Giving In 2020 – Lessons from Dolly Parton

As I sat down to write a post about year end giving from my remote home office, I had a thousand different thoughts I wanted to share. How could you sum up charitable giving in 2020 in a short blog post? Then I read a Washington Post article about how Dolly Parton’s chance encounter at Vanderbilt University Medical Center after a 2013 minor car crash led to an enduring friendship with Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery. According to the story, the two struck up a friendship based on shared experiences growing up in rural poverty, and a mutual interest in and love of science. When the pandemic hit, Dolly Parton turned to her friend Dr. Abumrad, who told her about promising research happening at Vanderbilt. The result was a six figure gift to the research at Vanderbilt in honor of Dr. Abumrad. This research was linked directly to the recently-announced success of the development of a coronavirus vaccine that could be available by year end. Dolly Parton’s response: “I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the Covid fund, I just wanted it to do good.” I’ve worked with donors to craft gifts of all shapes and sizes, and this statement sums up the intent of nearly every donor, whether you are giving $25 or $1 million. More than anything else this year, the spirit of generosity remains true. The building blocks of supporting good work about which you are passionate and with organizations that can be effective at making change is the approach we take with clients, no matter the year or the issue. This year has called upon donors to dig deep and in some ways to radically reimagine how they do their giving, while remaining true to the core of helping others.

So what have we taken away from this year, as we enter the last month of the year and as Giving Tuesday approaches.

  1. Immediate response is important, and so is follow up for the long term. In the early days of the pandemic, like any “disaster,” emergency grants flowed from individuals, foundations, corporations, and donor advised fund holders. As the pandemic endures, donors are coming back asking good questions about how their funds can be used to help nonprofits and communities in need not only endure this, but recover and be resilient once the pandemic subsides.
  2. Being aware of implicit bias and injustice has always been important, but in the wake of the most recent racial reckoning this year, donors are asking hard questions about how they can make changes to their processes and lift the veil on those biases. Some are looking at how they do their giving and who is making decisions about providing services to those in need, and some are growing their giving to ensure that it reflects a broader diversity of lived experience.
  3. Donors are staying close to organizations they care about, and ensuring those organizations have strong plans in place to recover from this challenging year. At the same time, many recognize that this is the proverbial “rainy day” and is a year to dig deep to help a broad array of organizations.
  4. As always, relationships matter. Talk to your contacts and networks who are scientists and educators and health care professionals and artists and social workers. Learn what is happening on the ground, and how you can best help from the people who know best from doing the work every day. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions, either of them or of yourself.
  5. Be humble and grateful. When you approach this work with humility and a spirit of gratitude, good things will come.

Wishing everyone who reads this health, safety, and gratitude in this most unusual of years.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Gioia PeruginiGioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography.


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One Boston Day 2020

As I sit here in my remote office, bustling from Zoom meetings to conference calls, reading the hourly updates about the impact of Covid-19 on the greater Boston community and beyond, an update from Mayor Marty Walsh’s office arrives, announcing tomorrow’s One Boston Day. The concept of “Boston Strong” came about after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings, and remains a call to action for our city in times of adversity. It is also meant to embody principles of peace, kindness, and hope. This year the spirit behind the day is as important as ever, and the sentiment that united us in 2013 has once again become a rallying cry for our city. The last five weeks have seen an incredible mobilization of city and state government agencies, the business

sector, and the nonprofit community around the interconnected goals of social distancing, slowing the spread of Covid-19, buoying the health care system to meet tremendous need and the anticipated surge, supporting local businesses, working to meet the basic needs of vulnerable families, continuing the delivery of public education, all while maintaining a sense of community spirit and resiliency.

While we can’t cheer runners from Boylston Street, visit the Swan Boats, or see the Red Sox at Fenway this year on Patriot’s Day, we can do something critical for our city’s future success. Stay home. Perform an act of kindness and share it on social media and tag with the #OneBostonDay. Give thanks to a health care worker, grocery store employee, or public servant. Make a charitable gift of any size to any number of the city, state, or nonprofit relief efforts.

While we may be physically distant from one another on this One Boston Day, we can come together and display the resilience of our city in simple yet powerful ways. We are, and remain, #BostonStrong.

About the Author

Gioia PeruginiGioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography.


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One Boston Day, by Gioia Perugini (April 15, 2015)

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Philanthropic Community Responds to Nonprofit Needs During Covid-19 Crisis

During these difficult times, many individuals and families are asking, “Where is the greatest need and how can we help our community address the challenges resulting from the spread of Covid-19?”  The philanthropic community has organized to understand the scope of the challenges facing nonprofits and communities over the last two weeks in response to the spread of Covid-19.

The impact of the crisis on nonprofits and those providing critical educational, health, and social services is widespread. This crisis has had a direct impact on the stability of nonprofits of all sizes and issue areas. Nonprofits particularly hard hit include those working in education and youth services providing continued support to young people at a distance; health care institutions and providers; cultural organizations, especially those whose business model depends on ticket sales, admissions, and gate revenue; and human services, particularly food banks/food shelves and homelessness providers.

The Response

The philanthropic community has responded quickly to nonprofit needs, in many cases in real time, as needs continue to emerge. Many philanthropies and individuals have made immediate response grants, and are developing longer term plans as to how to help with recovery post-crisis. The Council on Foundations has a detailed “call to action” that outlines a number of steps foundations can take in these unprecedented times.

In addition, Hemenway & Barnes attorneys and professionals have a number of resources to support nonprofits during these challenging times. My colleagues, Brad Bedingfield and Eleanor Evans, also wrote this overview on establishing and operating an emergency Covid-19 relief fund: “Direct Impact – Establishing an Emergency COVID-19 Relief Fund”. You can find additional advisories related to Covid-19 on our website resource page.

For Donors

Donors might consider the following strategies when assessing how best to support nonprofits in responding to this crisis:

  1. Release restrictions on existing gifts or grants
  2. Make emergency grants to nonprofits impacted during this crisis – consider unrestricted gifts to help organizations respond quickly to direct service needs, or to address critical technology or human resource needs
  3. Make gifts to pooled emergency response funds, held at local or statewide community foundations, United Ways, or individual nonprofits
  4. Support the provision of nonprofit safety net services to vulnerable individuals
  5. Consider longer-term changes to grantmaking, and assess the needs for recovery as well as immediate response

The team of philanthropic advisors and trustees at Hemenway & Barnes is continuing to track these needs as they emerge, and as the scope of the need continues to be evaluated.

About the Author

Gioia PeruginiGioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography.


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