During moments of crisis we often see donors responding to and leading recovery movements – whether it’s Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen who have been on the frontlines feeding millions after disasters in Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Indonesia, Spain, and the United States or organizations establishing mutual aid networks to directly support undocumented immigrants, Indigenous, and Black communities – all of whom have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and police violence.
At the beginning of the COVID crisis, there was a call made to philanthropists by philanthropists to rise up and meet the challenges the pandemic brought with it and use their “rainy day fund” to give generously to those impacted by Covid-19 and its aftermath. People gave. There was an outpouring of support from average folks digging into their pockets for $50, to foundations dedicating hundreds of thousands of dollars from their reserves, and corporations investing millions.
Where do we want to see our dollars going?
When we examine where that money has gone, we begin to ask if the communities being hit the hardest are the ones receiving the resources and funds needed to serve communities. SSRI’s Giving with Impact podcast (July 1, 2020) spoke with the CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at Schwab Charitable.
When you hear that Schwab Charitable’s donors increased their overall giving by 50% over last year, giving $1.3 billion through mid-June with $140 million earmarked for COVID and that CDP dispersed $10+ million to 41 organizations in just under three months and are anticipating dispersing an additional $4.5 million in coming weeks, you may wonder how the outpouring of support is not able to stem the growing needs.
To give you an idea of the scope of CDP’s giving – the average git size was $250,000 during the first disbursement and they began distributing funding to international/national agencies re-directing funding to country or state-based efforts, as well as national organizations, focused on training or organizational capacity building. One of the smaller grants made was $75,000 to Schott Foundation/Loving Communities Response Fund which therein distributed the funds to 15 POC led grassroots organizations as $5,000 in mini-grants for food, rental assistance, and emergency care. Another $100,000 grant was split three ways to provide direct financial assistance to individual restaurant workers ($50K), nonprofits serving restaurant workers in crisis ($25K), and zero-interest loans for restaurants to get back and running ($25K). As they distribute the next $4.5 million, they have indicated that they are turning to a “proactive search” for partners who work with communities that are disproportionately impacted.
How do we want organized philanthropy to respond?
You are probably seeing “curated” lists and “vetted” organizations to donate your money to during this time. The list of organizations may be promoted by a reputable nonprofit publication or your favorite celebrity. Before you donate, think about the types of organizations represented on these lists:
1. Who is their leadership? What does the racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and other intersecting identities look like? Do they have diverse staff members at all levels of the organization (senior, middle, entry-level, and volunteer positions)? Does their leadership match the people they are serving? What are their Glassdoor reviews by former staff?
2. What does vetting accomplish? Vetting is a barrier for grassroots nonprofits who do not have the power or access to apply to or complete the requisites for vetting. Also, informal groups – like mutual aid societies, remittances, and friend-based giving circles do not meet IRS charity standards even though they are providing resources to people in direct need. While you definitely need to apply standards to organizations to which you are making a financial donation, you also need to understand the nonprofit community’s current vetting system is steeped in implicit white supremacy that favors professionalized and IRS approved charities, which are frequently white-led.
3. Who are the biggest grants going to? Who are the smallest grants going to? What percentage of the total grant dollars support BIPOC-led organizations? If the largest is being made to white-led institutions and the smallest going to BIPOC-led institutions, ask yourself why that is.
4. Who built and steers the COVID grant-making process for foundations and DAFs? Do they take an explicit, transparent approach to set goals and guidelines for their grantmaking process? Are they members of the communities that have been hardest hit? Have they reduced application barriers for grassroots organizations trying to apply for emergency grants?
5. How long has the organization had roots in the community? How many individuals and families can they immediately help? What general operating support are they providing to ensure financial sustainability to the frontline and second-line organizations?
Does a top-down funding approach make sense for U.S. crises?
Many philanthropists, like Schwab Charitable and CDP, are taking a top-down approach to fund this crisis. The problem is that money takes longer to trickle down than it does to trickle up. Grassroots organizations have spent years building trust and deep networks in their local communities which enables them to pivot to serve immediate needs and mobilize volunteer resources to get funding and supplies to those that need it most. These agencies are also well positioned to partner with philanthropists and institutional funders because they can quickly and accurately assess community needs while using the funder’s organizational capacity to maximize the overall human and social impact.
In a crisis, philanthropists need to:
1. Prioritize action planning by community leaders and organizers who are representative of the communities they are funding.
2. Grant large-scale, unrestricted, general operating support to cover immediate losses from the virus, manage long-term work-from-home orders, upgrade digital infrastructures, and distribute cash or resources to their community as they see fit.
3. Fund strategies innovated by women of color at the source rather than funding larger, white-led nonprofits replicating that work.
4. Take a “risk” by generously and consistently funding women and BIPOC-led initiatives with the decades-long record of success rather than the slick concept pitch by a Harvard grad. Furthermore, ask yourself, why a grassroots organization headed by people of color is immediately perceived to be unreliable or a “risky” investment when often the white-led organizations have terrible reputations in the communities they serve.
5. Support and amplify mutual aid funds that often focus on raising and distributing resources to women, trans and non-binary folks, BIPOC, queer, sick, disabled, undocumented, unemployed, and/or a parent or caregiver.
Who is Doing it Differently?
There are progressive foundations focused on funding grassroots organizations led by women and BIPOC leadership, including:
These organizations often share a list of their grantees, doing the “vetting” (through an intersectional lens) for average donors who are not sure what BIPOC-led organizations are in their community. You can also identify possible organizations to support by identifying coalition-based organizations and looking at their list of coalitions, partners, and alliances, such as:
Mutual aid funds are proliferating around the country to support communities who have been ignored and oppressed by organizing formal and informal mutual aid systems to provide direct financial support, food donations, free items from dumpster dives: