The role of philanthropy in responding to this pandemic is critical.
Non-profit organizations, accounting for nearly one in 10 jobs in the U.S. private workforce, with more than 12 million total employees, are in crisis.
For many nonprofits, especially those that provide safety net services, demand has never been higher and is only expected to grow in the coming months. At the same time, spring fundraising events have been cancelled, and many donors are concerned about their own finances and capacity to give. And, in this election year, political campaign spending has already diverted funds from nonprofits, with more to come.
Many clients with the ability to give are asking “How do we best respond to this crisis?” Here’s my advice:
- Give locally. Unlike natural disasters, which are usually place-based, this pandemic is everyplace-based. The best place to start is in our own communities and states where we’re most familiar with the needs, nonprofits and people.
- Give more to the nonprofits you already know, believe in and support. Ask: How are they responding to COVID-19? How are they serving the community during this crisis, and what do they most need? Consider making an additional donation to ensure that your favorite nonprofits will be here when the virus subsides.
- Support newly created funds responding to the pandemic. Many states and cities, most community foundations, and other organizations have established funds specifically designed to provide aid in this crisis. These organizations are collecting funds and deploying them where the needs are greatest.
- Trust nonprofits to choose how to spend the funds. Now isn’t the time to direct how your donations should be spent. Trust your non-profit partners to direct donated money where they believe it can have the most impact. Also, relax any usual grant reporting requirements during the crisis so that nonprofits’ stretched resources can go to where they’re needed right now.
- Dig deep. Take stock of what you have and need, and, if you’re able to, stretch to give more to others who are more severely impacted by this pandemic. Focus less on what you’ve lost and more on what you have. “When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it opens up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have,” says author Lynne Twist. If you’re involved with a private foundation, remember that the 5% payout requirement is the floor for donations, not the ceiling. “The strength of a funder’s grantees at the end of this crisis will be a much better measure of the significance of a foundation than the size of its endowment,” according to many philanthropy leaders. Also consider the expanded use of program-related investments in addition to grants.
- Anticipate mid- and long-term needs. Although the needs are acute today, they’ll continue to grow long after the immediate health crisis subsides. The mid- and long-term effects of unemployment, homelessness, hunger, physical and mental health needs and more will continue to grow for many months after the coronavirus has spiked. If you can, create a plan for future giving, as well.
- View this as an opportunity for growth, change and reflection. “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people are writing about how life will be different after COVID-19 and the collective, societal impact of this disaster. Now’s a great opportunity for each of us and our families to reflect on how we consume, share, collaborate, invest and give to our near and far neighbors.
Words of Wisdom
I received some words of wisdom from Richard Woo, Senior Advisor in Philanthropy, Impact Investing & Social Equity, who told me: “We are witnessing an extraordinary moment in the contemporary history of humankind and the life of the planet,” said Both natural ecosystems and those systems created by people are threatened and faltering. The world is changed already by the pandemic and more is to come. Therein lies an opening. In philanthropy, we have an opportunity, a choice, and an obligation to do more than simply witness, but rather to act now to support a bottom up movement to reinvent systems to be more just, sustainable, and whole.”