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COVID-19: Creating a Philanthropic Plan

Over the past couple of weeks, I have attended numerous calls and videoconferences about the need and response opportunities in this time of crisis. The information is at the same time overwhelming and invigorating. Part of the challenge for me has been to sift through and organize the flood of information that is coming at me related to philanthropy, and I am sure you find yourself in the same boatwhether in the philanthropic arena or news in general. My goal with this update is to NOT add to your sense of overwhelm.

As mentioned in my previous email, my top recommendations for giving during this time have not changed and I am happy to strategize with you personally on how to implement a plan. If you read no further than the list below, you’re doing a great job.

  1. Go with who you know and trust

  2. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good” – in other words: don’t overthink

  3. Crisis AND recovery response funding is needed, so be ready to give more down the road

  4. Identify an issue that resonates (micro or macro) and focus there (can be as simple as providing diapers or as complex as federal funding gaps in the CARES Act)


I attended a Philanthropy Northwest Zoom meeting featuring Governor Inslee and Congresswoman Jayapal, both speaking on how philanthropy can help during this crisis. My takeaways are below.

Governor Inslee on how philanthropy can help:

There are severe shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and test kits. The State needs contacts in the supply chain for access to PPE and/or equipment used in test kits – to be purchased or manufactured. First, use your contacts in the supply chain industry for the acquisition of PPE. Second, send your contacts in purchasing, supply chain management or manufacturing for both PPE and for anything that goes into test kits to Reed Schuler.

Congresswoman Jayapal’s updates and ideas on areas to invest philanthropic funds:

  • Bridge loans will be needed because of the timing of the cash relief from the CARES Act (checks will be coming in the next three weeks for those who have filed their 2018 and 2019 tax return and as late as September for those who have not; low-income people who do not file a tax return will not have their checks until the fall)

  • Under the CARES Act, it is estimated that 75% of people won’t qualify for Paid Leave (due to the exemption of large companies) and college students are not eligible for relief because they don’t qualify as dependent but are claimed as dependents by someone else (this was likely an unfortunate oversight)

  • Undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, or legal permanent residents who are in the US for less than five years are excluded from the free COVID-19 testing provisions

  • Immigrants (and children of immigrants regardless of whether they are US citizens) are excluded from cash benefit relief even if they are married to a US citizen

  • Domestic violence cases have increased dramatically


I spoke with Ceil Erickson, Director of Nonprofit Relations at The Seattle Foundation, about the Foundation’s Response Fund, and what she is hearing from nonprofits generally. The Fund will provide multi-phase response and recovery financial assistance to regional nonprofits. The collaboration with King County and United Way of King County ensures that the reach is far and that support is aligned and complimentary of the County’s programs and supports. The first round of grants was announced last week, over $10 million to 128 nonprofits. The focus now is on assessing the CARES Act to determine what nonprofits need to know and how to support them in accessing the Federal funding available. Future funding rounds will focus on the evolving needs – possibly more response funding for emergent needs, and certainly grants for recovery and rebuilding down the road, depending on how long the crisis phase lasts.

All nonprofits have needs and many are still quantifying these. The need to invest in infrastructure and technology to support working from home, combined with less revenue (fewer donations, a halt to revenue generating services and activities, canceling fundraising events) is putting everyone in a state of financial challenge. For example, health and mental health providers are trying to meet current (increased) demand while implementing new telehealth technology and staying on top of case management. Arts organizations are the hardest hit in these early days due to lost revenue streams from tickets.

The law firm Davis Wright Tremaine released some helpful information for nonprofits about relief available to them through the CARES Act.


There is a lot of important discussion about the impact of this pandemic on vulnerable populations. This article about using an equity and racial justice lens in funding during this time is useful. I also recommend looking over the Poor People’s Campaign website, and in particular, the detailed summary of who is left out of the cash benefits provisions of the Cares Act.


One of the calls last week included an update from a legislative liaison at Washington State Department of Agriculture. As of November, there were about 850,000 people who turned to food banks to address their food security needs. Today they believe that has doubled to 1.6 million. It is anticipated that by summer we could see a peak food insecurity number in the 2 million or greater range.

The three larger state-wide organizations (Northwest Harvest, Second Harvest and Food Lifeline) will run out of food to provide to the food banks in mid- to late-April and there will be a delay before federal financial aid arrives. There is also a lack of volunteers to support food banks (as volunteers in this sector are often seniors) although 300 National Guard are working in food banks and prison populations are putting together boxes and packaging materials.

Food banks were transitioning to a new individual shopping model supporting client choice prior to this crisis and now need to switch models again to one that incorporates shelf stable, packaged and prepacked foods that can be distributed out of doors.

Before the crisis, 90% of food received came from donations from restaurants and other food business which are no longer able to donate. It is estimated that between food and packaging supplies, distribution and transportation, addressing the food security needs of vulnerable populations in Washington State could amount to $10 million a week.

One thing funders and food banks are asking for is a central fund for all people and organizations across the state to donate to, to help address this food security effort. The State of Washington, Ballmer Group and Philanthropy Northwest are setting up a Hunger Relief Fund to address the large gap of $10 million/week. More information will be released soon by Philanthropy Northwest. In the meantime, it is advised that donations be directed to local food banks.


The health and well-being of our State’s homelessness population is at even greater risk during this crisis.

Some of the impacts on homelessness service providers include:

  • Trying to implement social distancing at shelters (need for larger spaces and more staff)

  • Personal Protective Equipment shortages

  • Program and case management services have been interrupted (long-term permanent housing efforts are on hold)

  • Internet access

  • Anticipated inflow into the homeless system long-term

King County shelters have been elevated nationally as model examples because of their efforts to:

  • Break up large shelters

  • Increase the capacity of isolation centers for homeless populations

  • Provide incentives to “come indoors” rather than increasing the criminalization of homelessness (e.g. allowing pets, storage space, alcohol)

Recommendations for philanthropy:

  • Emergency, flexible funding to your current grantees

  • Pooled funding that organizes together and supports/partners with government systems

  • Two opportunities that I recommend are the Washington Youth COVID Response Fund (housed at Building Changes and seed funded by the Raikes Foundation) and a fund sponsored by the Schultz Family Foundation to support homeless/unstably housed individuals and families with housing and housing assistance (more information to come soon – read an email from the Program Officer, Paul Butler).

  • For housing assistance donations, the challenge is to ensure the funds are getting directly into the hands of people who need to pay rent. Organizations with the reach and cultural competency to be connected with those in need of rent assistance include smaller, local food banks and larger nonprofits known for their outreach and trusted relationships with those with the greatest needs. For example: Byrd Barr Place, Hopelink and Atlantic Street Center

  • Great resources and general guidance for funders in this space: Funders to End Homelessness


  • Healthcare providers

  • Essential workers

  • Seniors

  • Native Americans

  • Displaced students (especially homeless families and low-income community college students)

  • Prisoners

  • Immigrants

I have additional information about the impact on these people and ways to direct your giving in support of their needs.

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if I can help.


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