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Digging Deeper in Times of Crisis

Friday, April 10, 2020

Last week United Philanthropy Forum and eight of our colleague national philanthropy-serving organization (PSOs) released a Statement Encouraging Increased Giving in This Time of Crisis. The statement calls on all funders to consider a significant increase in their grant spending to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the statement says, we applaud all of the funders who have already stepped up to increase their giving, loosen restrictions on grantees, and generally to be as flexible as possible in these times of crisis, including the more than 600 funders that have signed on to the pledge of action being hosted at the Council on Foundations. Many Forum members have shared on our member listservs examples of funders who have responded quickly and admirably in the spirit of the pledge, including ones highlighted in our Joint PSO Statement to Keep Equity at the Forefront in Philanthropy’s Response to the CoronavirusRobert Sterling Clark Foundation, The Eisner Foundation, the Nellie Mae Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation. There are many others, including the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and The Libra Foundation, which have both recently announced that they are doubling their 2020 payouts to respond to the coronavirus crisis. I have experienced personally a demonstration of the spirit of the pledge with many funders of the Forum. 

In my lifetime I have never experienced a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is this a global economic crisis but it is a global health crisis that is affecting everyone’s lives in all corners of the country and the globe. I believe this requires funders to dig deeper than they many have ever done before to respond to the crisis. They need to perhaps take more risks than they’ve done before and take actions that might make them a bit more uncomfortable than they’ve felt before. But these times of crisis call for it. It’s not just about preserving endowment capital, it’s about preserving our communities and the nonprofits that work tirelessly to support and strengthen our communities.

I’ll note that in the statement we call on all funders to consider increasing their grant spending during this crisis. If their staff and board leadership have not yet had an in-depth discussion about this, they need to. If after these discussions they decide that given their financial situation, funding philosophy, etc. they are going to maintain their current level of giving, I certainly respect that, even if I might not agree with it. But the COVID-19 pandemic calls for funders to give the matter serious consideration. People and communities are suffering like never before, and the suffering is just beginning.

I’ll also note that when funders make a decision to increase their giving to respond to COVID-19, they must do so in way that ensures that the giving does not exacerbate current inequities in who receives the increased funding. People of color-led organizations help and empower the most vulnerable who are suffering the most right now, and these groups fare worse in receiving funding and maintaining their fiscal health—even in the best of times. Funders must give intentional focus to supporting them in greater ways right now. Forum members Lori Villarosa from PRE and Susan Batten from ABFE have recently highlighted issues of racial equity in COVID-19 responses—Lori in the Nonprofit Quarterly and Susan in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Priority must also be given to groups serving people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, people living with HIV/AIDS, immigrant and refugee communities, LGBTQ communities, as well as nonprofits addressing the needs of specific sectors of labor—farmworkers, those living in close quarters, fast-food workers, retail workers, immigrant labor—and those being held in government facilities (jails, detention centers).

I’m pleased to be one of the originators of the statement along with my colleagues Ana Marie Argilagos of Hispanics in Philanthropy, Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Dan Cardinali of Independent Sector, Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Kathleen Enright of the Council on Foundations, Nick Tedesco of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, Anne Wallestad of BoardSource and Marcus Walton of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. 

My sincere thanks to all of the nonprofits, foundations and philanthropy-serving organizations that are working so hard these days to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Forum members are playing vital leadership roles in our sector right now to respond to the crisis; if you’re a funder who has not yet connected with your nearest regional PSO and with the national PSOs that work in your areas of interest, I encourage you to do so. You’ll find vital knowledge and connections to help you respond effectively to COVID-19. Working together we will get through this crisis. I wish you all good health.

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer

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