Joint PSO Statement: Keep Equity at the Forefront in Philanthropy’s Response to the Coronavirus

Thursday, March 19, 2020

(Note: This joint PSO statement was the basis for a Letter to the Editor published in The Chroncile of Philanthropy on 3/19/20)

In a recent opinion in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (How to Help the Most Vulnerable Through the Pandemic, 3/11/2020), FSG’s Lauren A. Smith made an important point about a focus on equity in philanthropy’s response to the coronavirus. She encourage funders to pay specific attention to communities that are likely to suffer disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic because of “historic, systemic barriers that have left them vulnerable.”

Philanthropy is well positioned to play a crucial role in responding to this public health challenge because we are frequently on the front lines in responding to community crises, are trusted in communities, and invest in long-term solutions. As philanthropy leaders who come together under the umbrella of United Philanthropy Forum, a national network of 84 philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) representing more than 7,000 funders, we are committed to helping our sector respond effectively to the coronavirus. In doing so, we are particularly attentive to ways in which this outbreak may exacerbate inequities.

In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Dr. Richard E. Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, summed up well the inequities being exposed by the coronavirus outbreak: “The elderly and disabled are at particular risk when their daily lives and support systems are disrupted. Those without easy access to health care, including rural and Native communities, might face daunting distances at times of need. People living in close quarters—whether in public housing, nursing homes, jails, shelters or even (people experiencing) homeless on the streets—might suffer in waves, as we have already seen in Washington state. And the vulnerabilities of the low-wage gig economy, with non-salaried workers and precarious work schedules, will be exposed for all to see during this crisis.”

Many organizations have made changes in their workplaces, or are considering such steps, that include requiring employees to work from home, increasing paid sick leave, and providing extra funds to let employees take shared rides to work instead of public transportation. Others have restricted or banned employee travel to conferences and meetings. While these are all appropriate steps, we need to recognize the underlying disposition toward privilege that these policies presume. Travel bans are impacting workers at hotels, restaurants and airlines. Remote work requirements are affecting people who provide ancillary services for our offices, such as employees at the lunch spots near our emptying office buildings, people operating our public transit systems, etc.

Numerous workers don’t have the privilege of working from home or getting added benefits to help them cope with the coronavirus. The nature of their work requires them to show up in person, their employers do not offer additional sick leave or other increased benefits, and their lower incomes force them to continue taking public transportation. These are often the same people who do not have the financial resources or appropriate health insurance coverage to cope with an illness should they happen to contract the virus.

All of these disparities tend to cut across gender and racial lines. Communities of color will be impacted disproportionately in specific sectors of labor: farmworkers, those living in close quarters, fast-food workers, retail workers, immigrant labor as well as those being held in government facilities (jails, detention centers). LGBTQ people and HIV-positive people are also particularly vulnerable.

The rise of the coronavirus has also led to a sharp rise in racist and xenophobic actions directed at individuals of Asian heritage. As noted by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP): “There are videos circulating on social media showing young adults harassing and even assaulting innocent, unassuming Asian people in public spaces who justify their actions by claiming to protect themselves from the virus or even go so far as to ‘cleanse’ Asians of the virus.”

Many funders have taken steps to address the coronavirus outbreak in ways that have included deep considerations of equity. Here are some actions for all funders to consider as you address the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Set up or contribute to a fund in the area(s) where your employees are located, to compensate workers who will be most impacted by a reduction in income due to changed workplace practices. As Dr. Besser advised in his op-ed, these funds can be used to compensate hourly workers without paid leave for their loss of income when sick or unable to come to work if their place of employment is closed, provide legal aid for those who are fired for not coming to work when ill, fund outreach to non-English speakers, and supplement funding for community health centers. They can also help families who are grappling with a range of issues due to school closures, such as ensuring free meals, getting help with child care, and providing home computers and Internet access for online learning. A coalition of philanthropy, government, and business partners have created a COVID-19 Response Fund, hosted by Seattle Foundation, that will rapidly deploy resources to community-based organizations at the front lines of the region’s coronavirus outbreak. Similar funds are being created in other communities.

  • Deploy rapid-response funds to communities that will be impacted by a reduction in travel, particularly in communities where nonprofit of philanthropy conferences have been cancelled, to compensate workers most affected by a loss of income. This could be a contribution to the local community foundation or to nonprofits that are serving the needs of impacted community members.

  • If a philanthropy or nonprofit conference or other event is cancelled due at least in part to employers’ travel bans, reach out to the event organizer to see if they need financial assistance to recover from the losses of a cancelled event. Nonprofit event organizers often rely on sponsorships and registration fees as a key part of their revenue stream to maintain their financial health and sustainability.

  • Reach out to your grantees to see how they’re doing and ask if they need any immediate assistance. The Heising-Simons Foundation has established a rapid-response fund to offset unexpected costs incurred by its grantees for disruptions to operations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, while the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation has added one year to all of its grants. Also engage your grantees in any longer-term changes in policy or practice that you may make in response to the coronavirus that would impact their work.

  • Following the advice of AAPIP, proactively remind ourselves and those around us to not project fears of the virus onto marginalized groups or spread unfounded associations. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation created the rapid response fund Racism is a Virus Too to respond to the hate crimes and bias against Asian American communities resulting from COVID-19.

  • One of the most equitable actions a funder can take is to provide your grantees with general operating support. They know best how to respond to this growing and quickly changing crisis, and need as few funding restrictions as possible to do their work. The Eisner Foundation is among the funders that have converted their grantees’ current restricted funds to general operating support.

  • Amid a stream of misinformation being shared about the virus in the public realm, use your voice as a trusted source of reasoned, fact-based information for your communities. The public trusts the charitable sector more than either the government or business sectors, so it is important for philanthropy to lift up our voice. Philanthropy must also advocate for a strong and appropriate federal government response to the pandemic, including economic and health care support for people who will be hurt the most.

We call on everyone in philanthropy to continue doing all that you can to ensure that our communities and our country address the coronavirus outbreak in ways that are as equitable and fair as possible.

David Biemesderfer, President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum

Karla Fortunato, President
Connecticut Council for Philanthropy

Kiran Ahuja, CEO
Philanthropy Northwest

Celeste Amato, President
Maryland Philanthropy Network

Amanda Misiko Andere, CEO
Funders Together to End Homelessness

Jeannette Andre, President & CEO
Maine Philanthropy Center

Ana Marie Argilagos, President & CEO
Hispanics in Philanthropy

John Barnes, Executive Director
Funders Concerned About AIDS

Steve Barton and Phuong Quach, Acting Co-CEOs
Northern California Grantmakers

Susan Taylor Batten, CEO & President
ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities

Kurt R. Bauman, Executive Director
Northeastern Pennsylvania Grantmakers Forum

Ret Boney, Executive Director
North Carolina Network of Grantmakers

Kari McCann Boutell, President
Iowa Council of Foundations

Ronna D. Brown, President
Philanthropy New York

Susie Brown, President
Minnesota Council on Foundations

Phil Buchanan, President
Center for Effective Philanthropy

Kyle Caldwell, President & CEO
Council of Michigan Foundations

Virginia Clarke, Executive Director
Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders

Kendall Clawson, Executive Director
Grantmakers of Oregon and SW Washington

Paul D. Daugherty, President & CEO
Philanthropy West Virginia

Kevin Dean, CEO
Momentum Nonprofit Partners & Mid-South Philanthropy Network

Aaron Dorfman, President & CEO
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Deborah Dubin, CEO
Gateway Center for Giving

Patricia Eng, President & CEO
Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP)

Kathleen Enright, President & CEO
Council on Foundations

Christine Essel, President & CEO
Southern California Grantmakers

Sean Gibbons, CEO
The Communications Network

Storme Gray, Executive Director
Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy

Sidney Hargro, President
Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia

Judy Hatcher, Executive Director
Biodiversity Funders Group

Madye Henson, President & CEO
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Svetlana Hutfles, Executive Director
Kansas Association of Community Foundations

Lourdes Inga, Executive Director
International Funders for Indigenous Peoples

Adriana Jimenez and Rikard Treiber, Co-Chairs
PEAK Grantmaking

Anupama Joshi, Executive Director
Blue Sky Funders Forum

Joanne Kelley, Chief Executive Officer
Philanthropy Colorado

Janine Lee, President & CEO
Southeastern Council of Foundations

Laurie Liles, President & CEO
Arizona Grantmakers Forum

Ben Francisco Maulbeck, President
Funders for LGBTQ Issues

Robert McFalls, President & CEO
Florida Philanthropic Network

Debbie McKeon, President & CEO
San Diego Grantmakers

Ansje Miller, Executive Director
Health & Environmental Funders Network

Niamani Mutima, Executive Director
Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group

Ami Nagle and Cema Siegel, Co-Directors
Economic Opportunity Funders

Glenisse Pagán Ortiz, Executive Director
Filantropía Puerto Rico

Taryn Palumbo, Executive Director
Orange County Grantmakers

Daranee Petsod, President
Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees

Jeff Poulos, CEO
Philanthropy Massachusetts

Cynthia Pritchard, President and CEO
Philanthropy Delaware

Kristin Purdy, Executive Director
Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation

Corinne L. Ribble, Executive Director
NY Funders Alliance

Shannon L. Rudisill, Executive Director
Early Childhood Funders Collaborative

Laura Seaman, CEO
League of California Community Foundations

Tony Shields, President & CEO
Wisconsin Philanthropy Network

Patricia L. Smith, President & CEO
Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities

Erik R. Stegman, Executive Director
Native Americans in Philanthropy

Nicholas Tedesco. President & CEO
National Center for Family Philanthropy

Deborah Aubert Thomas, President & CEO
Philanthropy Ohio

Eddie Torres, President & CEO
Grantmakers in the Arts

Maria Vizcarrondo, President & CEO
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers

Marcus F. Walton, President & CEO
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Eric Weinheimer, President & CEO