August 26, 2020
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Organizations gave billions to help with COVID-19—but only a small portion to the most vulnerable populations

A report finds that only a small portion of recent philanthropy was directed to people of color, senior citizens, and other populations that were disproportionately affected by the virus.

Corporations, foundations, and philanthropists gave over $11.9 billion to help those affected by COVID-19 the first half of 2020. Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, people and organizations have opened up their purse strings to provide funding to the millions whose lives have been upended due to illness and unemployment. As of July 7, 2020, philanthropists have awarded more than $11.9 billion across the world to help deal with COVID-19. But much of that money is not going to the vulnerable populations who need it the most. This is according to a new report from Candid and The Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

The report also revealed the sources for funding, with two-thirds coming from corporations—14 percent coming specifically from corporate foundations.

Community foundations also played a large role, especially in the overall number of grants they gave. Nearly half of all grants were given by these smaller organizations looking to address crucial needs at the local level. This community grant-making was in contrast with a lot of institutional giving, which the report authors found lacked key details about where funds were going and what they were allocated for.

The report found that only a small portion of giving was explicitly directed to vulnerable populations and communities—those that are being hit hardest during the pandemic.

Only 5 percent of institutional giving was specifically for communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Additionally, only 1 percent of institutional and specified giving was directed to people with disabilities and the organizations that help them, and 2 percent was dedicated for senior citizens and older adults.

“COVID-19 has laid bare all of these inequities that those of us who do this work have known all along,” Sally Ray, Director of Strategic Initiatives for CDP, said during a Wednesday webinar hosted by the Southeastern Council of Foundations. “We know from experience that vulnerable populations will always be the most affected—whether it’s a pandemic or a storm.”

"There is more money available than is being spent. This is the year to go higher." — Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

So in addition to targeting funding towards the most vulnerable populations, what else can organizations do to make their philanthropic efforts more effective? The report found that not a lot of money was given for general, unrestricted support. Organizations can remove restrictions to giving and allow nonprofits and grassroots organizations to use their expertise in helping their own communities.

“Just giving them flexible unrestricted dollars is going to be incredibly helpful,” Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, Assistant Director of Major Initiatives at CDP said. “Support those local leaders who really know what’s happening.”

Additionally, Ray noted that the largest volunteer group, senior citizens, is most affected by COVID-19, and that organizations should direct funds to support volunteer organizations so they can mobilize others to step in for older volunteers.

The final suggestion: Spend more money.

“There is more money available than is being spent. This is the year to go higher,” said Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, Assistant Director of Major Initiatives at CDP. “Hurricane Laura is about to make landfall. It’s going to get some attention, but not as much as Hurricane Harvey or Sandy, and that’s because it’s hitting a Black poor rural area of the country.”

Gulliver-Garcia also noted that frequently places that have been previously hit by a disaster won’t receive the same amount of funding twice, due to biases about populations in storm-prone regions. The thinking goes, donors think those affected should have moved.

“If we don’t support our fellow communities now, we’re going to be looking at a major crisis down the line,” said Gulliver-Garcia. “So, fund it.”

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.