May 29, 2020
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How philanthropies and nonprofits can practice equity in the COVID-19 crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect communities, philanthropies must work to help the most vulnerable populations.

Organizations on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 crisis are managing as best as they can, but as the crisis wears on, there are ways philanthropies and nonprofits can ensure they are helping the most vulnerable populations. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy hosted a conversation this week to discuss just this issue.

Ruth Madrigal, principal at KPMG, Washington National Tax Office, noted that many nonprofits are struggling in this current moment. Not only is there a shutdown of physical offices, making everyday tasks more difficult, there is a surge of people who desperately need help as both the health and economic crises rage on. “There’s an increase in demand and a decrease in resources to meet that demand,” said Madrigal. “Without those resources, it’s going to be difficult on a micro level to take care of employees, but on a macro level to take care of people that rely on the nonprofit.”

Aaron Dorfman, president and CEO of the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, recommended several ways organizations can ensure they’re helping the most vulnerable populations. First, prioritize equity and make sure dollars and resources are covering the communities that are hardest hit. “The current crisis is hitting workers and immigrants hard,” said Dorfman. “Some people like to say ‘were all in this together,’ and to some extent we are, but response grants shouldn’t try to target everyone equally.”

If organizations are already on board with the concept of equity, it’s important for them to influence their peers, says Dorfman. “It’s imperative that you figure out how to influence your peers and bring them into the equity mindset,” he said.

Dorfman also recommends that organizations give more, be flexible, and move quickly. “Most nonprofits don’t have operating capital, and they don’t have reserves. The money needs to get out the door and to grantees,” he said, adding that organizations should also eliminate deliverables and extend deadlines for grantees who are working on the ground to get things done.

But how can regular people speak up and inform organizations about the best ways to help their communities? While many organizations have different requirements and regulations on what they are able to do, there are a few ways to ensure your voice heard. Sally Ray, Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s director of strategic initiatives, recommends joining the mailing lists of organizations, as many nonprofits and philanthropies look to these lists for feedback.

“We need to see more philanthropic support targeted for advocacy, community organizing, civic engagement, and social movements—the kinds of activities that help vulnerable communities build power.” — Aaron Dorfman, National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy

“Write to a key staff person and let them know of your concerns. Most organizations want to hear from the communities they serve and the broader communities they operate within,” said Ray. “At the same time, they may hear 100 different opinions, from 100 different people, and have to move forward in alignment with mission, funding and strategic plans.”

Once quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic is over, people interested in helping or speaking up can volunteer or attend events to speak with key decision makers.

Of course, the pandemic isn’t ending any time soon. Organizations will have to continue their work in responding to the crisis in the next few years. “My hope is that philanthropy does a far better job a year or two from now in building power, sharing power, and wielding power in pursuit of equity and justice,” said Dorfman. “We need to see more philanthropic support targeted for advocacy, community organizing, civic engagement, and social movements—the kinds of activities that help vulnerable communities build power.”

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.