The role of philanthropy in responding to this pandemic is critical.
Nonprofit 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 it’s only expected to grow in the coming months. At the same time, spring fundraising events have been canceled, 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 people with the ability to give are asking, “How do we best respond to this crisis?” Here is 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 are most familiar with the needs, nonprofits and people.
Give more to the nonprofits you already know. 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 is not the time to direct how your donations should be spent. Trust your nonprofit 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 are able to, stretch to give more to others who are more severely hurt by this pandemic. Focus less on what you have 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,” said author Lynne Twist.
If you are 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 will 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 effects of this disaster. Now is 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.
“We are witnessing an extraordinary moment in the contemporary history of humankind and the life of the planet,” said Richard Woo, senior adviser in philanthropy, impact investing & social equity. “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.”
May each of you stay safe and healthy. If you are able to do so, please deepen and augment your philanthropy to help address the effects of COVID-19 in this time of great need.
Bruce DeBoske is a philanthropic strategist working with the DeBoskey Group.