Philanthropy and the Pandemic Part II: Targeted Giving
September 20, 2020
Financiers, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs alike are often worried about negative externalities—the unforeseen side effects created by a new innovation or product that engender adverse outcomes like pollution or corruption.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the concept of negative externalities play out on a mass scale. While curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus is, of course, the principal task at hand, the virus has given life to a host of negative externalities beyond merely its direct health threats. Stay at home measures have led to the closing of wide swaths of the American economy, leaving millions out of work or underemployed. The uncertain nature of the situation at hand has led to a proliferation of mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression. To truly defeat this virus, we’ll need to address and mitigate the wide swath of challenges it has introduced.
With this in mind, the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors have quickly mobilized. As I’ve written about previously, charitable donors have significantly stepped up their contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shrewdly, though, many of these donations are aimed not at developing a vaccine, but at ameliorating food insecurity and the digital divide in our communities, directly reaching those struggling most. As we continue to traverse this difficult moment in our history, targeted intervention by the nonprofit sector is essential.
Take food insecurity, for example. Fidelity Charitable recently found that local food banks have been the most common recipients of charitable donations in 38 states. Fidelity’s report also found that donors have increased grant recommendations to free food programs by 667 percent compared to next year—an unprecedented expansion in the scope of philanthropic social service provision.
America’s Food Fund, aimed at remediating food insecurity in many of our most vulnerable communities, has recorded a fundraising haul of more than $37 million this year, nearly two-and-a-half times its original goal of $15 million. Nonprofits and private philanthropists have bolstered many of these efforts, injecting critical infusions of cash into many of the country’s most effective—and desperately needed—social service providers.
As a longtime philanthropist and venture capitalist, I’ve sought to use a similarly direct approach to charitable giving in order to catalyze lasting social change. One of my key focus areas, education, has been at the forefront of the COVID discourse.
As the virus reached the United States in mid-March, students around the country, from college to kindergarten, were forced to abruptly transition to at-home learning, creating a litany of new challenges that have impeded many students’ access to educational opportunities. Many students have struggled to gain access to consistent wireless internet sources, creating a digital divide that places students from lower income households behind their peers.
The All in Washington Digital Equity Initiative has worked with key local stakeholders like the Seatle Seahawks, Microsoft, and Puget Sound Energy to offer synergistic solutions to help bridge the digital divide support remote learning for students across the state as schools return to session.
Other organizations like the Central Ohio Digital Divide Fund providing grants for local school districts to acquire laptops for students learning from home, facilitating the transition from classroom learning and ensuring that students’ success is not determined by their access to WiFi.
This is but a cursory sample of the many tenacious and dedicated organizations striving to support America’s communities during this anxious era. While offering disparate services, many are united in approach, using targeted interventions to acutely mitigate challenges at the local level. As this pandemic pushes into the fall, these strategies will be integral to the health and safety of our communities.