How should philanthropy be thinking in response to COVID-19?

By: Sarah Davies AM   |   CEO Philanthropy Australia   |

We are confronting a rare conjunction of circumstances that pose challenges for philanthropy – and we need to think about how we respond. It brings to mind my favourite Victor Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

We are not only dealing with a public health crisis but also still in early recovery from national bushfires and planning for community and environmental resilience and rebuilding. Added to that is the broader economic volatility and subsequent consequences for value of assets and availability of resources for grantmaking and community organisations. Taken together, what do these compelling issues mean for philanthropy in the next 12-18 months?

Here are 10 possible approaches or actions philanthropy can take to play a positive, constructive role in helping us all understand, respond to and address the challenges of COVID-19 and our public health situation.  Love to hear what you think and if we have missed anything!

  1. Stay close to the organisations and communities you support – ask them what they need, acknowledge the uncertainty they face and perhaps offer them grant or supplementary support outside of your normal process and timelines.  Your grantees may urgently need different kinds of resources to help them adapt – technological or communication support, planning support, and you may have contacts or suppliers, as well as your own expertise and capability to offer. 
  2. Provide unrestricted funding and remove restrictions on existing grants - allow your grantees to adapt quickly and pivot to use resources to respond to what their constituents need most. 
  3. ‘Pay What It Takes’ – pay the full costs of services, activities and programs.  Many not for profits are in a continuous ‘starvation cycle’ as many grants exclude ‘operating’ or ‘overhead’ cost allowance.  In this uncertain and volatile time, it would be dreadful if such critical community organisations were unable to operate because of such grant restrictions. 
  4. Suspend or adapt reporting requirements and re-assess evaluation and measurement requirements – allowing grant recipients to put their full resource and attention to assessing how they need to change and adapt to best support their constituents. 
  5. Maintain your work in bushfire recovery – already vulnerable and economically weakened communities and populations will be hardest hit, again. 
  6. Increase your grants and funding levels – in tough times, philanthropy can go hard.  This may sound counter intuitive with the stock market volatility and valuation capital losses – but that’s the point of philanthropy.  Perhaps set up a new grant pool that you can use over the next few months to respond specifically to vulnerable communities and cohorts who will be most affected. 
  7. Collaborate – use our access to and relationships with the community, government and the business sector to pull people together to seek out the opportunities and alignments that are best suited to philanthropy.  Philanthropy knows how to work with multiple stakeholders through collective impact and place-based models – we can offer this expertise and convening to relevant agencies. 
  8. Use and promote trusted sources of advice and information around COVID-19 – the national and state government public health and emergency response information should be our go-to for information.  Disinformation, opinion and rapidly spread conjecture will be destabilising and dangerous.  Philanthropy is an important and respected voice and we have an obligation to be considered and responsible. 
  9. Participate in the discussions around broader economic and community support: philanthropy’s voice is valued and listened to, and we can provide a channel for the voices which are not usually heard. 
  10. And of course, follow our own advice and look after our own safety and that of our families and communities.  In this instance, philanthropy is just as much a part of the ‘community at risk’ (all be it to perhaps varying degrees).  In so many other areas of philanthropic work, as grant makers and donors we are ‘outside’ the risk, or issue.  Not now. So, look after yourselves and each other as well. 

Here’s a link to useful resources and information based on the above. We will update this regularly, so if you have good resources, please share them with us so we can share with others. We have also set up a member-only Better Giving Hub forum for your discussion, contribution, questions and sharing (please note, you must be signed into the Better Giving Hub to access this forum). 

Mar. 17, 2020

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