Philanthropy After the Pandemic

Two weeks. When we started lockdown in Boston a year ago this month, schools and offices were closed for two weeks. At the time, we couldn’t wrap our heads around what that meant or how we would operate during the stay-at-home orders. As the one year anniversary passed, it was staggering to look back across this year and see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities. We’ve seen the statistics – 500,000+ lives lost in the US alone, and nearly 30 million diagnosed cases. We know from the data that people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the disease, and are 1-3 times more likely to contract, be hospitalized, or die from COVID-19.

Part of what we remember this month is the outpouring of support that came in response to the pandemic. A recent Center for Disaster Philanthropy report tracked $20.2 billion in funding from corporations, foundations, public charities, and individuals to address the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In addition to providing coordination with local governments and support for mutual aid efforts and direct service nonprofits in their communities, community foundations accounted for more than half the total number of gifts. Gifts from donors holding donor advised funds at large national commercial providers increased by an average of nearly 30% from 2019 levels. Not surprisingly, nearly half of all giving reported went to health or health and human services organizations.

As we enter a second year of pandemic living, hope is on the horizon. FortyUp arrows five million people have been fully vaccinated in the US as of this writing. There is hope that all adults who wish to be vaccinated will be able to do so over the next two months. Schools are slowly returning to full in-person learning, and offices are beginning their slow return to on-site operations. Another round of federal stimulus funding has been approved. As we design for moving forward, here are a few charitable giving trends we hope remain in a post-pandemic world.

  1. Greater collaboration and flexibility– the general trend towards collaboration accelerated dramatically over the last year, with donors, government agencies, nonprofits, and community members working together to meet large scale need in unprecedented ways. Funders of all types were also more flexible and responsive with their giving, reducing red tape and unnecessary administrative burden on their grantees.
  2. Greater awareness of equity – the pandemic laid bare the challenges faced by vulnerable populations, especially for people of color. More focused work to address inequity and work towards social and racial justice is integral to many donor’s giving and investment strategies moving forward.
  3. Greater multi-generational engagement – with more time at home and more time together, parents and children were able to engage more about the focus of their giving, and plot a course forward to address the needs they saw unfolding in real-time.
  4. Greater unrestricted and flexible gifts – nonprofits report they need unrestricted gifts more than any other type of donations, and this year more than others donors responded with immediate, unrestricted gifts.

As we all march into this next normal, may we take the spirit of collaboration, of working together, of greater flexibility, and with a vision of equity into the post-pandemic world.

Looking ahead to your charitable giving for 2021?

Contact one of our advisors to analyze your giving from last year and discuss how to maximize your charitable giving and investment to support nonprofits after COVID-19.

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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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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