April 8, 2020

Memo: Opportunities for Philanthropic Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

Recently, funders have reached out to The Bridgespan Group to understand ways they can respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Below is the introduction to a memo (download the full memo here) that shares our initial perspectives on where to channel resources. 

By: Sonali Madia Patel , Alexandra Hughes Smith, Katie Bollbach

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the last two weeks, The Bridgespan Group has received more recommendations for resources to add to this memo. This update (April 8, 2020) to our original memo includes new resources and perspectives from our team as we learn more from our colleagues and partners in the field about the implications of COVID-19 on approaches to giving.

Introduction: Opportunities for Philanthropic Responses to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

In recent days, funders have reached out to The Bridgespan Group to better understand how they might respond quickly and effectively to COVID-19. In response, we have drafted this memo to provide initial perspectives on where resources might be productively channeled. It is based on our experience supporting nonprofits and NGOs working in public health and funders active in global health and disaster recovery, and on conversations with experts working on the COVID-19 response. Our perspectives have been further shaped by our research on inequity in funding for organizations led by people of color. This is a rapidly changing environment, and we anticipate that these perspectives on philanthropic opportunities will evolve as the pandemic unfolds.

Download the full memo

As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic over the next weeks and months, everyone has a role to play—government at all levels, local and national nonprofits, multi-national actors, the private sector, and individuals. This memo explores philanthropy’s distinctive role—supplementing government and private sector efforts with flexible and often more nimble investments to advance innovations, fill key gaps, and anticipate and address the challenges that may linger or arise after the immediate crisis is past.

Critical Memo Updates
Three updates to this memo take in-depth looks at arising areas of philanthropic need and opportunity based on the progression of COVID-19 globally.

Philanthropy has an opportunity to not only address immediate needs during the crisis, as governments are also doing, but also lay critical groundwork for longer-term recovery efforts and future preparedness. Further, philanthropy has an opportunity—and a responsibility—to spotlight and address inequities in pandemic responses and their consequences. During times of crisis, the inequities already in the system tend to intensify. The most vulnerable and marginalized populations in society carry a disproportionate share of the hardship—and are often left out of response and recovery efforts. This is not surprising—the systems that respond to pandemics and other crises are the same systems that have historically under-resourced and under-invested in marginalized communities.

We are already seeing deepening inequity as a result of COVID-19. Low-wage and informal sector workers are losing critical income and face longer-term financial distress. Those living in crowded communities (e.g., townships, urban slums, and refugee camps), the incarcerated, and the homeless are not able to engage in social distancing and other preventive measures. Uninsured and undocumented immigrant populations in the United States lack safe and affordable access to healthcare. Frontline caregivers such as community health workers and nursing home aides—many of whom are low-income women, and, in the United States, disproportionately women of color—risk far greater exposure. And those in lower economic strata are more likely to have chronic health conditions that increase susceptibility to COVID-19.

This memo explores high-impact opportunities for philanthropic investment at different stages of the pandemic and its aftermath. It also highlights credible actors who might serve as partners and effective channels to deploy capital swiftly and responsibly—but it is not a compendium of the universe of actors working in these areas (particularly at local levels). We have begun to compile a list of other actors actively engaged in the areas outlined in this memo, which we can share upon request and augment with your suggestions.

This memo is a snapshot of opportunities that we have come across to date. In a rapidly changing environment, it is very likely that new opportunities, actors, and channels will emerge.

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