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COVID-19: How to Help Right Now

Once again, I feel blessed to do the work I do. In this strange, unprecedented and upsetting time, I am uplifted by the relentless desire to help – and to help now, with urgency. I have heard from clients, and have been in conversations with community leaders and colleagues, and I wanted to share some thoughts and resources about ways you can help address the tremendous needs in our community resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • I strongly recommend that you consider responsive giving now, as soon as possible, and also setting aside funding for future recovery needs. We are in this for the long haul. It’s important to respond to emergency needs today, but the situation is changing daily and there will be different, equally important needs in the future.

  • The ideas and resources below are in no way comprehensive. I wanted to be sure to get information out to my clients as soon as possible, but I continue to learn about new opportunities and initiatives daily.

Below, in order of my recommended priority, are some ideas.


All nonprofits have been or will be affected by this crisis. If everyone commits to make stretch gifts to the organizations with whom they have a relationship, I believe this will go a long way in improving the long-term outcomes for this important sector. Here is a letter to funders from Washington nonprofits that provides some perspective from the front lines.


For any grants that you have made that are still “in use” (within the last year or multi-year funding), I encourage you to release any restrictions that you may have made when the grant was made. For example, if you granted to an organization to support a specific project or program, contact that organization and tell them that you are lifting those restrictions and any reporting requirements that are due in the next 6 months (or longer.)


In times like these, the best way to effectively deploy funding to support the broad and fast-changing needs of a community is through the community “expert” who has a pulse on all community needs in good times and bad: often the local community foundation. I am very impressed with the response and diligent plan of the Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, a public-private partnership of funders to get funding out quickly and effectively to on-the-ground nonprofits responding to the crisis. To date, they have raised more than $13M and the first round of grants is happening this week. Community Foundations across the State have set up similar funds to support their counties and communities, and Philanthropy NW has posted a comprehensive list here. (There are similar funds set up through community foundations nationally as well – contact me if you would like that list.)


Basic Needs (including housing assistance and food)

  • Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest are working hard at the regional level to ensure that smaller, local community food banks have stocked shelves, and that vulnerable populations have meals (delivery of food to seniors). They have set up systems for drive-thru distribution to families in need.

  • FareStart is increasing production to provide emergency meals for shelters, quarantine and isolation centers, and other facilities housing those most at-risk for COVID-19. In addition, they continue to provide housing and wrap-around care to students and plan to hire out-of-work restaurant employees as the demand for emergency meals increases.

  • United Way is addressing needs for food and housing assistance by providing emergency grocery vouchers (they would like to raise $15M to support 25,000 families with 8 weeks of $100/week grocery vouchers) and direct rental assistance through their partner providers.

(Note: I have not yet identified my strong recommendation for how to support rental assistance for those at greatest risk of becoming homeless. I have heard from the Schultz Family Foundation that they are setting up a fund for this purpose and I will know about that later this week.)


University of Washington Medicine has set up an Emergency Response Fund that is helping with testing and the state-wide healthcare system capacity building. In addition, UW Medicine supports the important work of Harborview Medical Center, where most of the uncompensated care cases are being treated, as well as treatment and quarantine/isolation for homeless populations.


  • The Alliance for Education has a Right Now Needs Fund that addresses needs generally for Seattle Public School students, and is in high demand right now.

  • Seattle Colleges Foundation has set up the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support community college students who have lost housing, childcare and jobs during this crisis.

Homeless Populations

Building Changes is launching an Emergency Fund for their grantees and sub-grantees (all homeless service providers) to apply for up to $10,000 in flexible funding. Contributions into this fund will increase Building Change’s capacity to respond to more organizations, with larger grant amounts. (Note that Building Changes does not publicize fundraising information on their website because they do not want to compete with their grantees for funding. If you are interested in supporting this fund, let me know, I have more information.)

I participated in a video-conference this week with staff from the City, County and State offices of homelessness/homeless youth as well as several other funders to learn about needs and opportunities in helping homeless youth at this time. More to come. It was a great start to the conversation but not a lot of immediate options for funding aside from encouragement to support organizations that one might already be connected with (#1 above). Raikes Foundation is looking at ways to set up a pooled fund (anyone can give into it) to support the current and ongoing needs of homeless youth related to the crisis. I think this would be a great option when it becomes available.

Arts & Cultural Organizations

In conclusion, please remember that this list is far from comprehensive and that my strong recommendations are #1-#3 above. There is a Webinar on Friday 3/27 (9:00-10:15 am Pacific) hosted by the National Center for Family Philanthropy: Family Philanthropy’s Response to COVID-19. It is open to the public (you don’t have to be a member to register.)

I am happy to talk anytime – to touch base, talk things through and answer any questions. Feel free to share this information with other family members or friends as well.

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, and finding ways to hold onto sanity, community and hope in these trying times.


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