise funds, Milwaukee's philanthropic organizations are stepping in to help.

A coalition of organizations, including Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, has collectively raised $1.3 million so far.

The purpose of the coalition is to sustain the efforts of "nonprofits who serve local communities ... facing mounting obstacles and disruptions to their missions" because of coronavirus.

More than half a dozen Milwaukee nonprofits have benefited so far, including Hunger Task Force, Feeding America, United Way of Northern Ozaukee County, Waukesha Food Pantry, Imagine MKE and the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

That's in addition to separate funding campaigns set up to help struggling nonprofits, such as United Way's COVID-19 Urgent Needs Fund and Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment Urgent Response to COVID-19 Fund.

Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact at the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, said staff acted immediately.

"I have made some of the strangest Amazon orders — diapers and potted meat," she said. "But that's what our partners need."

Angresano, like many others, watched states like Washington closely and began putting dollars aside in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak in Wisconsin.

Now that the outbreak is here, Angresano said she and other organizations are ready to help.

Nonprofits the biggest priority for fund

After meeting with Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley and health officials, Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, began thinking about how coronavirus would affect people's ability to meet basic needs.

Soon after, the MKE Responds Fund was born.

The fund is meant to collaboratively help nonprofits that provide basic needs, such as food, shelter and health care.

"Our low-income residents and people who are suffering through this situation, are reliant on (government) and nonprofits," Gilligan said.

Nonprofit organizations can apply for assistance from the fund by emailing

Gilligan encouraged business owners and individuals to do what they can.

"We need everybody to get involved," she said. "We are trying to inspire philanthropy for those who want to give, and we are also trying to provide an intake for people who want to apply."

Even though the organizations are collaborating remotely, Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, also a partner, said it's not the first time they've all worked together.

"I think the basis of this is there is a strong working relationship and foundation of trust for our partners," she said, pointing to the anti-displacement fund the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and other organizations pulled together recently. That fund is meant to protect homeowners near downtown who are being affected by rising property taxes.

In her 17 years leading the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Taylor said she's never seen anything like the coronavirus.

"You survive 9/11, you survive the 2008 meltdown and I think the issue with this pandemic is one, it generates a great deal of fear, and two, we have an economic shutdown but also a social isolation that we’ve never had before," she said. "Because we are in this no man’s land, it’s been hard to anticipate what long-term would look like."

Angresano said in the future, the fund's uses could broaden. "We are really committed to making sure we stay in touch with each other so that we make smart and thoughtful investments and so that we spread the wealth," she said.

Other members of the coalition are Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment, Bader Philanthropies, Brewer's Community Foundation, Burke Foundation, Herb Kohl foundations, Milwaukee Public Schools, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, Wells Fargo and Zilber Family Foundation.


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