Every day this week brought more bad news: from shortages of test kits and ventilators to a falling stock market and fears of a deep recession; from layoffs to lockdowns; from shrinking endowments to burgeoning lists of increasingly immediate needs. People we care about are hurting, across our country and around the world. And we know that the worst is yet to come.
Nevertheless, we saw many signs of hope. We saw health care workers headed to our hospitals—risks be damned. We saw neighbors organizing food delivery to support their quarantined friends. We saw people using Twitter to identify out-of-work strangers whose bills they can pay for a time. And we saw philanthropy beginning to step up. We saw worldwide philanthropic giving for COVID-19 surpassing $1 billion. We saw multiple foundations removing restrictions from their existing grants. We saw our friends at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the New Venture Fund, and community foundations across the country standing up rapid-response funds and preparing to serve those in need.
Within our own practice at Arabella, we are now hearing every hour from foundations, individual donors, and corporations who are anxious to do all they can. Having moved our operations fully online, we are helping clients both continue crucial work in a changing world and launch new COVID-19 initiatives. Already, we are helping with efforts to support autoworkers in Detroit, to feed children in Oakland, to care for currently incarcerated youth across the country, and to prepare for safe and secure elections in the middle of a global pandemic. We have also worked with the fiscal sponsor organizations we manage to re-tool operations so we can get more COVID-19 response resources to frontline grantees faster and easier with greater impact.
At the same time, we have started thinking about the new future philanthropy faces. Obviously, that future is still taking shape. Still, we can already discern some crucial questions it will have to answer:
- How will we meet an explosion of individual needs, especially for those most vulnerable? The ability to withstand being out of work and/or stuck at home for an extended period, navigating child care, health care, and educational challenges, is already affecting huge numbers of people—and it will undoubtedly impact our most vulnerable community members most significantly. More than ever, philanthropy will need to find ways not only to help meet those needs but to build the more equitable future much of the field has been talking about for years.
- How will our nonprofit partners survive? Everyone’s endowments are taking a big hit, individual donations are likely to go down, and essentially every organization we work with is suddenly being asked to do more with less—less cash, less volunteer time, and less ability to convene and connect human beings. Funders will have to dig deep, spending at a larger scale and faster pace than they are used to, to help protect the organizations they care about, and the entire field will have to find creative ways to maximize efficiencies going forward.
- Who will fill the gaps government leaves? Governments are increasingly using all available funds to pay for basic needs and work toward an economic recovery. Philanthropy will need to step in, both to close gaps that governments otherwise miss (see the point about equity above) and to fund crucial, longer-term work that governments may triage under the circumstances.
- Who will continue to innovate? Necessity is the proverbial mother of invention, and we are currently looking at a whole lot of necessity. As they always have before, inventors and innovators will respond. Now more than ever, they will need “risk capital” and other forms of support from philanthropists and impact investors.
If you are reading this blog, then you either work with us now, have worked with us before, or just care deeply about philanthropy. Whichever of those things is true, we want you to know that we would love to hear from you. What needs are you seeing? How are you working to fill them? What hurdles are you facing? Philanthropy has a lot of work ahead of it. But the team at Arabella draws inspiration and strength from collective effort—from working with each other, with our clients and partners, and with people from communities across the country and around the world to build a better future. Perhaps as never before, that work simply cannot wait. There really is no time like the present.
If you have ideas about effective philanthropic responses to COVID-19, or about philanthropy’s new future, we hope you will share them with us.