A Heroic Time for Philanthropy

By: Adam Meyerson



This is a time of extraordinary heroism in America. We’re seeing the remarkable courage and character of the doctors, nurses, and first responders as they work around the clock to save lives, often risking their own health and safety. The grocery and drug store workers, food producers, and truck drivers on the front lines of keeping a safe food supply. The entrepreneurial flexibility of the free market economy, as hundreds of companies switch to and scale up production of sanitizer, masks, testing equipment, protective gear, and ventilators. The creativity of scientists at universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies working to speed up the discovery, testing, and delivery of therapeutics and a vaccine for this dreadful disease.

Philanthropy is also playing an indispensable leadership role in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. America is the most charitable country on earth, and once again we are seeing the power of voluntary giving in finding solutions for society’s greatest challenges.

The Philanthropy Roundtable is cataloguing on our website many of the distinctive contributions of donors, foundations, and civil society in responding to the pandemic. Here are just some of the highlights:

  • The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has funded statewide TV, radio, and social media public service announcements about how to protect oneself from the virus.
  • Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse set up a 68-bed field hospital in Central Park, to care for the overflow from Mt. Sinai Hospitals.
  • The New England Patriots provided $2 million and the team plane to ship 1.2 million masks from China to the United States.
  • Hundreds of funds have been set up to deliver emergency cash to families hurt by layoffs. The Schultz Family Foundation and other partners launched a $6 million fund for laid-off restaurant workers in Seattle. Give Together Now, established by Stand Together and the Family Independence Initiative, has raised $26 million so far to assist 52,000 families. The Roundtable will be holding a conference call for donors on emergency cash grants next week.
  • National School Choice Week offers more than 100 free resources to families and schools as they switch to online learning, including tips for students with disabilities. And LearnEverywhere.org offers curriculum for learners of all types in subjects ranging from history and math to computer science and social emotional learning.
  • The Communities Foundation of Texas established Get Shift Done to keep hospitality workers employed delivering food to nonprofits serving the hungry.
  • State Policy Network think tanks have worked with governors of both parties to suspend certificate-of-need policies, hiring restrictions for health professionals with out-of-state licenses, and other barriers to expanding health system surge capacity.
  • A Brooklyn landlord canceled April rent for hundreds of tenants.
  • The National Christian Foundation is administering $3,000 grants to churches serving low-income communities affected by the pandemic.
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute has developed a phased strategy for reopening the economy and society based on achievement of public health milestones.
  • The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and other funders have set up a $5 million small business relief fund for Kansas City enterprises hurt by the economic shutdown.
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationWellcome Trust, and Mastercard are funding a rapid two-month study of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a therapy for patients exposed to the virus.
  • DonorsTrust has set up a fund to strengthen the resilience of the private-sector economy and to ensure that temporary stimulus legislation does not lead to a permanent massive expansion of government.
  • The University of Pennsylvania Nursing School is offering free telehealth training to all health care providers.
  • The Lilly EndowmentRichard M. Fairbanks Foundation, and other funders established an E-Learning Fund to get devices and Wi-Fi hotspots to Indiana families for distance learning.
  • A philanthropic program to support New York City healthcare professionals on the front lines is providing up to 500,000 packages of shelf-stable food, household cleaning and personal care products, and over-the-counter medicine to staff at hospitals across the five boroughs.

Perhaps the most ambitious philanthropic initiative announced so far is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment to build manufacturing facilities for the seven most promising COVID-19 vaccines under development, even before their testing is complete. If one or more of these vaccines is found to be effective, the ability to mass-produce it immediately could accelerate by months a return to full economic normalcy. This has the potential to be one of the greatest philanthropic achievements in history.

These are just the beginning of philanthropy’s emerging response to our public health and economic crises. Please contact my colleague Tareea Smith (tsmith@philanthropyroundtable.org) if you come across additional examples of philanthropic leadership worthy of national attention.

In these historic times and as generous donors respond to the needs of this crisis, I am pleased that the Roundtable is able to serve as a resource for donors seeking information and advice. My colleagues and I have connected with many of you and will continue to serve and advise you as you determine how you can support those in need in your community. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of my colleagues with questions you may have. We will continue to provide timely information to you virtually through webinars, conference calls, and our publications until we can again meet together in person.