Since The We Are Santa Monica Fund was created in spring 2020, more than $1.1 million has been donated to the cause; and now, city leaders must determine how to equitably allocate the funding in the future.

The We Are Santa Monica Fund was originally started to help residents, businesses and local organizations respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is administered through the California Community Foundation, and donations support COVID-19 Relief for local residents facing housing and food insecurity, business recovery efforts, the recently passed Black Agenda, and the Food Pantry at Virginia Avenue Park.

All of the donations during and after the holiday season have verified two key points, Chief Communications Officer Debbie Lee said during a recent City Council meeting.

“First, our Santa Monica community cares deeply and there’s clearly an overwhelming desire to donate and help in recovery efforts. And second, we need to consider the future of The We Are Santa Monica Fund — both in how we maintain momentum to raise these funds and how we formalize the process to make recommendations to CCF on how to disseminate grants to nonprofit partners that deliver services in the four focus areas,” Lee said.

“In order to continue the success of the current year Santa Monica fund, enhance community engagement in these efforts and adhere to best practices for Donor Advised Funds,” she added, “staff proposes establishing a five-member We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board to be selected by the City Manager.”

The board will be responsible for advising the city manager in three ways. The first will be to provide knowledge of Santa Monica and its residents’ needs as well as any applicable expertise in fundraising, government and community relations or knowledge in the grants and philanthropic sectors, Lee said. The prospective advisory board will be expected to enhance community and donor awareness of the fund as well and be compliant with fundraising restrictions and best practices for Donor Advised Funds.

“The group could also focus on the long-term future of the fund and explore the viability of whether The We Are Santa Monica Fund could evolve to become an independent 501(c)(3) or foundation,” according to Lee.

Mayor Pro Tempore Kristin McCowan said she supported establishing an advisory board as soon as possible because Council can decide whether or not the fund becomes a nonprofit or stays with CCF in the future. Her peers agreed and eventually voted to create an application process for the newly-established We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board.

“Our next step in this process is to open a 30 day application period,” Lee said, mentioning the City’s goal is to have the board begin its work sometime this spring.

City staff said this week the application is expected to be available to the public this Thursday.