It Takes a Community to Respond

John Hancock trustees and East Boston middle school students alike drive donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund to $9.6 million.

June 12, 2020

Even before the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Boston, it was clear this would be an unprecedented crisis that would affect our community profoundly. The first impulse of thousands of generous people who care deeply about Greater Boston was to contribute to a nonprofit organization or a special fund designed to get money out the door quickly.

But which nonprofit? Which special fund?
Grace Fey
Grace Fey

This was the question facing the 12 trustees of the John Hancock Group of Funds, the Board of Directors overseeing John Hancock’s mutual funds and ETFs. One of the fund’s trustees, Grace Fey, had a suggestion.

“I had served on the board of the Boston Foundation for many years, and I was so proud when it was the first major nonprofit organization in Boston to launch a special fund to respond to COVID-19,” she explains. “I knew the Foundation would act with speed and know exactly which nonprofits to fund. And I knew that it would be a perfect fit for my fellow trustees. John Hancock is a very caring company." Fey asked a rather bold question: What if all 12 trustees made personal contributions to the fund to benefit John Hancock’s home in Boston and in acknowledgment of a current Boston Foundation board member, Andy Arnott, who is President and CEO of John Hancock Investments?

Andy Arnott
Andrew Arnott
All twelve trustees agreed unanimously. “We were so moved by this tremendous show of support from John Hancock,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “That company regularly steps up to support our Annual Campaign for Civic Leadership, which gives us the resources we need to respond swiftly to emergencies as we did with the COVID-19 Response Fund. To have this personal response from the trustees was remarkable.”  

Then Fey turned her attention to the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation, where she is also a trustee. The same questions were being asked by that board: “Where should we put our support? Where will it do the most good?” That Foundation decided to make major gifts of $50,000 to all of the major COVID-related funds, including the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the City of Boston’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, a statewide fund called the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund launched by First Lady Lauren Baker and philanthropist Joanna Jacobson and the United Way’s COVID-19 Family Support Fund. The Boston Foundation played a role in helping the City of Boston’s fund and is a sponsor of the statewide fund. The trustees voted unanimously to make the four large grants.

Cultivating the Next Generation of Generous CEOs

Another, somewhat younger, group decided to step up and contribute to the Fund too. Students from the Brooke East Boston Charter School worked all semester long with a nonprofit organization called One Bead that has a program challenging students to write and execute a business plan with the goal of raising money that will have an impact on their community. One Bead asks students to use their beliefs, values and lived experiences to identify an issue in the community that is important to them. 

The students from Brooke East Boston had been planning to use their donation budget to combat gun violence, but after the onset of COVID-19 closed their school, they wanted to have an impact on the crisis. One Bead staff arranged for Thomas Bentley, the Boston Foundation’s Assistant Director of Leadership Giving, to video conference with the class and talk about the COVID-19 Response Fund—and the students decided unanimously to donate $733.33 to the Boston Foundation.

"It was awesome answering the students’ questions about our COVID-19 response work and especially to earn their trust and,” says Bentley. “Contributions like these are so heartening and gifts of all sizes have made an immense impact on the Boston Foundation’s ability to meet the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors."