The role of donors in philanthropy’s response

If you’re counting, it’s week nine. Sometimes it feels like month nine because so much has happened in these weeks of uncertainty and change.

In messages we shared over the past several weeks, we reported that we are spending much of our time listening and learning. That remains true.

I want to take a moment to share some of what we have gathered so far and to offer some practical steps to take to be a part of philanthropy’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

What are the most prominent areas of need?

There are many important needs right now. Rather than attempt a fully comprehensive list, I’d like to share some of the areas of need that have risen to the top.

As we learn more, the needs are becoming more specific. Still, our broad recommendation remains to make grants directly to nonprofits for general operating support, which any and all nonprofits can benefit from right now. To learn more about what we mean by general operating support, click here.

Why general operating support?

Beyond those organizations that are engaged directly in responding to the COVID-19 virus, the entire nonprofit community is experiencing significant financial impacts from this crisis, including:

If you want to read more about what nonprofits are telling us about the impacts of COVID-19, you can read this report from a survey conducted by NC Center for Nonprofits.

In summary, nonprofits are spending more money right now for operations, and they have lost opportunities to raise money that usually supports those operations. That means that nonprofits will experience lasting impacts on their budgets, and general operating support is a way to maximize the benefit of your grant dollars during this time.

How can I help through my donor advised fund?

A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy opened with the declaration that the coronavirus pandemic has sparked an “explosion of grantmaking from donor advised funds.” That is a trend that is often seen in a crisis like this one that comes with economic impacts, because donor advised funds hold dollars that are already set aside for charitable purposes.* A different approach to grantmaking from these funds may be in order to maximize their impact. Here are some steps to take toward that goal:

  1. Identify organizations that align with what is speaking to you right now. As you’ve heard stories on the news or through social media or from your friends and neighbors, which stories have been most compelling to you? The answer may be within one of those specific areas of need, but maybe not. In fact, the nonprofit spectrum relies on diverse responses to this question so that funding spreads. Once you’ve tapped into those priorities, identify the organizations that are addressing those needs, and we can help.
  2. Think about the organizations you typically support. Many of us are thinking about those restaurants that we regularly visit and supporting them right now by stopping by for curbside takeout meals. The idea is that we want them to sustain and to be there for us when we can sit at their tables again. The same concept applies to your favorite nonprofits. Whether they are involved in COVID-19 response directly or not, they need your support now more than ever. If you normally make grants later in the year, consider giving now instead, and if you can, increase the grant amount from previous years.
  3. Create a shortlist. Next, narrow it down. Remember, we are thinking about giving bigger if we can, which might mean fewer organizations rise to the top. Don’t worry, someone else made a list that is different from yours. If you make a shortlist of three organizations, the ones that were your fourth and fifth options are someone else’s first and second. When we are all following our individual interests, the nonprofit community benefits. There isn’t a wrong answer here. If the organization you feel most called to support is a local arts organization, do not feel like you need to make a different choice. They need help too.
  4. Make grants. When you’re ready, our grants team is, too. They have not missed a beat, continuing to make distributions each week. When we anticipated the stay-at-home order for North Carolina, we reviewed each step of our grantmaking process and made necessary adjustments to ensure that we could continue to provide critical philanthropic dollars to the nonprofit community. Click here for important notes about how to make grant requests during this time.

If these steps feel hard or if you are looking for ideas specific to the pandemic, let us help. Our program officers are well-informed through their knowledge of the nonprofit communities all over the state, and they are actively developing lists of nonprofit needs. Much of that information is being used by our affiliate foundation boards to make grant decisions, so keep an eye on how they are responding in your community. Maybe you can match a grant they make. And of course, our donor engagement officers are here to support your specific interests and to help you develop your list.

What’s next?

You’ve heard it said, we’re all in this together. We will continue to update you on new things we are hearing about needs related to COVID-19 and new ways that we are responding. We are not done exploring the best role for us. Our experience with hurricanes has taught us that serving unmet, long-term needs is a good fit for us. That can be hard when you see, hear and feel the needs emerging all around you. But we have seen the benefits of patience with hurricane response and of being there when the immediate relief has passed. We envision the same this time.

Consider this the beginning of this conversation with you, not the end, and thank you for your partnership.

* Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Giving From Donor-Advised Funds Surge as Pandemic Spreads