Philanthropists Helping America Restart

While many donors have turned toward humanitarian efforts to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic—think donations to food banks and hospitals—some are looking at a different sort of humanitarian work.

“Policy can be just as humanitarian” as those types of efforts, argues Lawson Bader, CEO of DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund committed to strengthening civil society. In response to the pandemic and the economic devastation accompanying it, DonorsTrust launched the Growth and Resilience Project, which bundles together gifts from many donors “to focus on scalable and practical ways to get the American worker back to the office, retail store, factory or airport; to encourage the entrepreneur to take risks; to free healthcare workers and pharmacists from counterproductive licensing requirements at a time when their services are desperately needed; to ensure the American citizen sees government intrusion into our lives and livelihoods as counterproductive and harmful.”

So far, the project is funding 17 groups across the U.S., focusing on efforts from reducing regulation to running media campaigns explaining the importance of protecting civil liberties. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that received a $50,000 grant, is pushing for the removal of some regulations that were suspended during the pandemic, arguing that they were superfluous in the first place. 

Through its Getting Tennesseans Back to Work initiative, the Beacon Center of Tennessee aims to boost employment by reducing licensing burdens, simplifying the process of starting a business, and pursuing other reforms to cut down on red tape and let entrepreneurs and employees get back to work. The Beacon Center received a $50,000 grant as well, at the top end of Growth and Resilience Project grants that range from $25,000 to $50,000. 

Bader explains that the fund was launched because “if we don’t get the engine of growth working again, we’re going to have a lot more problems down the line.” To this aim, DonorsTrust selected projects that were mostly centered in a particular state, and targeted on a practical issue like health access, restarting education, or lowering regulatory obstacles to getting people their jobs back. “The reason we did this is not just because of DonorsTrust’s longstanding support for policy improvement, but because foundations are notoriously slow,” Bader says. “This is meant to be a rapid-response catalyst.”

Some of the funded efforts focus on legal and litigation issues such as preserving freedom of association and religious liberty during social distancing. As part of the projects it has supported, DonorsTrust is tracking the treatment of civil liberties, and whether, Bader says, “some of the things that have been done legally should be overturned before the next crisis.”