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As we mark the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, United Philanthropy Forum has released a report to document how philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) have responded to the pandemic. The report looks back to detail how PSOs—the regional and national philanthropy associations and networks that comprise the Forum network—played many vital leadership roles in the philanthropy sector’s response to the pandemic.


Looking Back

  • Almost immediately after the pandemic hit, PSOs began convening funders to create a space for them to connect, reflect and collaborate. 92% of PSOs hosted regular member calls and conducted virtual convenings focused on specific issues related to the pandemic.
  • Most PSOs became instant information aggregators and hubs for funders and others, with 87% of PSOs serving as a clearinghouse for funders’ pandemic responses and other critical data and information. Nearly every PSO developed a resource page on their websites, sharing updates from the field, information about response funds, insights from the sector and learning opportunities.  
  • Two-thirds of PSOs partnered with those in sectors outside philanthropy (government, nonprofits, business, etc.) as part of their COVID-19 response efforts. In particular, the pandemic prompted many PSOs to engage with government in new and innovative ways.
  • More than half (54%) of PSOs mobilized funding for communities most impacted by COVID-19, often housing and managing collaborative funds for pandemic response. For many PSOs this was a new role for them.
  • Many PSOs led advocacy and policy efforts regionally and nationally, with 57% of PSOs issuing policy or advocacy statements (calls to actions, policy positions, etc.) and 45% of PSOs advocating for COVID-related legislation at the local, state and/or federal level.
  • BIPOC-led PSOs with a long history of centering racial equity were key leaders in being advocates for centering racial equity and fighting against racism in philanthropy’s response to the pandemic.

Looking Forward

  • PSOs have become more transformative, less transactional: PSO board and staff leaders increasingly think and talk about their PSO as a unified community rather than an organization and its members. In turn, more PSOs are approaching member financial support as investments in mission-critical efforts rather than dues in exchange for services. This shift parallels the increasing emphasis on PSOs’ networking (collaborative level of work) and advocacy (collective level of work) roles during the pandemic.
  • A central focus on racial equity and accountability: Leaders of PSOs increasingly recognize their important role in pushing philanthropy to center equity—racial equity in particular—in its work, practices and policies. 
  • New kinds of bold PSO leadership: Outside the philanthropy sector, this leadership is taking the form of increasing numbers of partnerships, with government but also the private sector. These partnerships multiplied and intensified in response to the pandemic and show no signs of going away. 
  • A renewed focus on network: The continued nurturing of PSO networks and their peer-to-peer connections is vital to philanthropy. The pandemic was a case study in the power of networks in responding to a crisis—and the need to build those networks in advance.

© 2024 United Philanthropy Forum. All Rights Reserved.


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