COVID-19 Fund Grants

The Worcester Together: Central Mass COVID-19 Fund was established by GWCF, United Way of Central Massachusetts (UWCM), Worcester Together, and a coalition of generous donors. The Fund has deployed Phase 1 and Phase 2 to organizations throughout Worcester County that work with communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus public health crisis.

Phase Three: Reimagining

The Reimagining phase – the third and final phase of Worcester Together funding – is solely focused on supporting nonprofits to engage in systems change thinking (see the below callout for more information) and implementation planning. It is not about creating more efficient processes for individual organizations, but rather looking to support a limited group of collaborative efforts aimed at examining root causes of inequities and developing plans to disrupt the systems that uphold them, reduce barriers, and create more robust, equitable, and sustainable systems benefiting all people in our communities.


While COVID-19 has highlighted inequities and service gaps we know have existed for a long time, the nonprofit sector has proven its resilience in responding to the needs of our community and forging new ways to connect people with resources. We also recognize that nonprofits often lack the capital, resources, and dedicated collaboration time or face structural barriers to tackle the systems change required to eliminate these inequities. It is clear that, moving forward, real systems change is needed in order to build a stronger collective social safety net that will allow nonprofits to operate at a higher level and empower all community members to thrive.

This phase of the Worcester Together Fund is focused on generating models and a plan to test the influence of a systems change project. We recognize complete systems change may not be feasible with the duration and amount of these grants, but we are hopeful that this can be the spark that ignites new collaborative thinking about entrenched community issues.


We are specifically looking to support teams and collaborations in generating ideas and project plans. Grants can be used to:

  • Support new systems change work such as:
    • Allow teams to generate ideas and test them with key stakeholders
    • Support teams with ideas of what might need to be done but do not yet have a project plan in place
    • Allow teams the supported time to gather information and meet with stakeholders
  • Support the capacity of an existing systems change project including:
    • Expanding the influence of the project
    • An opportunity to reflect on stages completed and plan for the next phase
    • Help generate evidence needed to scale efforts and/or attract other funders

A limited number of major grants, totaling $1 million, will be awarded in this phase. Please direct all applications to our online portal.

We are interested in seeding promising ideas and expect requests to be aspirational but also realistic in terms of the timeline and amount of funding needed. Grants should be considered working capital to apply to work for however long it takes. We recognize grants awarded will not change systems immediately.


We are interested in supporting community-led projects that have the potential to create lasting changes within and across systems. Those projects
must be:

  • Led by a registered 501(c)(3) or have a fiscal sponsor
  • Tackling the root causes of complex issues by disrupting the ways systems have historically operated
  • Collaborating within and across sectors
  • Bold and creative in their approach
  • Have potential for lasting change
  • Have equity at the forefront
  • Focused on creating better systems for people and our community as a whole

Logistics & Process:

Below is the timeline for the third and final phase of Worcester Together.
  • Monday, Dec. 7 by 5 PM EST: Letter of inquiry deadline
  • Friday, Dec. 11: Invitations to submit full application
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12: Application deadline
  • Thursday, Jan. 28: 1 to 5 PM: Review Committee meets
  • Monday, Feb. 1: Grant awards announced
Criteria on which your LOI will be evaluated include:
  • Community-driven solutions: people and institutions most affected by the issue are engaged in the process
  • Locally-led: change efforts generated from within local communities
  • The root cause: demonstrates good thinking about the current system and possible levers for change
  • Readiness: organization and community are primed and ready to tackle this issue
  • Impact: the issue being addressed will benefit a significant population or sector in the community
What is ineligible for consideration in this phase?
  • Applications from lead organizations outside Worcester County
  • Sponsorships or event support
  • Endowment support or matching grants
  • Direct religious purposes
  • Capital projects
  • Direct program/service costs or operational expenses (unless it is directly addressing broader systems change)
  • COVID-19 emergency relief (unless it is directly addressing broader systems change)

For more information, please contact one of the following staff members:

  • Kerry Conaghan, vice president of community impact, United Way of Central MA
  • Jonathan Cohen, vice president for programs & strategy, Greater Worcester Community Foundation
  • Sarah Shugrue, program officer, Greater Worcester Community Foundation

What is Systems Change?

Systems change requires rethinking and adjusting to how we do things. One tool in systems change is systems thinking, which takes a step back from the immediate consequences of a social issue and looks at the bigger picture. Systems thinking is a way to approach complex issues by recognizing how the system works to create the results you are seeing. Understanding that bigger picture is the first step to creating lasting change.

Systems thinking is not linear. Systems are often interconnected and involve relationships among players at different levels and in different sectors and the relationships are often complex.

In this approach, you start with the assumption that the system you’re working within is intentionally designed to get the results it's getting. It achieves these results because of the choices of the stakeholders within and outside the system

It does not mean inventing an approach no one has ever done before. It could mean adapting a successful approach to your local context.

Questions to help you get thinking:

  • How did we get here? What are the root causes of the issue?
  • Why does the system operate this way? What societal benefit is it trying to generate?
  • What are the unintended consequences of the way the system currently operates?
  • What would be different and uncomfortable about changing the current system?
  • What are the stakeholders?
  • Who benefits from the current system? Who is left out?

