Pandemic Philanthropy: Giving in a Time of Crisis

by Fiona Higgins

In this era-defining moment, we’re navigating new rules of engagement for almost every aspect of our lives – even giving. With the ripple-effect of COVID-19 set to worsen before it gets better, here are some things to consider for your philanthropy right now:

1. Stick to your strategy. The realities of this pandemic are deeply disturbing, but chances are your existing philanthropic strategy remains highly relevant and necessary. If you already support charities that service under-served and vulnerable cohorts in our community, then these people are likely going to be more compromised by COVID-19 and need more support for the foreseeable future. Don’t change your strategy. Now is the time to lean in and support your existing charitable partners and the vulnerable communities they serve.

2. Move beyond funding. Consider the importance of making yourself available to your charitable partners in ways you may not have previously. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, immobilised or unsure, consider what it’s like at the frontline of service delivery now. Check in with your charitable partners and ask them what they need for business continuity. It might be that you can facilitate support beyond funding, for example by providing them with technological support if you have access to that. Try to be there for your charitable partners  – talk to them, learn from them, then have the courage and commitment to act on what you hear.

3. Work with others. For philanthropists interested in supporting direct efforts to combat COVID-19 in Australia, consider piggybacking off the decisions and interventions of other philanthropic entities with in-house research expertise (such as medical research affinity groups, research foundations, or other funders) to ensure the causes you support are evidence-based.  This support could include the purchase of medical equipment such as ventilators, efforts to supply additional medical personnel to affected areas, fever clinics, health outreach and education initiatives and vaccine-related research. If you would like some suggestions in this regard, please contact the APS giving team.

4. Consider overseas giving. There is a natural human inclination to bunker down and look after our own in the face of external threats. But if you think things are tough in Australia – and they are, no question – in some parts of the world, the situation is even more dire. In most of the developing world medical infrastructure is grossly inadequate – even the basics of soap and clean water for hand hygiene are unavailable. While online community-building and positivity-raising initiatives are incredibly important during this pandemic, nothing replaces practical support to the world’s most vulnerable people. If you’d like some suggestions of Australian charities supporting international efforts in this regard, please contact the APS giving team.

5. Do your funding differently. It’s not just what you give, but how, that could make a critical difference to charities right now. Consider offering flexible funding – untied funds that allow charities to deploy donations for immediate business needs and capacity building imperatives (like retaining staff or critical investment in IT systems and infrastructure), rather than tie your giving to a particular project. Multi-year commitments (even if they’re modest) can offer charities the much-needed gift of planning, while more regular giving (e.g. quarterly or six-monthly, rather than annually) can deliver greater predictability of cash flow, an increasingly scarce commodity

We know that every charitable entity in Australia will be shaken by this pandemic; many are currently experiencing serious operational and service-level vulnerabilities, and some will collapse. But philanthropy can play a critical role in providing scaffolding and support, both practical and moral, to not-for-profit partners gripped by uncertainty. The most useful philanthropic response right now starts with listening to those who are doing the work, leaning in to support them in flexible and creative ways, then walking alongside them – for as long as it takes.