CDC Associations and the Coronavirus: Divergent Paths Toward the Same Goal

CDC Associations and the Coronavirus: Divergent Paths Toward the Same Goal

July 2020
Don Bianchi

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” - Barack Obama

As Massachusetts reopens, MACDC is weighing how to transition to a “new normal.” Like our members, we are thinking about when and to what extent do we reopen our office, how do we ensure the safety of our staff, how we can commute safely, and care for our children?  Beyond that, how do we accomplish our raison d’etre, which is to provide support to CDCs and our other MACDC Members across the Commonwealth who deliver essential programs, projects, and services to their communities?

In order to better understand how other CDC associations are approaching reopening, I’ve talked with some, scanned association websites, and joined a call with our national association, NACEDA. I’ve learned that these organizations are continually striving, like we are, to determine how best to serve their members.  While the information presented here is anecdotal, it offers insights into some of the many paths that CDC Associations are taking to arrive at the shared goal of serving our members.

In my conversations and research, several themes have emerged.  I looked at these themes, and the paths that MACDC and other CDC Associations have chosen to address them.

Ask Your Members What They Need

“USA Today has come out with a new survey - apparently three out of every four people make up 75% of the population.”David Letterman

Effective surveying is challenging.  There are tradeoffs between survey comprehensiveness and ease of completion.  Should the survey be general, or more narrowly focused on specific topics?  The answer to this last question, by MACDC and other CDC Associations, is yes and yes.

CDC Association Surveys

Some CDC associations, including the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis Survey and Prosperity Indiana Survey, utilized general surveys to gauge the impact of Covid-19 on their members’ financial health and programs. The Ohio CDC Association issued its Re-Opening and Recovery Survey to better serve its members as they navigate through the Covid-19 recovery.

On a targeted basis, The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania conducted a survey of landlords to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting property owners and managers tasked with maintaining operations while experiencing an unprecedented loss of rental income. Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) surveyed its members on how CDBG funds allocated to the City should be spent.

MACDC Surveys

In July, MACDC sent out a Member Survey, to inform our work over the next year.  Questions ranged from how CDCs are serving their communities through the Covid-19 crisis, to their response to the racism embodied in the murder of George Floyd, to more general questions about how they are managing financially and operationally. More targeted, through its central role in the MA Small Biz COVID Response Coalition, MACDC issued a survey, and is using the Survey Results to inform our policy advocacy. The surveys complement other MACDC efforts to gauge resident needs, including virtual monthly member meetings and calls to individual members.

Lesson Learned

It matters what you ask your members.  It matters just as much that you ask them.  Whenever we ask our members what they want or need from us, they express their appreciation.  It is an invitation to a conversation.

Consider How Local Community Development COVID-19 Response is Impacted by Local and State Policies

Michigan’s Dual Approach

Michigan is served by two CDC associations. CDAD serves the residents of Detroit, who face daunting problems that pre-date Covid-19.  Detroit possesses the highest rate of child poverty among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., has crumbling infrastructure, and 26% of its residential lots are vacant. CDAD successfully advocated for adoption of a Community Benefits Ordinance in 2016, that requires developers to engage with Neighborhood Advisory Councils, to identify community benefits and address potential negative impacts.  Covid-19 has hit Detroit very hard, as the health pandemic has merged with a pandemic of poverty, and CDAD’s response includes supporting its members involved in food delivery, health services, and other public services.

On the state level, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) advocated for an extension of the statewide eviction moratorium, and for using the federal funds from the CARES Act for rental assistance.  CEDAM also regularly advocates that CDBG funding be allocated to meet housing needs, such as housing counseling.

As noted by CDAD Public Policy Director Ruth Johnson, CDAD focuses on the City of Detroit, and works with CEDAM on state-level matters.  Given the severity of the economic challenges facing Detroit, CDAD plays a crucial role in advancing the work of nonprofit, community-based organizations in Detroit, while its partnership with CEDAM provides the opportunity to impact state policy. 

"All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy." - Samantha Power

MACDC’s Comprehensive Approach

As the only CDC Association in Massachusetts, MACDC’s work must impact both state and local policy. Over the years, MACDC has grown to include 88 members representing 60 state-certified Community Development Corporations across Massachusetts.  We also have committees and peer groups representing cities and regions, including the City of Boston, the smaller Gateway Cities across the State, and the Western MA region. One positive byproduct of the Covid-19 imperative to work virtually has been that geographic distance is not a barrier to participation. Though we provide a variety of member services (including peer learning and training), much of our work is focused on advocacy for public policies that facilitate the work of our Members- statewide and locally.

Lesson Learned

Tip O’Neill famous declaration that “all politics is local” does not apply to all policies. In fact, we have seen that not even all local policies are local. During the current pandemic, we’ve seen how local policies on social distancing and mask-wearing can impact infection rates across a region, and how state policies can impact infection rates across the nation.

Be Flexible, Adaptable, and Creative in Serving Our Members

NACEDA Member Examples

Funding: The Ohio CDC Association identified the need among its members for cash, and set up a Community Recovery Fund, to provide small grants (up to $5,000) to them.  It also partnered with an Ohio-based foundation through the Empowering Communities Grant Challenge, to provide grants ranging from $37,000 to $150,000 to its Members working to address the social determinants of health.

Access to Information and Resources: The Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis provided information on Covid-19 training, with up-to-date links to CBN and Member partner events. Prosperity Indiana established an information and resources hub.

Creative Use of Available Platforms: CEDAM ramped up virtual Town Meetings, on a variety of topics. In July, CEDAM hosted three webinars on widely divergent topics.  They included one on Eviction Diversion and Rental Assistance Programs, a second on Successful Onboarding in a Virtual World, and a third on Building Self-Empathy through Social Journaling. 

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” - Albert Einstein


Early on in the crisis, we created information and links to Covid-19 resources on our website which we have kept frequently updated.  Later we created a page specific to helping our members navigate reopening. We also adapted two major events, taking advantage of the available technology to increase the connection we have to our Members, while planning a third virtual event.

A key part of MACDC’s advocacy is our annual Lobby Day, when our Members converge at the State House for inspiration, networking, and meeting with their legislators. This April, an in-person Lobby Day was not possible. We held our Lobby Day virtually, including inspiring remarks by State Senator Eric Lesser and virtual meetings between MACDC Members and their legislators.

The Mel King Institute for Community Building celebrated MKI’s 11th Anniversary Breakfast in virtual style, highlighted by an inspiring keynote speech by Dr. Atyia Martin, CEO and Founder of All Aces, Inc., which partners with organizations to advance racial equity and build resilience.

MACDC is approaching our Annual Meeting this fall in a similar spirit.  We are partnering with NACEDA and with CDC Associations across the nation for a shared, virtual, national conference in October “Strengthening Resilient Communities”.  While the details are still being planned, this shared event will allow our members to participate in national workshops, as well as local workshops tailored to Massachusetts.

CDC Associations around the country support their members in a variety of ways, and our planned joint national conference is just the latest manifestation of how we work together to support our Members, as they transition through the Covid-19 recovery.  Please be in touch if you have any thoughts as to ways MACDC can continue to support our members in this transition.

Lesson Learned

We can make lemonade from lemons.  It’s not hard to see the many challenges the Covid-19 crisis and accompanying economic crisis have posed for CDC associations nationwide: how to serve their members facing logistical complications, financial shortfalls, and the need to rethink program delivery to populations in need.  But we’ve also seen increased participation in virtual member convenings without regard to distance, access to some of the great leaders in community development without concern for travel details (and costs), and a new openness by public officials to levels and kinds of assistance that six months ago were considered non-starters.

“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”Muhammad Ali