Phase Two: Recovery

Granting Focus:

The goal of Phase Two: Recovery is to provide three-to-six months of unrestricted general operating support to nonprofit organizations that are actively delivering support and/or programming to our community in a high quality, responsive manner. Grants will be awarded to a select group of organizations that:

  • Are current or recent grantees of either the Greater Worcester Community Foundation or the United Way of Central Mass.
  • Have been operating as a nonprofit organization for at least 2 years with 501(c)(3) status or an established fiscal sponsorship arrangement with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
  • Are based in Worcester County, with priority given to those based south of Route 2 to the south end of the county.
  • Fall into one of our designated areas of priority (Arts & Culture, Economic Security, Health & Human Services, Youth Development & Education)
  • Are actively engaged in scenario planning for the future.
  • Can demonstrate financial resiliency.

Program Details: 

  • Grant Size: Grants will typically range from $25,000 to $100,000
  • Grantees will have the opportunity to access community-funded consultative services in areas that will be helpful to their recovery.
  • Decision Process: Decisions are made by an Oversight Committee with representatives from GWCF and UWCM. Organizations will be notified by the end of June.


Monday, June 8, 2020

Phase One: Rapid Response

Granting Focus:

Phase One: Rapid Response aim to complement the work of public health officials by expanding local capacity to address the outbreak’s social, health and economic impacts in the short and long term. Grants will be awarded to nonprofit organizations who are: 

  • Authentically connected to the greater Worcester community
  • Serving populations whose needs are being exacerbated by the crisis - including, but not limited to:
    • Front-line workers (first responders, healthcare workers, essential workers)
    • Those facing physical, behavioral or emotional health challenges, including those with disabilities
    • Children and seniors
    • Communities of color, immigrants, refugees and undocumented individuals
    • Those facing food-insecurity
    • Homeless populations
  • Incurring expenses above-and-beyond budgeted operating expenses due to meeting community needs resulting from the pandemic

Program Details:

  • Grant Size: $5,000 to $50,000
  • Organizations will only be eligible for one Phase One: Rapid Response Grant
  • 501(c)(3) organizations and programs with a fiscal sponsor are eligible. 
  • The program will not fund individuals or businesses.
  • Decision Process: Decisions are made by an Oversight Committee with representatives from GWCF and UWCM to review grant applications in real time. Organizations are notified with a week of submitting an application.
  • Due to the rapid nature of this process, there is no appeal for funding decisions once made.  Agencies that were denied and have not received prior funding from Worcester Together may reapply without bias.


Worcester Together has announced that the fund has suspended accepting applications for Phase 1: Rapid Response grants. Funding opportunities in future rounds are under consideration.

Questions?  We're Here to Help.

Below are some frequently asked questions. If you can't find what you're looking for here, you may contact a GWCF program officer at

FAQs for Nonprofits:

My organization is interested in resources from the Fund. Are we eligible at this time?

We understand the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting nonprofits in many ways, including increased demand for their services, lost revenue and other challenges. We are currently accepting applications for the final funding phase, Phase Three: Reimagining. Please check the information above to confirm your eligibility. 

Additional grant opportunities, resources, and tools are being compiled daily. Those to explore include the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Please note, only 501(c)(3) or fiscally sponsored projects are eligible for grants. If you are a small business, visit the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce for additional resources.

I am an individual who has been affected by COVID-19. Can the fund help me?

Regrettably, the fund is not able to award grants to individuals. We understand many individuals and families have been affected by the pandemic and more will continue to be affected. We are working to move resources to community-based organizations directly supporting local residents and families who are most affected by emerging health, economic, and social impacts. 

As we begin to award grants to community-based organizations, we will post them on our website. Please check back for a list of organizations which may be able to assist you.

Additional resources to consider:

Is there a geographic area of focus for the fund?

The Worcester Together: Central Mass COVID-19 Fund will prioritize community-based organizations serving Worcester County cities and towns.

We encourage organizations serving the northern part of Worcester County to first inquire with the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts about the availability of funds. 

The GWCF geographic footprint covers: Ashburnham, Athol, Auburn, Barre, Berlin, Blackstone, Bolton, Boylston, Brookfield, Charlton, Clinton, Douglas, Dudley, East Brookfield, Fitchburg, Gardner, Grafton, Hardwick, Harvard, Holden, Hopedale, Hubbardston, Lancaster, Leicester, Leominster, Lunenburg, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, New Braintree, North Brookfield, Northborough, Northbridge, Oakham, Oxford, Paxton, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, Royalston, Rutland, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Southbridge, Spencer, Sterling, Sturbridge, Sutton, Templeton, Upton, Uxbridge, Warren, Webster, West Boylston, West Brookfield, Westborough, Westminster, Winchendon, Worcester.

When will you share who you fund?

We published the list of Phase One: Rapid Response and Phase Two: Recovery grantees, along with short descriptions of the services and support they are providing, on our website.

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